Sunday, 19 April 2020

Besties

by Margaret Drummond

dark mocha coffee

“There’s a gap in the fence over there.”
No need to turn around. I knew who it was. Kitty.  I wondered if she had been there all the time, watching, waiting for the right time. I pictured her sleeping rough under the bridges and rifling for food amongst the bins that lined the path. I could feel her fetid breath hot on my neck as she stood close to me on the embankment, trailing the stench of the canal behind her.
 “Where did you spring from?” I snapped.
Kitty smiled mischievously and put her finger to her lips. “Here and there, ” she said.
“We could go down there now,” she continued.” It would be a laugh. Like old times”
 I shook my head. “I’m too old to play those games. Anyway, I’m still angry with you...”
Tears stung as the wind whipped about my face. Finally Kitty said, “You know why I had to go away... your mum always said......”
It was true my parents never liked her.
Of course I said nothing when I got home.
“Nice walk love? Good to get a bit of fresh air,” said Mum, setting the mug down as usual beside the blue eggcup. My favourite eggcup but chipped now.  “Don’t forget,” said mum nodding at the eggcup in her infuriatingly encouraging way.
 I wondered what she would say if I told her.  Told her about seeing Kitty again.
“That chip bothers me,” I said.
 Mum nodded. “We can get rid of it if that’s what you want.”
“No,” I said quickly. “It reminds me of when I was small.”
She smiled as if that might help and picked up her magazine once again. I remembered that day when Kitty and I took all the egg cups out to the garden and set them down on a lace cloth on the lawn. A tea party, Kitty said, for some friends of hers who predictably never showed up.
Mum’s face seared scarlet. “Where on earth did you get that cloth? That was my grandmother’s. And those egg cups....I sent off for those special. ”
“Kitty found them,” I said. “In the sideboard.”
As I said before, Mum never liked Kitty.
After that Mum often invited Deborah from next door over to play. Deborah, who only played with me because our mothers were friends and who ignored me at school.  And she told the others about Kitty. The others whispered and sniggered and called me a weirdo.  
“So... don’t like her either,” said Kitty one day as we watched Deborah thank Mum ever so politely for having her. “Here,” said Kitty, spitefully passing me the nail scissors. “Cut the hair off that Barbie and we’ll tell your mum that Deborah did it."
But after a while things with Kitty began to get out of hand.
“Stealing from the teacher’s purse! I never heard of such a thing,” Mum wailed. “And don’t Kitty me. You’re old enough to know better my girl.”
“I don’t think we can be friends anymore,” I told Kitty. “You can’t live here with us any longer.”
I was frightened to say it. I had learned to fear Kitty’s rages, when she would flail like the willows beside the canal in the autumn gales and scream like the seagulls that circled the sky above the reeds. But instead Kitty just nodded meekly and said, “Yes, maybe it’s time to go....but we’ll always be besties. Your best interests are my main concern.”
Funny turn of phrase that. That was just what the lady doctor said to me. I struggled to keep a straight face then. She could never guess that Kitty was behind her mouthing those exact same words.
But Kitty did leave eventually, although never quite for good.
“You alright love?” Mum would say fearfully when she caught me looking past her as I strained to make out Kitty’s shadow in the street or when I twitched at the sound of her furtive footsteps on the landing. 
“You would tell me if.....”
“Don’t be silly,” I would say. The echo of a giggle would hang in the air and we both knew that Kitty was never far away.
 “You would tell me...” begged Mum later that day, but after tea I made my excuses and went down to the canal again. Because it had to stop. I couldn’t, I shouldn’t be friends with Kitty anymore.
“Knew you’d come back,” said Kitty as I stood on the embankment once again. “Come down to the path with me. All sorts down there.”
“I’m not stopping,” I said, trying to sound like Mum had done when she spoke to the doctors.  “This really isn’t the best place for me.”
Because that’s what Mum had said when she took me out of there. “This isn’t the best place for my daughter,” and just like Kitty was doing now, Mum had put her hand on my shoulder to guide me.
But before I knew it I was peering over the edge of the concrete path into the brackish water, watching the waves eddy over the secret peaks and valleys below. My toes peeked over the path. I was like a diver on the high board ready to plunge the depths. Behind me I heard the hum of a car-engine, smelled acrid diesel fumes. “See the rainbows on the surface,” hissed Kitty urgently in my ear. “It’s beautiful down there, a city below.”
“But I can’t,” I said, shrugging the heavy hand from my shoulder. “Just leave me alone. Go away.”  
“Come. Let’s leave. Let’s go,” said the face beside me and for a split second I wasn’t sure whose voice I heard. The wind whisked the words far off into the reeds. I felt a hand grappling for mine, pulling me forwards, backwards. For a moment I wasn’t sure. Was it Kitty or Mum I could hear over the lapping waves? Whose fingers were now snared with mine? Urging me onwards? Leading me somewhere? Making me follow? 

About the author

Margaret Drummond is a retired teacher and translator who writes short stories. She also writes about Europe for a variety of blogs and she is very interested in how cultures merge and change.

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