It won a Commendation (yay!). There were three prizes awarded, and one commendation, so I guess my story came fourth. It's a pleasing result.
Now, I'm not sure what to do with the story, in terms of taking it to a broader audience. It's too short to be a stand-alone. There may be calls for short stories, so one option is to sit on it until I hear of such a call. Another alternative is to develop it further.
I'd appreciate your thoughts about it (even if you dont "do" MG). This isn't a way of fishing for compliments, I'm interested in what people think. I'm especially keen to hear any flaws.
After all, I'd like to get a place in the next comp I enter!
“So why did Mean Queen Celine invite you to her party?” Saskia was pushing herself lazily on the swing, letting her feet trail along the ground. The words she hadn’t said hung in the air: and why didn’t she invite me too?
“No idea. I’ve hardly spoken to her all year.”
I pulled out the beaded invitation, with its glittery writing and photo of Celine in her ballet costume. She had passed it to me at school that morning. “They’ve hired a magician.”
“Maybe she wants to make you disappear,” Saskia said with a laugh.
“Nah, then she would have invited you. You’re the one who first called her Queen Celine.”
“But everybody calls her that - she loves it.”
“Doesn’t love the ‘Mean Queen’ bit.”
Saskia’s dog Tugger suddenly bark-bark-barked, so we slid off the swings to see what was happening. His ball was stuck in a tree. My brother, Ben, zipped after us. His wheelchair buzzed like a swarm of hungry mosquitoes. Saskia shook the ball free, and Tugger dived onto it like it was gold.
“I could have done that!” Ben protested.
“What did he say?” Saskia turned to me. I can understand my brother’s words, but his mouth doesn’t move properly, so most people only hear groans.
“Ben likes to do things for himself.”
“Sorry, Ben, I shouldn’t have barged-in. Tugger likes it when you help him.”
Tugger stood on his hind paws and dumped the ball on Ben’s lap, panting excitedly. Ben scooped the ball with the long-handled thrower, and gave it a flick. The ball soared through the air and landed on the grass with a plop, and Tugger streaked like a black bullet.
Ben laughed. His hands can’t throw well, so he loves the ball-thrower. Tugger rushed back with the ball in his jaws, and the game started again.
“Gonna steal you, Tugger!” Ben cried.
Saskia understood, because he makes this joke every time we’re at the park with them.
“Not my dog you don’t!”
Walking home, Saskia started again about the party:
“Maybe Celine lied about it being a fancy dress party, and you’ll be the only one showing up in a costume.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s fancy dress. Could you imagine her friends from the pony-club or the ballet school having a party where they don’t get to dress up in frilly fairy costumes?”
Celine’s parties were legendary. Her parents always crammed just about anything you could hire for a party in their enormous backyard. Jumping castles, juke boxes, ponies – last year she also had a petting zoo with baby wallabies and possums for the kids to cuddle. She’d never asked either of us along before. I didn’t want to tell Saskia, but I was looking forward to it.
“There’s got to be a reason she invited you.”
“Maybe,” I said, trying to not sound annoyed. “Maybe she just wants to be friends with me.”
We walked in silence for a while. “Tomorrow, I’ll ask Queen Celine herself.”
So the next day, I smiled at her at lunchtime.
She always reminded me of a porcelain doll that’s too precious to be taken out of its box, too perfect to play with. She had long silky hair that I would sell my own grandmother for. Celine was sitting with a gang of girls around her. Normally I don’t pay her much attention, but you’ve got to be polite to someone who’s invited you to her party.
Celine sounded bored. Her friends turned and stared coldly. She’s lively around her friends, but speaks like a snooty grown-up to kids she doesn’t like.
“I’m wondering what you’d like for a present?” I said brightly. I pretended I had duct-tape on my cheeks, keeping my mouth in a big friendly smile.
Celine’s best friend Lindsay looked annoyed, like I had no right to ask about Queen Celine’s birthday, but Celine spoke up.
“A horse would be nice,” she said with a shrug. “Or maybe a ticket to Disneyland.”
Her friends all chuckled, so I left.
It made even less sense to me. If I’d been invited by mistake, she would have un-invited me then and there. Saskia was probably right and she’d planned a nasty trick, but I couldn’t see how. But I didn’t waste time thinking about it, especially as my friends were starting a game of handball.
After lunch, I was the first kid in the Art room. Celine came in after me, and took the chair next to mine. Saskia usually sat there, and she was not happy when she saw. But the teacher was nearby, so we couldn’t tip Celine off the chair - even if it might have been fun to. Saskia sat in Celine’s place instead - and shot us foul looks for the entire session.
Art’s my fave thing, and we were doing a “when I grow up” project. We had some black and white photos of our faces to paint over to show how we’d look when we were older. Saskia was doing Dracula fangs and one boy was covering his face with werewolf fur, but Celine and her friends were layering their pictures with fancy hairstyles and jewellery. I concentrated on painting a gleaming stethoscope, because I want to be a doctor. Celine started to talk to me in a friendly voice.
“You’re good at that.”
“Um, thanks,” I mumbled, and waited for a smart line. But it didn’t come.
“Wish I could paint,”
“Yours isn’t too bad,” I said, even though the lips looked too fat, as if she’d been punched.
Celine asked me how to make something sparkle when there’s no glitter paint, so I showed her how to use a small dab of white where the light would hit it. After a while, she’d painted enough dazzling jewellery to make her picture-self look like a Christmas tree.
For the rest of the lesson, Celine was smiling and chatty. There was no sign of Mean Queen Celine, and I wondered if she had a split personality. At the end of the class, Celine waved ‘bye and ran off to join her gang of girls.
I caught up to Saskia, because we always walked home together. I started to tell her a funny thought I’d had: that Celine was going to write my invitation that night. Then it would get sucked into a time-warp – and I’d get it yesterday. Mystery solved.
But I didn’t get the chance to tell her, because as soon as I started, she growled:
“Is that all you can talk about – Celine’s party? I’m over it. Totally. If it’s so important to you, go hang with her gang, and leave me alone.”
She stomped away. I tried to catch up to her, but she turned her back.
“I said: Leave Me Alone.”
Saskia marched home and I trailed behind. I knew better than to speak to her in that mood. It will be hard for Ben if Saskia doesn’t want us to join her and Tugger at the park tonight. Or ever again.
The next morning before the bell, I searched for Saskia in the playground, but she wasn’t having a quick game of handball like she normally did. I was so busy scanning for Saskia, that I nearly bowled-over Queen Celine’s best friend, Lindsay.
“Celine’s only inviting you because her mother said she had to,” Lindsay smirked at me spitefully. “She doesn’t actually want to be your friend.”
“Huh?” I hardly knew Celine’s mum.
“She told Celine to be nice to the kid with the disabled brother. You know she does charity work.”
Celine’s mother often had her photo in the papers for her good work.
It was Celine, looking furious.
“Is that true Celine?”
“Well...at first it was, but once I got to know you, you’re really nice. Even if you’re not as lucky as me.”
“Wait a minute- not as lucky?”
“Yeah, I’ve got to be kind to children less fortunate than me. It’s so, so sad that your brother’s the way he is.”
“But Ben’s great! If you want to be kind, why don’t you invite him as well? He’d love the magician.”
“What?!” Celine shrieked. “Him? I can’t have someone like...that at my party. Yuk. He’d put everybody off.”
I folded my arms and stared hard at Celine.
“If you or your Mum took the trouble to get to know him, you’d see I’m not unlucky for having him around. I’m unlucky for having to put-up with a Mean Queen like you.”
“What did you just call me?”
“You heard!” Saskia was at my side, laughing. “Or have you gone deaf? Poor unlucky darling. We’d better ask you to our parties now.”
“Yeah, Ben’s birthday’s coming soon. He’s nice enough to include you, even if having you there would put his friends off.”
Celine turned away.
“And we’ll make sure your Mum knows you’ve been invited!” I yelled at her back.
Jo Antareau, 2011