‘We have another artist in our midst!’
The voice was sneering, not complimentary, and Mandy knew the voice. It was a voice she had quickly learned to dread, coming from a person she did her level best to avoid as much as possible.
But school is a prison yard, and the other students your fellow prisoners. There are so few places to run, so few places to hide and so many communal areas with collective rituals and expectations. You cannot avoid your classmates forever.
Mandy had tried, unsuccessfully, to do so by retreating in the lunch break to the art studio at the back-end of the main school building. It was near the gym, which was always crowded, but which brought painful memories to anyone as uncoordinated and un-sporty as she. A couple of days before she’d been deliberately slammed against its dull ochre walls by a friend of the ‘voice’ and probably at her instruction. She still felt the bruises along her hip and at her elbow, bright purple painful memories of her social isolation and fear.
The art room was like the gym’s polar opposite, a place of refuge and quiet. Where it was yellow and loud, the art room was blue and silent for the most part, the only sound the sussuration of artists at work. Sometimes she found there were other students there, but they were mainly obsessed artist types who wanted to spend every free moment creating, and they left her in peace.
But today there was no such reprieve. What she hadn’t known – couldn’t have known because she wasn’t in any inner circle for any ‘it’ crowd – was that Jasmine’s current crush of the moment was one of the artist types – a lanky, rather pretty blonde boy called David. Jasmine was intent on snaring him so she could be the muse for in his sculpting endeavours.
There was no predicting Jasmine’s crushes apparently. They came and went like the wind, bestowing on the chosen one some moment of brief school celebrity, and even after she moved on they had been elevated through some mysterious magic to a higher social echelon. So few questioned whether they actually returned the crush. Schoolyards make politicians of us all in brief time.
She hadn’t seen Jasmine come in a sidle up to her latest quarry. He’d heard soft murmurings but hadn’t recognised the voice at so low a tone. And she’d felt quite comfortable in the artist’s company. David was friendly but a bit withdrawn, and he’d read some of her poetry and appreciated it.
Today she was drawing pictures. She wasn’t even sure where the imagery arose from, she just let I flow out of her, as all her best creativity did. They were pictures of trees mainly, but also of a man without a face. But inside, deep in her young heart, she saw the face of the man. She knew who it was. She just didn’t dare to draw in the features lest her brazen openness stole away any hope..any hope…
Hope of another sort fled from her the instant she heard the voice, and she was not quick enough to stop Jasmine grabbing her notebook and waving the drawings behind her for David to see.
‘Trees’ she laughed, ‘Well, being a witch and living near that tree, it figures!’
David laughed uneasily. Mandy could tell he didn’t really want to join in her harassment, but finer questions hung in the balance. Even the quiet arty types yearned for some social recognition. Everyone needs to fit in. Everyone.
Though Mandy felt she would never fit in, no here, not with them. And this obsession with the death at No 6 Mercy Lane was like a millstone round her neck.
So why did I draw trees, of all things, she castigated herself. It was like offering herself up for the slaughter.
Just like the girl, she thought and then didn’t understand the thought at all. Then another thought, it has something to do with a dream I had last night, but what was the dream?
She couldn’t remember anything, anything except trees.
‘I think you’re a better witch than an artist though’ Jasmine spat dismissively, throwing the book down on the table before Mandy. ‘But why don’t you show some finer feeling, like a good little artist, and get lost so David and I can have some quality time alone?’
Mandy looked up into the pinched, vicious face above her and felt a wave of complete rage wash over her. Jasmine didn’t look at all pretty. She seemed like a small, vicious rat. Why was she popular? Why was she adored? There seemed nothing of merit about her at all.
It was her expression, her expression on her horrid little face. In repose she might be pretty. She might look good as a corpse.
But Mandy said nothing, and held her anger in check. She rose and fled, looking only for a moment at David who shot her a brief, apologetic glance, followed equally quickly by a look of slight fear towards Jasmine in case she had seen his little kindness. But as Mandy reached the door and looked back one more time she saw that Jasmine had not, for she was grinning broadly at David, moving towards him, her hips swinging slowly, undulating like a snake.
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved