by Beda Higgins

I get the bus to school so does my thick brother, we disown each other once we step out of the house, I go upstairs, he goes down, we keep it that way. Sharon gets on at Blackpool tower, my Dad says she’s a bad influence, but she’s a good laugh, and I don’t get much of that at home. Mum tried to split us up at the beginning of term by asking the teachers to separate us, but we drifted back together on the wrong side of bad, no one seemed to notice. We sit at the back of class being bored. If you’re at the very back of class the teachers lay off. They only consider bothering about you if you’re second row from the back. The back is damnation to NVQs, almost special needs. Their eyes glaze over, they can’t be arsed.

I have to change my shoes on the bus upstairs. I’ve bought some four inch platforms out of my own money, Mum refused to buy them but I don’t care if they wreck my back, I look a babe. The first day I wore them Mister Mason yelled ‘Do not wear them to school again.’ So I have the pleasure of my platforms for the bus journey, but then have to do a flamingo impression jiggling on one leg while I change into plimsolls at the school gate. I keep them in my bag because the poxy prefects get their kicks dobbing me in.

‘Double History and double Maths’ I moan to Sharon as we walk up to class. ‘I think I’m losing the will to live.’

Sharon grabs my arm ‘Oh my God, look at Maureen, oh God it is Maureen isn’t it?’

Maureen’s a mouse girl who sits in the corner, you’d never notice her if it wasn’t that Sharon treats her like a dog she kicks every time she sees her, let’s just say she has issues with her.

‘Oh my God, I mean Oh my God’ Sharon squeezes my arm tighter. ‘Look, she’s got a wig on.’

It’s a terrible wig, a stiff helmet bob, like a Lego man.

‘Why?’ I say quietly. ‘Why the hell would she wear a wig?’ I try to remember what Mouse looked like before the wig. It’s a pale, hazy image maybe her hair is slightly ginger. Sharon giggles hysterically, I can see other girls giggling too. Mouse scuttles by, her head down.

Sharon’s electric, the wig has plugged her in, she lights up in History and even grins through double Maths. She keeps nudging me with doodles of Mouse, and flicks little balls of paper across the room to hit her so she’ll turn round, and we can have a good gawp at the helmet. When Mouse puts her head down to write you can see where the wig ends and real hair tufts stick out. Sharon snorts and pretends it’s a sneeze, she gets me going, we nearly pop trying to keep all the giggles gagged. When the bell for goes for lunch Sharon jumps up ‘Oh I’ve got to see this close up.’

Maureen’s already beetled out of class, and nowhere to be seen.

She’s back in class in the afternoon. Sharon’s eyes widen like she’s hunting an endangered species. After last lesson when the bell goes Mouse scrapes up her bag and is gone; vamoose. We hurtle down to the cloakroom, she’s nowhere. We run to the bus stop to try and catch up with her, shoving and pushing as usual. Sharon’s wicked with the lower school, they’re terrified of us. We sit up on top of the double decker bus mouthing off. I’m trying to sneakily change into my platforms ferreting round in my gym bag when Sharon screeches ‘There, there, look she’s there.’ She stands up on the seat and pulls the window open, Sharon doesn’t care who sees her knickers ‘Hey Wiggy, Wiggy’ she yells.

Mouse doesn’t look up, she keeps her head down, for a fleeting second I feel sorry for her, Sharon’s such a cow. She flops down howling laughter and I throw my head back and cackle too. Sharon gets off three stops before me, so I’ve time to calm down. I teeter off the bus holding onto bars of the seats. One of the old bags at the back says while she’s glaring at me, ‘No excuse for that kind of behaviour.’ They glower.

I know Sharon would’ve stared them out or given them some lip, but I’m not so brave and look away. I take the platform shoes off at the lamp post on our corner because Mum would start on me if she knew I wore them to school. Sometimes just the thought of seeing Mum and Dad irritates me, and if my stupid brother is more moronic than usual I might run away with Sharon like she’s always saying we should.

Mum’s in the kitchen being busy doing not very much. ‘Did you have a nice day dear?’ she asks while dialling someone up on the phone.

‘Yeah, there was an axe wielding madman who ripped through half my class which helped pass the time of day.’

She nods and talks into the phone, I knew she wasn’t listening, basically they all suck.

The next day Maureen’s off sick, no one knows why, and no one would care if it hadn’t been for the wig. Then I get the shock of my life in double English when Mrs Soames says ‘Now Louise I’d like to discuss your essay….’

I think ‘oh no’ this is going to be detention, but she says ‘It’s a wonderful piece of descriptive work.’ I’m mortified as she says ‘I’d like to share it with the class.’ And she reads it out. Sharon’s sulky, she hates it if I do well, it’s like I’m being disloyal to her. Mrs Soames raves on and on about my essay. I could die of embarrassment but in my heart I’m chuffed to bits.

When I get in I’m buzzing to tell them about the essay but Mum has her friend Carol round and they’re going to the cinema. I wait for Dad to get in from work, he doesn’t get back until late, I know he’s dead tired but can’t wait to tell him. He has his tea on a tray and is watching TV when I bring him my essay ‘She read it out to the whole class. I’ll read it to you.’

I start reading ‘very good’ he says randomly, but doesn’t stop watching the TV, or lifting the fork to his mouth. When I stop reading halfway through the essay he just sits staring and doesn’t seem to notice I’ve stopped. I look at him wondering when is it adults transform from normal functional beings to miserable gits and women with sheep brains and woolly hair. He’s not been listening, he can’t be bothered. My eyes prickle, it must mean nothing to him, I mean nothing. I slam my book shut and run upstairs. I leave the curtains open and watch the sky change colours. I can’t wait to grow up and get away from this shit-hole.

The next day I wake full of fury. Stuff him, I hate them all. I slam the front door so hard the pane of glass nearly drops out. I meet Sharon at the school gates, she’s having a smoke and drags on her ciggy as if it’s an inhaler. Her eyes are burning, she’s on a mission ‘Let’s get Wiggy today.’

‘What d ’you mean?’

She grinds her fag out. ‘Let’s get the wig off and see what’s underneath.’

‘Leave her be Shaz’ I try coaxing her, but Sharon has that glint in her eye. It’s all to do with Maureen’s auntie Belinda, who according to Steph Wilson, ran off with Sharon’s Dad. It’s nothing to do with Maureen, but for months Sharon’s been taking it out on her, she’s legged her up in the dinner queue, knocked into her in the corridor, and slags her off any chance she gets. I don’t want to look under Maureen’s wig, there might be something gross underneath, a disgusting rash or minging disease, and Maureen’s never done me any harm.

Sharon’s high as a kite and won’t listen, she links my arm dragging me along. ‘C’mon, let’s go and find Wiggy.’ We hunt her down the corridors, in the classrooms, up to the IT block, round the cloakrooms and eventually find her cowering in the toilets. I liked the screeching round corners, and running about like loonies looking for her, but once I see her shivering into a corner of the stinky loo, her vinyl looking wig slightly skew-whiff, I feel cold and wish we hadn’t found her.

Sharon swaggers up to her. Maureen’s white with fear, I can see her shaking. I look at Sharon, my belly tightens, I don’t want to be here. I pull Sharon’s arm ‘C’mon Shaz, leave her, she’s not worth the bother.’

She turns to me her mouth all twisted ‘What’s your problem? Scared?’

I feel sick and say ‘I think someone might come and you’ve scared her enough.’

Sharon ignores me and steps towards her, Maureen crouches down.

‘I just want a little peek under that wig.’

I pull her sleeve. ‘C’mon Shaz’

She turns glaring ‘Why don’t you fuck off’ She pushes me back and leaps forward pouncing on Maureen. She shoves her knee in her chest pinning her down, grabbing for the wig, s he scratches Maureen’s face who’s twisting and turning wildly trying to hold onto the wig, her face red, her mouth open wide, her eyes rolling marbles. I freeze, I’m turned to stone watching Maureen’s head banging against the wall. Sharon’s laughing, the wig shifting back and forward as if her head’s been ripped off. Maureen screams and screams then Sharon suddenly falls back with the helmet clutched in her hands. Maureen throws her arms up trying to cover her head up, howling so loud it cracks my frozen glass. I break free and run. I run with my hands over my ears to stop Maureen’s screaming, I run so I can’t see Sharon waving her wig and kicking her, I run so no one can see me crying.

I go and sit in the library. Maureen’s terrified face swims before me again and again. When the bell goes I go straight to class and sit near the front, feeling lonely. I wait for Maureen to come in; she doesn’t. I ignore Sharon.

At home-time she’s waiting for me with a couple of her side-kicks. She sneers, ‘You’re a fucking coward.’

Her Clingons snigger.

‘So you’re suddenly Wiggy’s best mate?’ Sharon taps her foot.

I spit back ‘What’s your problem Sharon? It’s not Maureen’s fault your Dad left.’

Sharon lunges at me. It’s a feathers flying, snatching, kicking, biting, hair pulling bitchy fight. I run home and never want to see that cow again.

The next day I get the bus early and don’t wear my platforms. I want a don’t notice me day, which is tough titty because first thing I’m called to Mr Mason’s office. He looks grim. ‘I’ve called you in today to discuss some serious allegations of bullying….’

Dad takes me to hospital to see Maureen. She took an overdose of paracetamol after Sharon had done with her. We walk down the sweaty green hospital corridors, my shoes sound very loud. She’s on ITU, unconscious, the unit is bright and glaring. Maureen’s surrounded by machines, they bubble and gurgle, a windmill of nurses whirl round, clicking, ticking pricking. Maureen’s skin is alabaster white, I wonder does she have any blood inside. She has wires tangling inside and out of her, and a plastic tube in her mouth. Her wig is on the locker beside her bed, it looks like a dead animal. Maureen’s head is virtually bald, I can see the tiny blue veins on her skull. I swallow down the lump in my throat, my eyes are blurry.

After a while Dad says ‘Why on earth did you get mixed up in this?’

My mouth is dry, I can’t talk in case I start blubbing.

He says ‘Maureen’s hair fell out because she was bullied at school, she was so scared. The incident yesterday was the final straw.’

A nurse comes in to check on Maureen and stares at me. I hate her, she makes me feel guilty. I hate my Dad for the way he looks at me. I hate Sharon for making her do it. I hate everyone at school for the way they looked at me when I left Mr Mason’s office. I hate Mum for crying and my dumb brother for smirking. Most of all, more than anyone; I hate myself.

BEDA HIGGINS, whose age varies, is a practice nurse by day as well as a creative writer at a local hospice. Previous accolades include winning second prize in the 2007 Biscuit International Flash Fiction Competition, being shortlisted for the 2006 Asham Short Story Award and having her poetry included in the Id on Tyne Press Anthology (2007). She spends an average of 14 hours a week writing but finds that other work disrupts her creativity. Coming from a large family and seeing new places are two things that give her inspiration to write. She aspires to someday win the Booker Prize; she can also do perfect handstands.

This story was first published in Mslexia