The (near) Killing of Mirabel Jones
The Worst Day Of My Life
The sniggers. The snorts. The hiding of laughter behind hands. God, I could have killed them. They nearly killed me.
It all started when I began year seven. I had always been considered a bit of a loser in primary school, but I had had my group of friends. And the others had liked me, sometimes. I didn't mind that the others only wanted to be my friends when I could tell them the answers. My friends were my friends because they liked me and that was all that mattered.
There was Freda, Lucy, Jordan and me. We were the misfits, the odd ones out. I was the brainy, quiet, gangly one. Freda was half-Swedish. Or half-German. Actually, she could have been half-Norwegian. Basically, her mother slept around and had no idea who Freda's father was. She was really open about it, to all of us. Our mothers would have been scandalized, if they had known. Lucy was short, chubby and wore glasses. She was overly shy and had wet her pants every day for the first month of kindergarten. And Jordan was scary. Everyone she met thought so. She must have weighed at least double most of the girls in our class and in year two she was taller than our teacher. She had frizzy, red hair and a booming voice, which didn't really help her fit in. But despite all their oddities they were my friends.
We went to Brockleby Primary School. Brockleby's a little town on the coast, somewhere between Sydney and Port Stephens that no-one's ever heard of. But to the other girls in my year it was the entire world and they were its princesses. They strutted about on their orange fake-tanned legs, following their Queen (Roslyn Pruitt), tossing their bleached blonde hair over their shoulders, and laughing, the way they laughed.
Roslyn Pruitt was the mayor's daughter (naturally). She was the richest, blondest, orangest and loudest and woe betide you if you ever got in her way. Mayor Pruitt was your typical sleazy, greasy-haired rich guy and his wife was your typical sleazy, greasy-haired rich guy's wife. They lived in the biggest, whitest house, right on the beach and it was considered an honour by most of the town to be invited there.
So there we were in year six. Freda, Lucy, Jordan and me, stuck in a class with Roslyn Pruitt and her gang and a group of block-headed, wavy-haired twelve-year-old boys who worshipped the orangutans (as we liked to call them – behind their backs of course) like they were God (instead of just the royal family). It felt like it would stay like that forever, like we would never have to grow up. When you're young it's like that.
But time rolled on (as it has a habit of doing) and soon it was our graduation night and we were all dressed up nicely (or as nicely as you can be when you're standing next to Roslyn Pruitt) and given certificates and presents and smothered by our overly proud parents. Then Roslyn Pruitt and her gang and the block-headed boys were whisked away to some special party organised by Mayor Pruitt and his wife at their big, white house on the beach to drink Diet Coke and mocktails, eat canapés and swim in their enormous, heated, lighted, state-of-the-art pool and relax in their enormous, heated, lighted, state-of-the-art spa. Freda, Lucy, Jordan and I ran down to the beach in our pretty new dresses and frolicked as we listened to their booming music. I remember that night so well. We splashed in the water, wrecking our dresses and our hair and laughing as we mocked Roslyn and her gang and the block-heads.
"We'll all be best friends forever, won't we Bel?" Freda had said to me.
"Of course we will," I had replied, "We're all going to Nororene together next year, aren't we? And we'll all choose the same subjects and sports and we'll laugh and talk and everything will stay the same."
Then Jordan had splashed us some more, for getting too soppy and we had continued with our frolicking. It must have been midnight by the time we emerged, sopping wet and shivering, but happy.
Freda and I had said goodbye to Lucy and Jordan at the main street, because we lived in different directions, and we had strolled down the roads we knew so well, arm in arm, singing Britney Spears and bumping heads, laughing and crying at the same time for the stupidity and the pain and waking half the town. At Freda's street we said goodnight and goodbye, still laughing, and I had run home, the cool night air whipping at my face and my wet hair. I had skipped up the garden path to our little house and noisily barged in, yelling, "Mum, Dad, I'm home!"
After that I didn't remember much, just an excited squeal and a yell (the squeal from my mother's part, for, contrary to all evidence, my father is not gay) and I was bombarded by my parents, who almost squashed me with their hugs.
"What- what is it?" I gasped, for it was hard to find air with them all over me. "What's happened?"
"You've been accepted!" squealed my mother some more.
"Accepted? Accepted to what?"
"To St. Catherine's of course! You've won a scholarship!"
Suddenly everything seemed to go blank. Accepted? No, no, no, NO. I mean, yeah, I had sat for that test because I had wanted to but I hadn't actually expected to get in. This was all wrong! I couldn't go to St. Catherine's! For one thing, it was about fifty kazillion miles away and for another, well… there wasn't one. But it was so far away! And I promptly told them this.
"It's so far away!" I told them.
"It's not that far away, darling," said mother, "You can come home in the holidays and visit us, but I imagine you'll be far too busy for all that! You'll be a private school girl! Oh, we're so proud of you!"
"But, Mum," I protested, shaking my father off me, "It's… it's too expensive!"
"Oh don't be silly, girl. It's a full scholarship! It's free. Of course, we'll have to buy a uniform and what not, but we'll manage. And she must have everything new, right, Donald? I'm not sending my daughter off to St. Catherine's in some shabby, second-hand thing!"
My mother had gone quite crazy. There was no way I was going to St. Catherine's, and she would realise that in time. At the moment, she was too excited. She would soon realise. She would have to.
"Of course," said Donald (my father). He doesn't usually say much at all, so two words was quite an achievement.
"But what about my friends? I can't leave them. I can not and I refuse."
"Oh, stop being so stubborn," my mother cried, "You're going to St. Catherine's. You'll make prettier, more important, smarter friends! Who needs a little town like Brockleby that no-one's ever heard of when you have the opportunity to go to the city and be somebody?"
That was the last straw. I glared at her with all my might, pushed past her and into my room, slamming the door on the way. How dare she insult my friends? How dare she!
I could tell my father was insulted as well. He lives for Brockleby. It was where he was brought up and he'd lived in that house ever since he was three years old. He had met Mum on a holiday in the city with his family when he was twenty and fell in love with her. She was a beautiful, vibrant doctor's daughter at university. He was an oddball, a nobody and wore his grandfather's cardigans. He saw her at a café and he followed her the rest of the afternoon. Eventually he went up to her and told her he loved her and she laughed and ran away with her friends. But he kept it up. She felt sorry for him so they went out for a few dates and she began to like him. He asked her to marry him and she said yes, goodness knows why. She had all the chances and she threw them away for a life in a run-down town nobody had heard of with a man she hardly knew. They got married on the beach up here, moved back into this house and lived happily for five years. Then my grandparents died and nine months later, my older brother, Nolan arrived. He's a bit of a computer geek. Actually, a lot of one. I think he's going to marry his hard drive and have an affair with the USB cable. I found him making out with it once. Anyway, three years later, I came along and we all lived happily ever after. Until then. The worst day of my life.
Despite all my refusals and tantrums, six weeks later I was decked out in my best clothes, loaded with bags full of books and uniform items and driven to the tiny airport in the nearest 'big' town (Nororene) by my mother. I sat in the back of the old Ford, picking at a spot on the seat.
"Don't pick at the seat, Mirabel," said my mother coolly.
I kept picking at the spot on the seat. A few more tense minutes.
"What did I say Mirabel?
"I'm not picking at the seat. I'm picking at the spot on the seat." I was fed up. I hadn't even got to say goodbye to my friends and had refused to say goodbye to Nolan.
She didn't say anything, just pursed her lips and frowned. We pulled in to the airport and I grabbed my bags from the boot, and stalked off towards the entrance to the little building. I heard my mother locking the car and her hurried footsteps to catch up with me. I walked a little faster.
"Mirabel," she cooed, "I don't want us to part on a bad note, darling-"
I stopped. That was it. "Then maybe we shouldn't be parting!" I yelled it straight to her face and the sound echoed around the quiet little valley. Tears spurted out of my eyes. She looked shocked before taking me in her arms and comforting me.
I pulled away. "Do NOT call me darling."
Wiping my eyes, I picked up my bags again and ran to building. When I reached the doors I looked back and saw my mother standing in the middle of the empty car park. Just standing there. Emmeline Fitzgerald, the beautiful, blonde, would-be famous doctor. Standing in the middle of an airport carpark in a place, twenty years ago, she wouldn't have dreamed of being in. Watching her only daughter running away from her, probably thinking of the life she could have had. For the first time in my life, I felt sorry for my mother. I dropped my bags and ran back to her, my face burning and hugged her.
She said nothing. I let go and she gave me a weak, yet encouraging smile and a little nudge. I walked back to my bags, picked them up and entered the airport. Half an hour later, I was sitting on a little plane with two other passengers and we were taking off. That day I left my old life behind and entered the life that would nearly kill me. I may have thought at the time that the day I got into St. Catherine's was the worst day of my life, but little did I know that going to St. Catherine's would be the worst thing I could do for my life.