When Bluebell was ten she tied thirty red balloons to her back, stood on the roof of the shed, spread her arms like wings and took off over the world.
She wrote a story about her flight and everything she saw. When the teacher read it she caned Bluebell for copying from a book, saying a child could not have written like that. Bluebell’s denials brought more canings and the teacher summoned her parents.
The three adults revolved like spinning tops, hissing and spitting and sparking. Bluebell realised then that words were too dangerous to be committed to paper, so she resolved to keep them confined in her head.
She began to feel magical when the stories multiplied while no one had the slightest idea what she was up to. But eventually the number and weight of them caused headaches of such ferocity that she could only rock back and forth with pain in the privacy of her room.
One night she woke to find herself on the roof of the shed again, with voices beating like dark little wings on the inside of her skull. She tore at her scalp thinking that if she could pull the top of her head off all the voices could get out. Her parents heard the racket and found her in her nightie in the garden tearing out lumps of hair and flesh.
In the hospital Bluebell drew a picture of herself flying in a black sky with the balloons on her back and her head open at the neck like a lid and all the story people falling out and bouncing off the edge of the world. The psychiatrist asked her questions about the picture in a kind voice. But Bluebell understood the treachery of words and she told him she’d copied it from a book.
When she got back to school she was put into the extension English class where she learned to conjugate verbs and apply the rules for past, present and future.
Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. Her work appears in numerous journals and anthologies, most recently in Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press, NZ, 2018). Her third novel Ash (Mākaro Press, NZ) and her first flash fiction collection Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) will be published in 2019. www.sandraarnold.co.nz