Charlie held her cast to her chest, as she walked towards school. She pretended it wasn’t heavy but it was. And it made it awkward to walk. She was thinking hard about what she would tell when people asked her how she broke it. She had to think of a story, which would make her sound heroic or athletic instead of the truth. She had some time; after all it was a good walk to school. She never took the school bus. The bus driver was a demon, which sucked out the life of kids when they didn’t pay attention.
Charlie’d gotten real good at coming up with stories for a lot of things. In fact, she was writing some in a little notebook that she hid in her secret place. She never said what it was in case someone was listening and found it. One never knew who the bag guys could be. They could hide in plain sight.
Most people would have said Charlie had a vivid imagination and a propensity to hurt herself. Charlie didn’t know what propensity meant but she had to imagine things, otherwise life would be… well sad. It was so much better to imagine that there were water fairies, which went to the Land of water to pick up drops of dew and decorate spider webs with them. Why shouldn’t there be a giant octopus hiding at the bottom of the lake, waiting for unsuspecting kids to go swim to capture them and be less alone?
“Hey Charlie, what happened to you?” It was Maddie. Maddie was her best friend, but she still couldn’t tell her the truth.
“Well I’m so glad you asked…”
“Oh no! Not another story.”
“But it’s the truth…”
“Yeah right. You climbed a tree to save Jerry from being kidnapped by a giant monkey… King Louie probably.”
Charlie laughed. That was a good one actually.
“No… In fact I went to the ice rink yesterday; I was jumping you know, preparing for the Olympics or something.” Maddie shrugged.
“You don’t even take ice skating lessons.”
“Do. Anyway… I jumped over a kid who’d fallen not to hurt him and I fell instead.”
“You’re such a klutz.”
The bell stopped their bickering. Ms. Edwards asked Charlie what happened… She stuck to the story she told Maddie, word for word. She didn’t want to take a risk; last time she broke her wrist, she’d changed her story and people had called her a liar.
“Charlotte, will your mother be here for the parents’ meeting next week?” Ms. Edwards asked just before recess.
Charlie had to think fast; she couldn’t say she hadn’t mentioned the meeting.
“Well Ms. Edwards, Mama she’s going to be away, you know in Paris I think. You know being a stewardess.”
“Will your aunt be there then?”
Of course she wouldn’t be. Charlie and Jerry looked after themselves. Well mostly, Charlie looked after Jerry. Ms. Edwards didn’t ask about her dad. They always hesitated: Charlie’s father had died serving his country. That story wasn’t even her idea: it was Mama’s. Her father wasn’t dead of course. But it was more romantic than to say he’d left them.
She was a bit worried about Jerry though; he was alone with their mom. He was sick and he never really obeyed when he was sick. But Mama wasn’t feeling really good lately. She got angry easily. She hoped he would stay in his room.
Ms. Edwards was still talking to her.
“I’d like to see your aunt then.”
“I’ll tell her; I don’t know if she’ll come though.”
“I wish she would.”
That wasn’t good. There was no aunt: Mama was alone. And she wasn’t good. She was tired and angry. It was Charlie who washed and clothed Jerry and made him dinner. Their Mama she was under a spell that made her sick and angry: sometimes she turned into a wicked witch, but it wasn’t her fault. It was the spell: it came from the drink she had, Jameson. Charlie had tried to change the content once but it only made the spell more powerful that time. It came and went: when she hurt Charlie she seemed to snap out of it. She would cry and be sorry and be like a good Mama again. But Charlie couldn’t tell no one about the spell on her Mama. They would take her and Jerry away and Mama would have nobody to take care of her.
“Charlotte?” Everybody had gone out but she was still sitting with Ms. Edwards.
“You don’t have an aunt, do you?”
“I do, I do. Her name’s Felicity; she’s Mama’s younger sister. She’s a nurse. In… Detroit.”
“I thought she was in Chicago.”
“Er… well, she’s moved.”
“How did you break your wrist Charlotte?”
“Well, I went to the ice rink yesterday; I was jumping you know, preparing for the Olympics or something. And I jumped over a kid who’d fallen not to hurt him and I fell instead.”
“That’s what you said earlier.”
“I know that’s what I said earlier. It’s what happened.”
“Charlotte, what about Jeremy?”
“What about Jerry?”
“Was he at the ice rink yesterday?”
“No. Well… yes but he didn’t skate.”
Ms. Edwards smiled but she was really sad.
“Why are you lying Charlotte?”
“Ok… Tell me do you know a Mr. Frederic Giles?”
Charlie bit her lips; she wasn’t supposed to know Frederic Giles. Mama said it was alright to pretend there was no Mr. Giles. But she missed him.
“I see you do.” Charlie shook her head no. “He’s your dad isn’t he?”
She shook her head again. No he wasn’t. Her dad was gone. Mama said he was gone.
The classroom opened and there he was in a grey suit; he looked old. But happy. And sad too. Charlie didn’t know what to do. What did she do? If she stood, Mama was going to be alone. And she was going to be angry, turning into the Wicked Witch without Charlie to bring her back. Because hurting Charlie always brought Mama back. Her father had tears in his eyes.
“Oh Baby girl, I’m sorry, so sorry. I didn’t think she would take you away from me.”
Charlie looked at Ms. Edwards. She didn’t understand. Hadn’t her father left them? Or was it the other way around? Charlie wasn’t sure anymore. That was the thing about pretend: sometimes you got so used to it, that you forgot what was pretend and what wasn’t anymore.
“Where’s Jeremy, Charlotte?” Her father asked.
“At home with Mama.”
“Will she hurt him?”
“No, Papa, the spell it’s my fault. It’s not Jerry. He hasn’t done nothing. Mama she’s ok when it’s just him. But it’s me. I don’t know what I done. But I make the spell take her.”
“Oh Baby girl, it’s not your fault. Not your fault, do you hear me?”
“Will Mama be ok?”
“I… I don’t know honey. But she’s done something bad. And… now I’ve got you.”
Charlie and Jerry went to live with their dad. They didn’t see their Mama again; because when Charlie was gone, their Mama could finally return to the world that she must have come from and rule as the princess. Spells only work on princesses it’s a known fact.
Afterwards nobody ever said of Charlie she had propensity to break every bone in her body. But her imagination remained as vivid as ever: only she kept it to stories, and not to re-write her life.
In response to the Daily Post writing prompt Pretend