Friday, July 21, 2017

As the Wind Blows by Charlotte Silveston

Charlotte Silveston's character is hounded by bullies that make themselves out to be the victims.

Yes, I know - it's very easy to blame someone else. But in this case, it really wasn't my fault, OK? Let's get that straight from the off. If it weren't for that sociopath El Gordo, I wouldn't be locked in this tiny basement room.

From the first day of secondary school, he was out to get me, El Gordo. Not his real name of course but it might as well have been. Even Mrs Purcell called him that, as though she was the mother of some miniature mobster. Which, in a way, I suppose she was. El Gordo was a name that just fitted him - unlike his school shirt (ha!), which always popped open to reveal his flabby gut. But he was never ashamed, not El Gordo. Suppose if he had been, he would have been the victim of bullies. As things stood, that spot was reserved for me.

At first it was a dig in the ribs here, a missing packed lunch there. But then his older brothers got involved: an unholy trinity, if you will. Oddly, the eldest brother was the smallest. He could have been straight out of Lilliput - the runt of the litter, so to speak. The middle one was bookish; 'gifted', some teachers called him. Personally, I thought the word 'boffin' was more appropriate, but of course nobody ever asked my opinion.

The first time I saw them together, it was home-time and I was rushing to the school gates with my head down, trying to hide the red bullseye I was sure was painted on my forehead.

A voice stopped me in my tracks. "So. This is the freak show you were talking about, yeah?" It was the runt. I'd seen him and Boffin walking El Gordo to school.

"Why, it's ghastly," Boffin said. "Positively obscene."

El Gordo cackled, then lumbered towards me. Dodging round him, I continued to hurry towards the gates.

"Hey! Wait for us, Freakshow," he called. "We want to come too, don't we, boys?"

Breaking into a sprint, I managed to outrun them. That time.



"Teacher's peee-eeet!"

Ah, kids can be cruel. But I could put up with their jibes, as long as I didn't have to go out on the playground with El Gordo and his brothers. Yes, I accumulated classroom jobs as though my life depended on it.

In Year Eight, our form room moved to the Art block and to my delight I became the designated 'Pencil Sharpener'. Forgive my lack of humility, but it was a job I excelled at - or so I thought, until the day Mrs Patterson summoned me after the others had gone outside.

"These pencils are tiny!" she said. "I only bought them last week. You haven't been sharpening them every break, have you?"

I looked down at the paint-spattered lino. I'd been sharpening them every break and lunch. I nodded.

Mrs P sighed. "If you can't be sensible about this, I'll find someone else who can."

Her words sank into me like fangs. Dismissed, I trailed outside, where - of course - they were waiting. "Got in trouble with Old Maid Patterson, did we?" El Gordo smirked.

The runt made a disgusting, phlegmy sound at the back of his throat. I suppose it could have been a laugh. "Yeah, widdle baby's about to cry!"

"Shut up and leave me alone!" I cried.

"Ooh, look! Getting angry now, is he?" El Gordo sniggered.

"Moderately agitated," Boffin chimed in.

I puffed out my chest and took a step towards them. They didn't move, but I swear all three of them flinched. "Go. Away." I said, through gritted teeth.

They grinned and scratched their chins at me in unison. I'd never hated them more.

"Leave me alone, you - you trough-guzzlers!" I roared.

All three of them gasped, unsure what to do. El Gordo was the first to recover. "That's so rude. Isn't it, boys? Isn't that rude?"

"The impudence! The impertinence!" Boffin was struggling to speak. "The absolute audacity!"

"Let's go to Mrs Hughes." Without further ado, El Gordo began striding off as fast as his stumpy legs would allow, his brothers following closely behind.

"Wait," I shouted after them. "Wait! I'm sorry, OK?"

But did they stop? Did they hell.



Mother sat opposite the Head of Year, digging her nails into the desk while Mrs Hughes looked on disapprovingly. I could tell what she was thinking: like mother, like son.

"It's quite simple," Mrs Hughes said, "did you, or did you not, call them" - she squinted at her notes - "trough-guzzlers?"

"Well -"

"Yes or no?"

For a moment, I said nothing. Then: "Yes."

"And did you, or did you not, call their mother morbidly obese?"

"What? No! I don't even -"

"Stop! You're embarrassing me," my mother hissed, "same as always."

"I'll take that as a yes," Mrs Hughes said. "All three of them say exactly the same thing."

The large bags under Mrs Hughes' eyes looked like twin hammocks. "Of course they say the same thing," I said, ignoring the glare Mum was giving me, "they're brothers -"

"So that's the problem. You're jealous. Envy, my dear, is an unattractive trait." Mrs Hughes sounded like Boffin.

"No! They bully me! They won't leave me alone!"

She didn't have the decency to conceal her scoff. "Them? Bullying you? I think not, they're but half your size!"

"I know, but -"

"You will write a letter of apology to all three brothers. Individually. And," she continued, "you're off pencil sharpening duty. You'll be outside every break and lunchtime from tomorrow. So you'd better learn how to make some friends."



As time passed, the three of them made sure that I was completely isolated from everyone. School continued to be a maelstrom of rumours and blame and punishment. So, you can imagine my joy when I turned eighteen and was accepted by Sheffield University. Finally! A chance to live my own life. Boffin had been safely ensconced in the Oxford bubble for two years by then and the runt seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. And El Gordo... well, let's just say that if he hadn't wasted so much time at school torturing me, maybe he would have done better than working in the local farm shop. But honestly? I couldn't give a flying fig. I wouldn't waste another second thinking about them.

September that year, I moved into a student house in Crookesmoor. My mother had just left, giving me a perfunctory pat on the back, when I happened to glance across the street. The property opposite was in the midst of some serious renovations, flaunting an exoskeleton of scaffolding. As I looked on, the unpainted front door opened. And who should emerge, but El Gordo himself.

It's difficult to describe the shock I felt. At first I thought I must have developed some kind of psychosis; that the years of torment had brought on a delayed hallucinatory episode. So I left the room, came back to the window - and he was still there. I took the stairs two at a time, wrestled with the front door, and flung myself across the road.

He was standing there, grinning like a demon. "Well, well, well," he said. "What a surprise."

I didn't say anything, just continued marching towards him. I got him by his fleshy neck and pushed him against the shell of the house. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Temper, temper," he sang, "you know I'm the type to press charges."

I let go, giving him a little shove towards the ground. He picked himself up and looked at me, his small eyes glinting with unrestrained glee.

"You can't live here!" I shouted. "This is my new home, not yours. Haven't you got anything better to do than to follow me around? How did you even know I was here?"

"It's a free country." He shrugged. "And your mother sure loves the sound of her own voice. Yes, when I bumped into her in the supermarket, months ago now, couldn't get a word in edgeways. Couldn't wait to ship you off, she said. Words to that effect, anyway."

I swear, I could almost feel the blood bubbling beneath my skin. But even I could see that he had as much right to live there as anyone else. There was no law against it. I turned and stalked back to my own house. Once full of promise, it now loomed like a bad omen.

My mood grew darker and darker over the following days, like fruit left out to rot. A restraining order? No, I wasn't some American reality TV star. A gap year? Moving, permanently, to some far-flung country? No-one would miss me. But why should I have to give up my life? None of this was my fault. I simmered and stewed until I was burned up with exhaustion.

A storm was brewing. One day, I was watching the wind rip the last leaves from the oak outside my window when I saw El Gordo leave his house and head in the direction of town. Before I knew what I was doing, I was battling my way across the road and there I stood, in front of his home, the brick-and-mortar incarnation of my nightmares.

While the wind battered me from every direction, I toyed limply with the ideas of arson and paid assassins. But these were, I hasten to add, idle thoughts - flights of fancy. There was no way I'd actually hurt El Gordo. Well. Not back then.

The wind was making my shirt billow and my chest ached with the cold. It was time to go back. I took one last deep breath, sucking in as much air as I could, filling my lungs until they were ready to burst. Defeated, I exhaled, imagining all the fury and bitterness flow out until I was empty.

At the same moment, a violent gust of wind flew into El Gordo's house, shifting one of the scaffolding poles. The wooden platform above was dislodged and for a split second, there was no sound, only the silent plummet of the rectangle towards the ground.

As it shattered on the concrete driveway, there was an ear-piercing squeal.

"What the hell have you done?" El Gordo screeched. And it wasn't just him. Boffin and the runt, they were there too.

All the rage I had tried so hard to let go of came flooding back. They'd all been watching me. "What do you mean, what have I done?" I spluttered. "I was just standing here!"

But El Gordo wasn't listening. He was gazing at the house, where several other poles were sliding towards the ground in an architectural avalanche. "You - you blew it down!"

"He's done it now!" the runt bellowed.

"Indubitably," Boffin confirmed.

They'd gone insane. All of them. There was no other explanation. "What the hell are you talking about?" I said, rotating to face each one in turn. "How could I possibly blow down an entire house?"

But El Gordo was senseless with rage. "I saw you! We all did! You'll pay for this! Won't he, boys?"

They all nodded hungrily.



And that's it. That's God's honest truth, I swear it.

They've gone for a coffee break, the two police officers. They didn't offer me one, so I've been locked in the interrogation room. They'll be back shortly, back to seal my fate the same way they did with the others. Did the others sit here too, thinking of their persecutors? Did they sit here, seething over Peter from Russia, Red Riding Hood, the seven kids?

One day though, one day I'll get out. And when I do, I'll wait. They can't watch their backs forever. No-one can be vigilant all the time. And when that guard slips, when that opportunity comes along? I'll take them down. I'll take them down once and for all, those three cloven-hooved swine.

4 comments:

  1. Empathy for wolves - don't believe the pigs! I enjoyed this, many thanks, Ceinwen

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Ceinwen - I'm very glad you enjoyed it!

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  2. Four legs good, two legs bad. Gosh, you laugh, you fear! The elevated language really builds the mood; 'flaunting an exoskeleton of scaffolding,' and 'an architectural avalanche'. I'm off now to comb the streets for people with 'eyes like twin hammocks'!
    B r o o k e

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    1. Hi Brooke, thanks for your comments! I hope you enjoyed :)

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