Over the past few months in response to flash fiction challenges set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch, I have been writing snippets from the life a character, Marnie, whose story is beginning to emerge as I respond to the prompts.
A couple of recent prompts had me writing about a particular situation which involved mixing paints in an art class. While all flash fiction stories relevant to Marnie’s story can be found on her own page, the two specific to this post can be read here and here (scroll to the bottom of each post for the flash fiction).
I was appreciative of the comments on both posts, with those specific to Marnie’s story encouraging me to reflect and think more deeply about the art class situation in relation to both Marnie and the teacher. While I am still mulling over the appropriate response the teacher may make, I thought I would write a longer piece to explore one possibility from Marnie’s point of view. This episode also relates to other flash fiction pieces, but hopefully the longer episode will be strong enough to stand on its own.
Marnie looked at the paints. The bright colours reminded her of a rainbow, and her unicorn. Her gaze dropped. She needed her unicorn now, but it was up in the office, drying out on Mrs Tomkin’s desk.
“It will be here waiting for you at home time,” Mrs Tomkin had said, smiling. “Okay?”
Marnie nodded, reluctantly, knowing there was no other choice. At least there was only the afternoon session left, and that was art with lovely Miss R.
Miss R. always wore beautiful dresses with colourful patterns. She had long wavy red hair, the colour of Marnie’s and her nails were always painted brightly, sometimes decorated with stars, sometimes with hearts, and sometimes with other patterns. She smelled of paint, and chalk and crayon and other scents Marnie found delightful. She noticed everything about Miss R.; because Miss R. noticed her. Miss R. always had a kind word to say:
“I like the way you used this shade of blue for the sky. I can see a storm is brewing.”
“Tell me about this picture. What’s it all about?”
“I can see you worked hard to get that looking just right.”
Marnie liked it best when she said, as she often did, “I like your choice of colour, Marnie. Your pictures are always bright. They make me happy when I look at them.”
But not today.
Miss R. stopped and looked at Marnie’s work. Her paper was covered in paint the colour of brown mud. Marnie felt Miss R.’s eyes on her work, then on her. She didn’t look up. She didn’t want Miss R. to see the tears that were threatening to fall, that would fall whatever was said. Her lip quivered.
Miss R. moved on.
“I am not crying. I am not, not, not . . .” but it took all her strength when her insides felt as muddy as the paint on her paper. She felt like mud. Maybe she should look like mud too. She smeared her paint-covered hands on her shirt, and wiped the strand of hair away from her eyes. She wanted to tell Miss R. She wanted to tell her about Bruce and what he had done. But she dare not. Bruce had threatened her and she knew he meant it.
Bruce had tripped her at lunch time and she’d fallen into the puddle. The mud had covered her from head to toe. She’d tried to hold her unicorn high; tried to keep it out of the mud. But it had fallen as she hit the ground. It was all muddy too. Everyone had laughed. Everyone except Jasmine, that is. Jasmine had taken her to Mrs. Tomkin, who had helped her clean herself up and gave her some clean clothes to wear. Mrs Tomkin had said she’d call her Mum, so that was another problem looming. At least things would be okay in art with Miss R.
But not today.
Bruce had pulled faces at her and made threatening arm movements as they lined up. He made fun of the oversized shirt Mrs Tomkins had found for her. Everyone was sniggering at it; at her.
Marnie looked straight ahead, trying to ignore the stares. “I am not crying!”
Then Miss R. was there and she suddenly felt protected, like everything was going to be alright; for a little while at least.
But not today. Today was a bad day, a very bad day. It had been bad in the beginning, and it was going to be bad at the end too. Nothing she could do.
Miss R. handed out the papers and paints. Everyone had their own brush but a small pot of water was shared by four.
Marnie couldn’t wait to get started. She knew what she was going to paint: a rainbow and a unicorn! Maybe a tree and some green grass, with some flowers. She couldn’t have her own unicorn but she could paint it. Miss R. would like her bright happy colours, and her pleasure would make her feel better, for a little while at least.
But not today.
While Marnie was contemplating which colours to mix for her unicorn’s mane, Brucie reached over and snatched Marnie’s brush. With one flourish he had dragged the brush through the middle of each of her colours leaving a dirty brown trail. Marnie had opened her mouth to speak, but Bruce silenced her with a threatening motion of a finger across his neck, as it to slit it open. He stashed her brush on the shelf out of reach, and turned back to his paper, innocent-like. Marnie’s eyes searched for Miss R.’s hoping she had seen and would come to her rescue. But Miss R. was talking to Jasmine and some others at the front, and didn’t see.
Marnie looked at her palette. “I am not crying,” she thought as she tried to still her quivering lip and stop the tears that would give Brucie so much pleasure.
She looked at him and poked her tongue. He held up a fist.
Marnie rubbed first one hand, and then the other into the coolness of the paint, blending all the colours. It felt soothing somehow, the way her hands slid easily through the paints. She watched each colour disappear into the muddy brown she was creating, wishing she too could slide away and disappear where no one would notice her anymore; where no one would taunt or bully or harm. If they couldn’t see her, if she was invisible, maybe she’d be safe.
She looked at her palms – covered in brown, just like the mud that had covered them earlier. She smeared the paint on her paper, covering it from edge to edge so nothing of it remained. She wiped what was left on her shirt. What did it matter? She couldn’t be in more trouble than she already was. They were already going to kill her. Sometimes she wished they would. Sometimes she wished she’d never been born. Sometimes . . .
Miss R. stood beside her desk. Marnie could hear her breathing; could still smell her marvellous scents above that of the muddy brown paint that was now her camouflage. She longed for Miss R. to paint her life away, to ask her about her work and what it meant. But she willed her not; and it must have worked because she walked away. How could she tell her? Her life was as muddy as the paint and she could see no way out.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. I’d love to know what you think of this as a possibility of Marnie’s thinking.