Stick Girl/h3> by Hester Alderman

I like cats. They’re all like ‘I don’t take no shit from nobody.’ Unless they’re the posh cats, like Siamese cats. Then they’re like ‘we will not obey your orders, we are your leaders’ or something like that. Cats are always in charge of themselves. Not like dogs. Dogs are stupid, they take orders from humans and they’re like ‘duhh… throw the stick, throw the stick, throw the stick’. Cats are like ‘no way am I chasing after your stick, you puny human.’ They know exactly what they want and they know exactly how they’re gonna get it. You get a cat as a pet, and you end up as the cat’s pet. They have control. And that’s why I like cats.


I wonder what cats think about people. Maybe they think we’re stupid because we try to control them. Like my little sister. She’s five, and when she played with my kitten and its ball of string she thought she was training it. She said ‘Look Ellie, look! I’m training Peppermint!’ and she dangled the string in front of his nose. And, surprise surprise, he didn’t do anything. He didn’t bat it with his paw, or chase it, or try to climb it. He didn’t do anything that he usually does. I think he knew that she thought that she was in control. He knew, so he proved that he was the boss. That’s what cats do. Maybe cats see us like we see dogs? Maybe when we dangle that bit of ribbon in front of their noses, they think ‘Oh, she wants to play again. Oh, alright.’ And then they bat at the string, or if they’re feeling especially kind they get off their backsides and chase it and then we smile and the cat thinks ‘Job done, time to relax again.’


When I grow up, I want to live with cats and not people. I’ll be the crazy old lady with five hundred cats and I’ll be the one who children will be scared of and will run away from my door because I give them evil looks and wave my walking stick at them. I don’t need anyone.


People argue with you. Cats don’t. That’s because they don’t talk, but I think the world would be a better place if people didn’t talk. It would make going to war a lot harder. The government wouldn’t be able to declare war and the army generals wouldn’t be able to give orders to their troops and the soldiers wouldn’t be able to communicate. And there would be no politicians, because a politician’s job is to talk and talk and talk. And there would be no more school and no more anything. And I could live happily on my own, with my cats, and do my own thing. No forms to fill out, therapy to attend, doctors glaring at me. Nobody at all. Just me and Peppermint and the hundreds of other cats I would have.


I think I’d do alright on my own, without any other people. I like the peace and quiet. That’s why I hate school so much. It’s so noisy and there are people everywhere, pushing and shoving and shouting and screaming. It’s so loud that it’s painful. If I could, I’d have dropped out of school by now. But my form tutor has told me that under no circumstances can I do that. I have to finish my education. She wants me to go on to the sixth form next year and do some A levels as well, but it’s bad enough doing year 11 with everybody who’s a year younger than you, without having to stay at the school for another two years on top of that.


Yeah, I was held back a year. So what? It’s not because I’m stupid. I can pass all of the tests pretty easily. But when everybody my age was doing year eleven and their GCSEs and choosing their A levels and applying to sixth forms and colleges, I was ill. It wasn’t my fault, but I missed the exams, and then they made me come back to school after being ill, just to have to face everyone, all of the nasty comments and the weird looks, the pitying expressions, the whispers and the rumours, and all with a group of people who are a year younger than me. I don’t have any friends any more.


I have to go to school today actually. It’s a Monday, one of the worst days of the week. Double English, double science, physical education and religious education. A day from hell. My day starts the same as every other Monday; I wake up on the mattress on the floor next to my parents’ bed. They aren’t awake yet so I’m not allowed to get up. Light is filtering in through the curtains, which means I don’t need my torch to see, so I pick up the book I’m reading. I’ll probably manage a few chapters before they wake, because I’m quite a fast reader. I’m reading ‘PS I Love You’. I’ve seen the movie, but my cousin told me I ‘just have to read the book, because it is the most awesome book in the world’. It really isn’t. I mean, it’s pretty good, the characters are nice and the plot is interesting, but ‘the most awesome book in the world’? It isn’t that good. I’m about half way through at the moment.


I was right; I manage to read three chapters before I hear my parents stirring. When my mum wakes up she does this odd twitching and snuffling, as if she is some kind of animal, like a badger. Actually, a badger is a pretty good description of her because she has dark hair with silvery streaks and she’s built quite large. She just is a badger! Dad on the other hand… Well, dad is the only one I’m related to by blood, and he is small, like me. He is thin and weedy and he has a dark beard and a lot of hair on his head. He looks wild at times, like he lives in the forest. He’d probably like to live in the forest; he’s that kind of person. He does bird watching and hiking and camping. I used to go with him when I wasn’t sick. Now I’m not allowed. It’s too strenuous. It burns too many calories.


My mum rolls over on to her side. “Morning, sunshine,” she says, smiling, although her eyes are crumpled up because there is a gap in the curtains and the light is too bright for her. This is the first thing that she does every day. It doesn’t matter what day it is, what time it is or where we are. She always, always says ‘good morning sunshine’ to me. I used to think that it was stupid. She would say it even before I got ill, coming into my room to wake me up by opening the curtains and then turfing me out of bed. She’s always called me sunshine. I think that it’s something to do with the very blonde hair that I used to have.


“Morning,” I say, putting down my book. This is my part in our daily routine. Now that I sleep in their room, it’s my job to open the curtains and turf them out of bed. That’s only because I’m awake first, though. I’m awake and bored of lying in bed. So I get up, carefully and slowly. My blood pressure is a bit crazy at the moment and I don’t want to stand up too fast and pass out.


As much as I hate school, I would rather go than have to stay at home all day and not be allowed to move. At least at school I can move around. I pull the curtains open and my mum’s eyes scrunch up even more. She hates bright light. She always wears sunglasses outside and she gets migraines pretty easily. Dad’s getting dressed and I leave the room. I cross the landing and head back into my old bedroom.


It’s still decorated like my room. I have two white walls and two lilac walls, white and lilac curtains, a dressing table and a mirror, a desk where my laptop is kept, a couple of bookshelves, my cupboards for my clothes and my bed. As well as all of the other junk that a teenager collects, of course. It’s really tidy at the moment because I don’t live in it. I store things in it, I get dressed in it, I work in it, but the bed hasn’t been slept in for months and it’s really tidy. It always feels odd, having a bedroom and not sleeping in it.


I open one of the cupboards and find my school uniform. I hate my uniform. Year elevens have to wear these hideous grey jumpers, which look a lot worse than the black which is worn by the lower school. I hate how conspicuous it makes me feel. I don’t want to stand out, I want to blend in. I hate hate hate leaving the house wearing this jumper. But I put it on anyway, over the top of a white polo shirt. My school has a really strict dress code and if you don’t wear the right uniform you get sent home. That would make me stand out even more than a stupid grey jumper. The rest of the uniform is pretty standard. I have black trousers, held up with a black belt, white socks and black leather shoes. The shoes are downstairs though. I look at my face in the mirror, reaching up with one hand to pinch at the skin beneath my chin. Is that a double chin I can see or is the light playing tricks on me? I can’t tell. I tug at my skin. Maybe I’m just giving myself a double chin by pulling at my skin. I let go and it bounces back into place, tight against my bones. No, not a double chin yet. Thank God.


I open the dressing table draw and take out my make up bag. Foundation, concealer, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, lip-gloss. Everything. I apply each one carefully, covering up and hiding different parts of my face one by one. I take a quick glance at the finished product, shudder, run the brush through my hair and then leave the room, picking up my school bag on the way out. I hate mirrors with a passion.


The clock on the kitchen wall reads 6:30 AM. Sounds pretty early, huh? Dad is starting on breakfast, yawning widely and bumping into things as he opens the fridge to get the milk. Mum is sat at the kitchen table, reading yesterday’s paper because today’s hasn’t arrived yet, and attempting to make sandwiches for lunch. My job is to help Dad. The meal plan is taped to the fridge and I study it carefully. Oatmeal with full fat milk and honey. A 200 milliletre glass of orange juice. A handful of raisins and almonds. It sounds like hell. Dad is making the oatmeal because he doesn’t trust me to make it anymore. Not since last time when I poured half the milk down the sink before microwaving the food. I’m allowed to get the orange juice because there’s ‘no way that I can mess up the orange juice’. Dad’s words, not mine, except he didn’t use the word ‘mess’. Dad does the fruit and nuts as well because I can’t be trusted with that either. I feel like a baby, but part of me is glad that they do this, because I know that if they didn’t I’d lose more weight.


It takes me two hours to eat breakfast, no word of a lie. Every mouthful is painful and they watch me the whole time. I keep going, though, because once I’m done I can feed Peppermint. If I don’t finish it all, or I take too long, then I end up late for school and Lydia gets to feed him. Lydia loves Peppermint, but he’s my cat and I want to be the one who feeds him, so I knuckle down and finish the food. I hate the taste of food. Every mouthful makes me gag, but I finish it, and, after my Mum glares at me, I scrape the bowl clean as well. The clock now reads 8:30 AM. I have to be in my form class by 8:25 AM, so I’m already five minutes late, but they let me feed the kitty anyway because I’ve earned it. I give him a quick brush and pour the food into his bowl.


“Good kitty, you like that, don’t you? Here you go… Eat it all up, remember. That’s a good kitty,” I say, stroking him and giving the top of his head a quick kiss. He’s like my baby. He makes me smile in the mornings. He makes me smile all of the time.


I’m sat in the car by 8:40 AM. I’m going to be late for my first class which is annoying but everyone is used to it by now. Mornings are hell. The car drive only takes five minutes and during it neither my dad nor I say a word. The car is silent. I consider turning the radio on, but before I’ve made my mind up the car is pulling into the school car park and Dad is ushering me out.


“Off you go,” he says gruffly, handing me my lunch. Those are the only words he has said to me all morning. I take the lunch and as I’m walking I shove it into my school bag.


In through the front entrance, I sign in late (again) at the desk, wait impatiently for the receptionist to open the inner doors (because only sixth formers get to know the code) and then it’s off to double English and the mundane routine of school.