As per my previous post I have been working on an entry for Writing Magazine's short story competition.
Having worked at it the last few weeks alongside the continued quest to find a suitable writing course to begin (no time, no money, no idea what I want or why), arranged to meet with a local writers' group then chickened out, and generally got to a(nother) point of complete frustration and lack of confidence in my own skill, I have decided to top all that off by not entering the competition either. It just isn't good enough. I don't even know if it's how I want it to sound or if it's a story I particularly want to tell. I can't really be bothered to change it all that much becuase there's no substance to it that stands amendment. I'm questioning if I even have the concentration I need to write something other than a loosely threaded story for the sake of telling a story. I'm really getting stuck.
So for what it's worth I may as well put it up here and leave it behind. Although where to go next? It's all seeming rather futile at the moment.
Here it is:
A Very Lucky Girl
‘Is this seat taken?’ asked a quietly spoken man whom Veronica had never seen before.
Silly question, she thought, as it was the only seat left in the room, and he sat down anyway. Grown ups did funny things like that.
‘What’s your name?’
Veronica didn’t answer. JJ was sat right next to her, talking to the judge, and she didn’t want to get told off. Like before, when they were in the room with the camera and she asked the man if he used that camera for his kids, like on days out or on holiday or whatever. He was nice about it but JJ told her to be quiet.
That was JJ’s job, to look after boys and girls like Veronica – take them from the home to the court or the hospital, or sometimes to the café by the boat lake. They weren’t real boats, just mini electric ones, and Veronica was never allowed to have a go, but she liked them anyway. JJ also made sure they were neat and tidy and had breakfast. And most importantly, she helped Veronica remember what to call people. Like, the judge was always ‘sir’, but she didn’t talk to him unless he asked her a question. Everyone else was Mr or Mrs This or That, but JJ was always JJ. The other kids at the home called her Jane, but then they hadn’t known her as long as Veronica. She liked it that way.
Did the quiet man have a nickname, she wondered?
‘I’m Paul,’ he said, as if he knew what she was thinking. She hadn’t noticed before but he was wearing green trainers, the kind with the white rubbery bit at the end and white laces. She liked those.
‘Mr Paul?’ she asked, with a small smile.
He smiled back. ‘Just Paul.’
JJ was talking a lot louder now, leaning forward and pointing at pieces of paper on the judge’s desk.
‘Is she always like that?’ asked Just Paul.
Veronica nodded. ‘I don’t mind.’ She thought for a moment, then asked, ‘Don’t you ever have to talk to the judge?’
Just Paul shook his head. ‘I’m not very good at talking. I try to help people in other ways.’
‘Me too. Stency isn’t very good at talking either, because her mummy never spoke English. So I helped her when she came to our home. JJ said I was the best at helping and gave me a sticker.’ She held up a tatty rucksack, Peppa Pig peeking out from behind a mosaic of stickers, corners curling where bits of dust and dirt and crumbs had gathered.
Right in the middle was a big holographic star declaring, in bright bubble letters, ‘I’m a good friend’. Veronica pointed it out, in case Just Paul missed it.
‘Peppa Pig comes with me everywhere. This is the one I got for helping Stency and this one for tidying the common room and this one for being brave at the doctors…’ she trailed off. ‘It says ‘Brave girl’, and I was, because even though I had to have stitches, I didn’t cry much and I got to look in the doctor’s thing that he puts in your ears. And this one is for when I came here the first time, and there were a lot of people outside by the steps so JJ made the taxi man pretend to drive past, but we weren’t really, we were coming to talk to the judge and the man with the camera. Have you got a camera?’
Just Paul laughed and shook his head.
‘Well this man did and he gave me a sticker for sitting still so he didn’t have to keep moving it. I had to tell JJ all about my stitches, so she could tell the judge, so he can make it better. But I think he keeps forgetting because we’ve seen him lots of times now but JJ has to keep telling him the same things.’
She paused again, checking on JJ and the judge.
‘Once JJ said that it was all a load of bollocks.’ She giggled. ‘But I wasn’t supposed to hear that bit. Do you ever say things you don’t want people to hear?’
Just Paul shook his head.
‘That’s good then.’
She looked back down at her bag.
‘Would you like a sticker? I’ve got ever so many!’ And before Just Paul could stop her she peeled one off and stuck it to the closest bit of him she could reach.
‘Thank you’ he said quietly, looking down at the yellow and purple circle on his leg.
‘That’s for being a good listener,’ said Veronica, ‘which JJ says is the hardest thing to do. I think she’s right because when Stency tries to tell me something I don’t understand and I wish she could talk to someone else, but all the other children are much older than us.’
She scrunched up in her chair, Peppa Pig wedged between her legs.
‘I like this turny chair. When I get to my new home I hope there’s a turny chair like this one, and CocoPops for breakfast and somewhere for Stency to sleep if she gets scared. She’s the same age as me but JJ says she’s not as grown up, because she still wets the bed and has to sleep with the light on. So sometimes I let her stay in my room on the bean bag, but I don’t always want the light on so I have to hide under the covers to go to sleep. Can you go to sleep with the light on?’
Just Paul laughed. ‘Sometimes. But I think you’re right. You’re much more grown up than Stency.’
JJ started shuffling papers on the desk.
‘It looks like it’s nearly time to go,’ said Just Paul.
Veronica sank a little and felt something in her throat, like when you swallow your dinner but you haven’t chewed it properly and it gets stuck.
Things happened so fast. She would have to remind JJ about Just Paul, as JJ had so many things to think about. Like now, she was clicking her phone and sorting her papers and talking to the judge all at once. The judge looked up from his laptop and his phone and his papers and suddenly spoke, which made Veronica jump, because she was used to Just Paul’s quiet voice.
‘Well young lady. You might not have to see me again after all.’ He smiled but Veronica didn’t smile back. When would she see Just Paul if she wasn’t coming back?
JJ was smiling too. ‘You’re very lucky, Veronica,’ she said. ‘Mr Justice Lawford is a very clever man and he’s going to help you, just like I said he would. What do you say?’
Veronica knew she was supposed to say thank you but she couldn’t speak because the more she tried to swallow whatever was stuck in her throat the bigger it seemed to get. So she nodded instead.
All the grown ups laughed then, except Just Paul, who sat quietly in his chair. Maybe he had a lump too.
They were talking about her now, like they always did, thinking she wasn’t listening.
‘I’m sorry, sir, she’s had a long day of it…well, a long two years you could say!’
‘Not at all, not at all, she’s a brave young thing and I only regret this has taken so long.’
‘You’ll forward all the papers to the DSS then? And copy in Val, as I’m off on leave but she’s up to speed and will make sure it gets to the top of the pile. V’s my number one case, we’re throwing all our resources at it. The last thing we want is the press picking up on it again…’
A voice came from the corridor. ‘Cab’s here! Round the back.’
‘Come on then madam,’ said JJ, in that tone that Veronica knew meant they had to walk quickly. ‘Thanks again.’
‘My pleasure. Goodbye young lady. Look after Jane now, won’t you?’
Veronica shook her head. ‘I already have to look after Stency,’ she almost whispered.
JJ and the judge laughed.
‘Charming!’ said JJ, hugging Veronica slightly with one arm.
‘Ah, she didn’t mean it,’ supposed the judge, walking them to the door. ‘She’s a very lucky girl, and she knows it I’m sure…’
Veronica looked back over her shoulder to where Just Paul sat, waving and smiling. She had a sudden urge to scream, and it must have helped because the lump in her throat vanished and she cried:
‘What about Paul?’
The judge and JJ stopped.
JJ kneeled down. ‘Paul, Veronica? Do I know Paul?’
Her face was very close to Veronica’s now, which was good because Veronica didn’t need to scream.
‘We have to come back or I won’t see Paul. He said he’d help.’
‘When was this, sweetie?’
‘While you were talking. Just Paul, he said. His name’s Just Paul.’
Even as JJ and the judge followed her outstretched finger, the lump returned and it hurt so much she gasped for breath, tears streaming down her face so that she couldn’t even see whether Just Paul was still waving at her or not.
But JJ and the judge could see.
Where Just Paul had been sitting, a yellow and purple sticker clung to an empty chair.