Watch What You Wish For
After all, wishes aren’t always just about fairy tales…
I gazed in disbelief at the desolation. The town looked forlorn, forbidding, forsaken. Graffiti everywhere. Store windows looking like they hadn’t been washed in years. Signs leaning crookedly into the wind; the occasional beer can clattering along the gutters. Not a single patch of grass to be seen; not a flower or a tree to relieve the monotony. What few passers-by there were hurried along with their heads down, deliberately avoiding eye contact. They looked miserable, angry, and most decidedly unfriendly.
It was hard to believe that our once-thriving town had undergone such a transformation in just a couple of hours. Only this morning, the tree-lined main street had bustled with locals and tourists. Even though it was October and the weather was getting cooler with the approach of winter, colourful hanging baskets adorned the streets and people gossiped cheerfully as they sipped coffee on the patios. Store fronts gleamed, while not a single piece of garbage littered the street. And even if it had, you can guarantee some concerned citizen would have immediately whisked it up and deposited it in the nearest garbage can.
But that’s Mariposa for you – everyone being so neighbourly and helpful.
Until now, that is. On a normal day, you wouldn’t be able to walk a block before being greeted with enough ‘good mornings’ and ‘how’re you doings’ to last you a lifetime. Being from the city, it’s something I could never get used to. But now I think I’ve changed my mind about that.
Besides the condition of the town, my seventh grade teacher, Ms. Nightingale, had vanished off the face of the earth. Along with our poor old neighbour Mrs. Clutterbuck. Not only were they both missing, apparently they had never even existed!
And the worst part of all? This was ALL my fault!
Before Mariposa, there was Toronto, but we never stayed in the same place for more than a year. My parents, brother and I lived in a series of low-rent apartments and houses, constantly moving on to the next one when we couldn’t pay the rent. My father was usually out of work, although he did hold down a few jobs in warehouses, supermarkets, and fast food joints from time to time. Mom worked as a waitress, but she was also taking part-time courses to become a nurse. She was determined to finish the courses she needed, and would travel across the city by bus, streetcar or subway, depending on where we lived, to get to her classes. My brother and I hardly ever saw her.
Because we moved so often, I was always ‘The New Kid,’ at every single school I attended. When I was younger, in the early grades, it didn’t seem to matter so much. But as I got older, it got harder and harder to fit in. By the time I was in sixth grade, I didn’t even bother any more, and kept to myself without putting in any effort to make friends.
This was the year I met Shay. We were living in a high rise close to the city centre, and Shay lived in the same building. Why she took an interest in me, I had no idea. But take an interest she did, and she made me feel special. You see, Shay was about two years older than me, and I wanted to be just like her. She had this cool, arrogant attitude that said ‘I’m better than you. I know more than you’ll ever know. You’re lucky if I even give you the time of day.’
I tried to copy Shay’s every move. I practiced the way she talked and the way she walked. But she also taught me a lot that year, especially that it wasn’t cool to be good in school. We would skip school a lot. Sometimes we’d just wander around downtown, and sometimes we’d ride the subways, always for free. Shay knew how to get everything for free.
On one occasion she told me we were going to a ‘party.’
I was excited. I half hoped it would be a birthday party with balloons and presents, sandwiches with the crusts cut off, maybe even pizza. But after a short bus ride to an industrial area of the city, my hopes started to fade. We walked along a stretch of deserted road with nothing but abandoned warehouses. I thought we’d taken a wrong turn, but then Shay pushed open a door and we were inside a cavernous room where a dozen or so teenagers sat around drinking. The air was so thick with smoke it was hard to breathe.
Shay pulled up a crate and told me to sit. Then she thrust a can of beer in my hand.
“Go on, drink it!” she said. “It won’t kill you!”
A few of the kids laughed, and I didn’t want to stand out, so I drank as if I’d done so a thousand times before. It tasted horrible.
After a few minutes my head started to spin and my eyes were stinging from the smoke. Shay took my can and shook it to see how much I’d drunk.
“Come on, you can do better than that!” Then she ignored me again for a while.
I forced down a few more swallows, then realized it wasn’t going down the way it was supposed to. My stomach burned and churned and to my absolute horror, everything started to come back up with a vengeance as I threw up all over my pants and shoes.
“Eeuwww,” someone yelled. “How disgusting. LOOK at her!” And they all stared at me in a combination of amusement and disgust.
“Oh my god, Sophie. Look at you!” said Shay. “I think you’d better go.”
I presumed she’d be coming with me, but she pointed to the door.
Wretched and humiliated, I left and arrived home an hour later tearstained and smelling vile. Fortunately, my mom wasn’t home and my dad was passed out in front of the TV. The next time I saw Shay, she didn’t mention the incident, and acted as if nothing had happened.
My mom didn’t know the extent of what I was up to with Shay, but she certainly didn’t approve of me hanging out with her.
“That girl’s a bad influence on you,” she’d say. She had no idea.
A week or so after the ‘party,’ Shay and I were in our local drugstore looking at lipsticks. She told me I would look really pretty in this shade of pink, and I replied that I wasn’t going to spend my money on lipstick.
“Who said anything about paying, you numbskull?” she said, quickly hiding the tube in her hand and sliding it into her pocket. “Now you take this one for me,” and she handed me another one.
I stood there frozen with indecision.
“Don’t stand there looking stupid. Just do it. Stop being such a baby.”
So I did.
We were caught red-handed at the exit and marched into a room at the back of the store to be questioned. Police and parents were called. I sobbed my heart out with regret and humiliation, while Shay sat coolly with a smirk on her face. Because I was a first-offender, I was let off, but Shay was charged. My parents could barely look at me for days afterwards, and I was forbidden to see Shay ever again. Which, of course, I did. By that time, Mom and Dad were so taken up in fighting with each other that they didn’t bother checking up on me.
Shay let me know in no uncertain terms what she thought of me the next time we met. She had been due to make a court appearance because of the shoplifting episode, and she reckoned it was all my fault we’d been caught.
“You had guilt written all over your face, Sophie. It’s no wonder they stopped us. They could tell just by looking at you that you had stuff hidden in your pocket.”
At the time, I believed her. It’s true that I was feeling bad about taking the lipstick, and I’m sure I was looking guilty.
“Now because of you I’ll probably end up in prison.”
Shay was 13 years old and not likely to end up in prison, but I didn’t know that.
“I’m really sorry!”
“You’d better be. And you owe me. Big time.”
To pay her back, Shay said, the least I could do was to give her some of my parents’ booze, which was kept in one of our kitchen cupboards. She’d been in our apartment on a few occasions when my parents weren’t around, so she knew what we had.
“It’s a small price to pay, Sophie. All you have to do is sneak out a couple of bottles in your backpack. They’ll never find out!”
“I don’t know…”
“You’re such a wuss. It’s really not that hard.”
It just felt so wrong; I didn’t want to do it. Anyway, shortly afterwards my Mom told Sam and I that the three of us were moving up to Mariposa. My dad had left at this point. I managed to avoid Shay completely until moving day, where she confronted me outside our building.
“You still owe me, you know. I’m not going to forget what you did.”
My face flushed. Hadn’t I been a good friend to her, always doing what she wanted me to do? Except for stealing from my parents, that is. I was relieved that we were moving and I wouldn’t have to see her again. I thought I was off the hook.
Born and raised in Birmingham, England, Val was pushed into the teaching profession as were thousands of her peers during that era (we won’t say how long ago that was), due to an apparent ‘teacher shortage.’ Her dreams of living the glamorous life of an air stewardess dashed, Val was packed off to Alsager College of Education. This was followed by a couple of years teaching in inner city Birmingham, quite the learning curve for any young teacher.
But Canada was calling. Some family members had already immigrated to this wonderful country, and Val was determined to join them. Once in Ontario, it was a shock to be informed that her British teaching qualifications weren’t sufficient to get her back in the classroom. Not to be deterred, Val worked for the Bank of Montreal by day, while earning her Bachelor’s and teaching degree by night.
Having taught for over 25 years as a regular classroom teacher, a French teacher, and in her later years, Special Education teacher, Val has since retired and set up her own copywriting business in a fervent desire to write. She now spends most of her time writing for children rather than copywriting for adults, which, after all, is far more entertaining!
Categories: book excerpt