My name is Gwendoline Mary Lacey. I am about to die. I am not afraid of death, all right, that's my first lie, I am terribly afraid of death. This whole place, this nursing home, smells like death.
|Picture courtesy Enid Blyton Society|
This is my deathbed, I have been put here to die, and now, in my dying, I must tell the truth.
My whole life's path can be traced back to when I was twelve years old and sent to boarding school. It was a lovely building, a bit cold even in the warmest summer, but it is not that I think of, as I lie here. I was an only child, born late in life to my weak mother, who had been told she could never have children, and my father, who never wanted to be married in the first place. My mother who was always ill, wanted me close to her for as long as she lived, and can you blame her? Can you? I cannot. They hired a lady to tutor me and make sure I was well behaved, and she--a childless spinster--came to us at thirty, and stayed with my family until she was in her 70s.
For a brief shining moment in my life, I was loved. I was well and truly, thoroughly, absolutely loved. My governess, Miss Winter, was never very good at mathematics herself, so we meandered through whatever she had to teach me. History or science, English or French. Because I loved her as she loved me, I didn't tell my parents that she didn't know the subjects she was meant to be teaching me. Because she loved me and she was scared for her job, she told them I was a genius. My poor ill mother gazed at me with pride over her breakfast tray, just after Miss Winter would give her my weekly report. My father--if he was there at all--would rustle his newspaper, and attempt to make me say my multiplication tables. At which demand, I would cry and hide behind Miss Winter's skirts. My mother, listening, always listening, would tell him to leave me alone. I never saw my father much, he was a vague mythical creature, but I grew up cossetted by the love of two women. Women were safe, women were my refuge, how was I to know they would also be my bitterest critics?
Ironically (now that I am older, I have begun seeing irony in more things. It makes my life bearable), my mother outlived my father by twenty years, but she was spoilt by his loss, a melancholy, sad woman to the rest of her days. She loved him, she had been the heiress to a vast fortune left to her by a rich bachelor uncle, and she gave it all to my father when first he promised to marry her. And then he lost it all. He tried to kill himself in my final year in school, a year marred by his fights with me. I was hoping to run away, to escape, my mother had promised me a finishing school in Switzerland since I was eight, and this was the escape I was running towards. Being at home with him, his cruel voice, his even crueler silences, were suffocating. Besides, I had seen the way Miss Winter and he looked at each other, and I wanted to cry, "Fool! You know more than anyone what he really is!"
At Malory Towers, that final year, they called me bitter and heartless to speak that way about my father. "He's fine," said that Darrell Rivers, that perfect Darrell Rivers with her perfect life. I had nobody to tell, and how could I hint at what was really happening: my father's hand on Miss Winter's knee, my father's even voice--oh, he never lost his temper loudly--as he demanded more money from my mother. Her pleading, she saved it for me, for Switzerland, but he forged her signature on her private trust and got into her account. I don't even know if he had to forge it. They were easier in those days treating women like chattel.
Every now and then, in the mail, I used to get a plain cardboard square inviting me to a Malory Towers reunion. They were all sent by the president of the Mallory Towers Alumna Society, Mary Lou.
We were all three new girls at the same time. Darrell Rivers, Mary Lou, and I.
One day, watching how the other girls played, I pushed Mary Lou into the pool. If I could go back in time, and take back any moment--any moment at all, including my father's attempted suicide--this is the one I would undo. It was that push that set our lives on three different courses. Mary Lou The Weak, Darrell Rivers The Defender, and I, Gwendoline Mary The Enemy.
Every year, I tried to make new friends, tried in the currency I knew: secrets. That's what girls did with friends, they exchanged secrets. Every year, I watched as my new friends were taken away from me.
You would call them bullies now, but then they were the most popular girls in school. Sally Hope, dependable, Darrell Rivers, head girl, Alicia, so smart, so whip smart that her words flayed along the back of my legs leaving welts only I could see.
I went to one of the school reunions, you know. I went, and stood in a corner, trying not to pull at the hemline of my new dress, bought, penny pinching, from a sale at an expensive boutique. Everyone I loved once, was dead. I lived alone, in a small bedsit, with my dog Morris, and I spent all my money on him. I loved that dog. But it was still important to me to wear a nice dress to a school reunion, perhaps I was going soppy in my old age, but I wanted to see my old friends, listen to their stories again. I stood in a corner and no one spoke to me except Mary Lou, in kind, pitying tones. I turned to go home and overheard Mavis speaking to Bill. "Is that Gwen? Goodness, she's grown fat." And Bill's voice, "You know, I heard that Miss Grayling said that she was one of Malory Towers biggest failures. Darrell told me."
I am about to die, and I was considered the biggest failure of one of the finest schools in Britain. Those with their sharp tongues and sharp brains were successes, those who were good at sports, those who were good at their classes. I, uncoordinated I, with no special talents, had to sink or swim. And I sank. Once, I tried out for the pantomime the fifth form were doing, but "how dare you aspire to be a star?" asked Alicia, and I was made to be a servant. I saw Mary Lou playing the part of Cinderella, with her large brown eyes and her long brown hair, oh, she was very clever, Mary Lou, she pretended to be scared of me the rest of her time at school, and won the sympathy points.
My name is Gwendoline Mary Lacey. Once, people who loved me called me Gwen. Then, people who despised me called me Gwen. Once, I was loved by women, then I was hated by women.
Remember me, remember me.