Thinking. First chapter - wdyt?
Here is the first chapter of a story I'm working on. It's for 12-13 year old girls and it's called Invisible. What do you think? Would you keep reading? Would your 12 year old daughter keep reading?
I have a way of becoming invisible. I sit in my hammock chair in my room at home; I take out my hearing aid, start a gentle rock and slowly close my eyes and very soon I am no one. I don’t exist. No one can see me.
It’s easier that way. When I’m invisible I don’t have to think about my dad and all of that stuff. When I’m invisible I don’t have to feel anything. The anger goes away. I go numb and quiet.
I do it all the time at home. I sit in my chair for hours. It helps me stay invisible at school and if mum and I go out. I know how to walk so that people don't see me. I can sit in a corner and be ignored all day. People don't talk to me – I've learned how to make my body language say this girl doesn’t want to be here – go away. Cross your arms, lean forward, look down, look away. It’s all there.
There are times when I become invisible at home, in the kitchen, when it's just me and mum. She tries to talk to me but I don't talk back unless it's about something like breakfast cereal. If I start opening up to her I’m scared that it will go too far, and one day I will have to feel things and I can't do that. I hate doing it – just giving her really pathetic answers to the questions like how was school today? But if I gave her anything more she might keep asking questions and then, I don't know, I might end up having to talk and having to feel and then having to think about dad.
It drives mum crazy. With every yep and nup I can see her face get even more tight and pinched than usual. I think she’s been to see someone about me because I can see that she doesn’t want to push me, but she just can’t help herself most of the time. She blurts out questions and tries to offer advice. I know she means well, but I just don’t know how to handle it when people pay attention to me. I’m scared of being seen. I’m scared of doing anything. I’d rather just drift.
But it doesn’t look like I’m going to able to drift right now. I’m sitting outside the principal’s office next to my mum, whose back is so furiously straight that I know things are you going to be bad. I close my eyes to try to block out the sight of the grass green, synthetic carpet. Everything about this waiting room is ugly. The smell of stale air and 40-year-old wood paneling is sticking in my nostrils. My mother digs me in the ribs – it’s her usual way of getting my attention, which wouldn’t be so bad except that her fingernails are long - and I open my eyes again.
I catch a glimpse of Shalini through the gap in the blinds on the window. She looks defiant as usual, drumming her thumbs against the chair and pretending to look at anything except Mr Fellowes. I wonder how it would feel to not care about anyone in the world and I pull my shoulders back and put a pout across my face but after about 45 seconds I am tired with the effort and I slump back to my usual posture.
Tyra and Rae have already been in for their turn. I saw their faces – white, tear stained and sulky – as they escaped down the hall and back to class. Tyra's chin was wobbling and Rae had dropped her lower lip, but I doubt it will last long. They’ll probably be laughing in 15 minutes about how they managed to get out of double maths. They don’t really care about much – they just follow Shalini – but they still did a fair bit of damage so I guess there will be some punishment coming.
I look up at my mum. She catches my eye and for a second I am shocked by the pain in her face. I want to hold her hand. I want to sign to her, it’s okay, I’m sorry. Let’s wind the clock back and start again. But winding the clock back would mean going through it all again – dad dying, the funeral, mum crying for a week, moving, moving again and everything else that happened. I can’t do that. It’s too much. I look down at my feet and rock tiny movements on my chair with my eyes closed. I try to become invisible, especially to myself.
I feel the rush of wind from the opening door before I hear the noise of the door handle. Shalini is leaving the office in a great huff. She's like one of those cyclones you see on the news. They come through, no one misses them and they leave a trail of debris behind them. I don't dare lift my eyes to hers. I still can't believe that she did it – that she carried out her crazy plan for revenge. And I can't believe that I went along.
Mr Fellowes is standing in his doorway. I notice, almost without thinking about it, that his beige shirt and brown tie exactly match the colors of his office door.
He says my name again. This time, his voice is like a crack across my back. Instinctively I reach out to adjust my hearing aid.
“I’m ready for you now,” he says and looks at my mother. “Thank you for coming down Mrs. Crawford. I am sorry to take you away from your work.”
I can see my mother is worried. I guess I would be too if I was called away from my office, down to my daughter's school because she had been damaging property. I look again at her face and I also see embarrassment. It’s in the downward curve of her mouth, and the defensive way she is holding her shoulders. Again, I can’t blame her really. Now her friends know that her daughter is a troublemaker and she gets a lecture from the principal for being a bad mother because of what I did.
What I did. That’s what it’s all about now.
When I stand up it's like my legs are detached from my body and they just move because they have to. I follow my mother in to Mr Fellowes’ room. He has an imposing wooden desk that he sits behind. It's so big that it seems to unbalance the room, and I wonder if everything is just going to tip over like when you stand too close to the edge of a small boat. My mother chooses a straight back chair to the left, underneath a framed photograph of a river. I am looking at it, forgetting where I am and trying to drift away with it when I feel mum grab my wrist and pull me down to the chair next to her.
Pay attention, she signs to me. I do, for about a minute, but then I realize that Miss Fraser is standing on the other side, the room. I can't look at her. I'm too afraid of what she will think of me. I drop my head and pretend to ignore what Mr Fellowes is telling my mother. What he is telling her about what I am supposed to have done.
"Mrs. Crawford, again we are very sorry to bring you down here. However, Jazmine has been involved in a serious incident, involving destruction of property in the drama classroom." He nods towards Miss Fraser. "You may be aware that Miss Fraser is head of drama. She's the one who found the girls 'trashing' – as I suppose they would say – the drama classroom."
Mr Fellowes leans back in his chair. His boring tie has fallen to the right down his chest, leaving a line of very dull buttons in plain view. He takes a deep breath in and then out. A long hair emanating from his nostril flickers in the breeze. After that, I notice ear hair as well.
I'm gripping the edges of my chair. The metal feels cold against my fingertips. It's something else to concentrate on, apart from the words that seem to be amassing over my head.
“... and so there was quite a bit of damage, you see,” says the principal to my mother. “Our school policy has always been that destruction of school property means an automatic suspension. I know that Jazmine is new, and I’m well aware of the problems she’s had. But I’m afraid the rule is the rule. And frankly I don’t know what sort of message it would send if Jazmine didn’t have the same punishment as the others. All three are having a full three weeks suspension.”
Great. I’m having the book thrown at me. Mom is cringing in her seat. I don't think she thought it would be this bad. If only she knew the truth. But I hardly feel like explaining and I’m sure no one would believe me anyway – especially not Miss Fraser.
I glance over to see what she looks like – I’m guessing her face is as black as everyone else’s. After all it was her classroom that got trashed and her drama props that Shalini ruined. If it was me, I’d be pretty angry too.
Surprisingly, though Miss Fraser looks calm. Thoughtful, kind and calm.
“Mr Fellowes,” she says, “I know this is a little bit out of order. I have an idea – it might be something that would both fulfil the policy as well as be helpful for Jazmine. Would you mind if I took a minute?”
I watch the two of them walk out of the office. I have no idea what’s going on. Mum looks as confused as I feel. She signs to me did you do this? I need to know why. I just hang my head.
“I don’t know,” I say quietly. “It just happened. Everything just happens. I don’t ever do anything… But I guess this time I did.”
I look up at her. I know I haven't been the best daughter – I know that I have avoided her for a long time, and I don't think she would believe me but honestly, the last thing I ever wanted to do was make my mum sad.
“For what it’s worth now, I’m sorry.” I'm mumbling my words. I don't think she can hear me.
The door creaks and we both look up. Mr Fellowes and Miss Fraser are back. Their faces are serious but Miss Fraser is still calm and Mr. Fellowes seems more positive. This time he doesn't sit behind the enormous desk. He perches on the side of it.
“Mrs. Crawford. Jazmine. Miss Fraser has told me a little bit more information about what happened today in the classroom,” Mr. Fellowes begins. He looks straight at me. His nose hair is still distracting. I try to find a way to avoid his stare.
“It seems that your part in this whole sorry affair was less than the others." He is watching for my reaction. I don't like to give reactions. I stay as still as I can.
"Apparently, and this is what miss Fraser has said –you seem to have been instrumental in saving a few of the most precious things for the drama production." His voice goes up at the end, like a question .
He folds his arms. I don't think he's pleased with how I am taking his words. "I am not excusing you from any culpability here – not at all – but I’m prepared to give you a second chance.”
All of a sudden it is like every eye in the room is on me. Mr Fellows has not stopped staring. Mum has turned her whole body to look at me. Miss Fraser is watching from her side of the room , calm and steady. The pressure is unbearable. I hate it when people look at me. All I want is to be invisible, but now my mother is lifting her eyebrows at me.
“Is this true? Have you told us everything about what happened?” She asks. I can hear nervousness in her turn.
It’s hard to think. I’m breathing faster, feeling nervous – almost sick. Come on I think, let’s just get this over with. Just whatever you do don’t make me explain.
“I think it would be good to hear from Jazmine,” says Mr Fellowes. “Would you like to tell us what happened?”
Great. They want me to explain.
I open my mouth and nothing comes out. I’m like a goldfish flapping my lips, staring out of a fish tank.
“Jazmine, we can only help you if you’ll talk to us, “says Miss Fraser. She smiles at me. It is kind and reassuring. It’s a smile like my father used to have before everything went bad. My hands relax a little and the shaking stops.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” I say. I look around the room for help but they’re still watching me. My mum is getting impatient. She is biting the inside of her lip – something she always does when she is at the end of her tether.
“Come on Jaz,” she says. “Just tell the teacher what happened.”
“Take your time Jazmine,” says Miss Fraser. Her voice is very clear and confident. I can hear every word she says perfectly. “I know you can do this.”
I look at her face – strong and kind – and I take a deep breath.
“I guess it began last week. Shalini was kind of mad because she didn’t get the part in the play that she tried out for. I don’t know... she was really mad with you.” I’m apologizing with my face. I feel bad telling Miss Fraser will will that someone hates her.
“She wanted to pay you back. So she came up with a plan to wreck your classroom. Tyra and Rae, well they wanted to do it. I’m not trying to get out of it, but honestly, I didn’t really want to.” I put my head down again. “I went with them – I don’t know why. I didn’t want to do it though. It all just kind of happened.”
Mr Fellowes looks at me intently. His tie is back in the middle of his chest. I feel so wrung out by speaking to them all that I don't even notice his nose hair.
His voice is very serious. “Jazmine, I need to ask you a serious question. Did you help trash the room?”
“No,” I say quietly.
“And this is a very important question. You need to tell the truth." He has shifted off the desk, standing on the floor. His hands are in his pockets. "Did you try to save some of the props?”
I kick the legs of my chair. I feel like I have no more color in my face. Every speck of energy that I have has gone into answering these questions.
Some tension seems to go out of the room. Mr Fellowes shoulders drop about three inches. My mother exhales loudly. Her breeze ruffled my hair.
“Jazmine.” This time it’s Miss Fraser talking. “I think you owe us an explanation. I think you need to tell us why you went along. Where did it all start?”