Short Story prize Runner up Year 12&13
17 years old, Year 12
St Paul’s Girls’ School
The Girl From the House on the Corner
Julia ‘Jules’ James tumbled into my life when I was eight years old, and I never really recovered. Unlike her, I was the sort of child who sat with her ankles crossed, her head cocked obediently, her hands washed and folded in her lap. Looking back, I was a precocious little twerp. My parents loved me, though. I was a tidy accessory to our tidy house, a nice ornament to bring out for guests.
With my parents, I lived in the penultimate house in a long terrace of brick houses, all alike. Our garden was tidier than most, and our house was well-kept. Mother’s pride and joy.
Past the end of the terrace and on the corner of the street stood High Gables – the only house on the street to have a name, with gables that poked skywards in all directions. The walls dripped with ivy and the shutters clattered and rattled in the wind. The garden was an impermeable thicket of nettles and hogweed, the windows shrouded with dust. My parents always sighed and clicked their tongues when we passed it, muttering about how the house ruined the look of the neighbourhood and brought down house prices. Walking past High Gables, I would feel something itching beneath my collar, some crawling sense of dissatisfaction with the stiff politeness of my parents and the inoffensive tidiness of our little house.
I was six years old when the house came up for sale, and eight when it was finally sold to the James family. I never really met them. It was their daughter I fell in love with. Jules. Even her name fascinated me. I thought it was brave of her to pick a name for herself that wasn’t the one her parents had given her.
She was not pretty – short, curly hair cut like a boy’s, buck teeth, a snub nose – but I fell in love with her instantly, in the way that only young children can. I spent three years running after her in a state of perpetual breathlessness, tangled up in her madcap schemes and naughty dreams. She taught me how to climb trees in the local park, and how to race passing cars on my bicycle, and how to find constellations in the night sky, her bony finger pointing through the haze of light pollution.
Jules was chaos walking – or running, rather. She never stood still, and even when she was standing, she would hop from one foot to the other, bursting to run somewhere else. She was always eating, and always hungry. Perhaps my memory has repainted her as a Dickensian urchin or an adventurous scamp. There is no doubt, however, that she changed me forever.
We spent every moment when we weren’t at school in each other’s company, getting up to mischief. My mother was in two minds about Jules. On one hand, she claimed that my friendship with her was leading me down a path of juvenile delinquency. On the other hand, she was grateful that I had a friend, that I was becoming a ‘normal’ child.
That was a word that came up a lot in our household. ‘Normal’ was not in any way a word that could be applied to Jules, or to our friendship. We existed in our own world, far from our parents. I met her father thrice in our four-year friendship. I never met her mother. When I was with her, the chiding voice of my mother was reduced to a tinny, distant whine. Lying in my bed each night, reeling from a day in her company, I wondered whether Jules was a witch. She could run faster than anyone I knew, each step ten leagues long, and she could jump high and climb fast and catch butterflies in her hands.
The summer when we both turned eleven was different. Jules talked occasionally of doctor’s appointments. Mother sat me down and gently told me that she was very sick, and that I wouldn’t be able to see her. I had had the flu that winter, and pitied Jules. A bed, I thought, could not contain her. I was allowed to visit her a few weeks later. It was the third and final time I saw her father.
I could not believe my eyes. She was lying back in her bed, her curls falling out against the pillow. She was stiller than I’d ever seen her. I wasn’t sure if she could see me. There was no light burning behind her papery skin.
And, in true Jules fashion, she recovered. After her illness, she was never far from my side. Years passed, and we spent them running up and down the street and chasing each other round the local park.
Two, three, four years since the summer she’d been ill. It was a soft summery evening, and I was sitting on the front doorstep, waiting for Jules. My mother came and sat down beside me.
‘You miss Julia, don’t you?’ she said softly.
I nodded, unable to meet her eyes. In that moment, a crack flashed across my world, the world I’d been working so hard to keep together.
She had beautiful eyes, my mother, grey and doe-like, lashes meticulously combed with mascara. They shone and swelled with tears in the afternoon sun.
‘I never thought I would,’ she went on, ‘but I miss her more than I ever thought I could. I don’t understand why someone like her would be taken so young.’
And in that moment, I hated my mother. Jules would never be taken by anything, anywhere. She was not a compliant child. Not when she’d been alive and not when she was dead.
At the blurry borders of my peripheral vision, Jules hopped from one foot to the other, beckoning for me to come with her. Before I could decide whether or not to follow her, she leapt over the low garden wall and scampered off down the street and out of sight.
Victoria’s comments on winning the competition -
“I was so happy to discover that I had come 2nd! Thank you so much to everyone at Connell Guides for organising this competition. I really enjoyed writing my story!”