Authors: Kate Maryon
For Daniel, Carole, Heather, Louisa, Ruth, James, Sophia, Mala and Joti. For your mummies who now glitter with the stars in the sky – they loved you so much and were so sad to leave you.
For Jonny, Amida and all the other dads who did and continue to do their wonderful best.
For Jayne and Jan who will for ever glitter in my eyes – thank you for so much.
My dad is so obsessed with success that every time I’m home from school, for a weekend or for the holidays, he just can’t resist reminding me of the Parfitt family motto. “Remember, Liberty,” he booms, while he’s checking over my school work or reading my report, “that failure is not an option for a Parfitt.” And what annoys me most is that he
says it as if I’ve never even heard it before. He
says it as if it’s never been drummed into my head a thousand million times. He
says it as if I don’t already know that I’m the biggest failure the Parfitt family has ever had the disappointment of knowing. And what makes things worse is that as hard as I try not to let his
stupid motto bother me, it does. I just can’t help it and every time he says it something deep inside me shrivels up and hides.
At my brother’s parents’ evening, his housemaster said to my dad, “Sebastian has a glittering career ahead of him, Mr Parfitt, he’s a real credit to you, sir. He’s brilliant at everything, an A* student from head to toe and there are top-secret whispers being passed around that he’s going to be made next year’s head boy.”
You could almost see the gift-wrapped packages of love leaping out of my dad’s heart and landing like glitter on my successful brother’s smile.
My parents’ evening wasn’t quite so glittering. My dad had to cancel this extremely important business meeting to drive all the way from London, to our school in Somerset, where the news that hit his ears did not make him smile. “She’s a lovely girl, Mr Parfitt,” my housemistress said, “kind, sweet and helpful, but she struggles with her academic studies. Liberty has more of a natural inclination towards her musical studies and I have to say she really appears to have a talent for it, sir. If she were to be encouraged a little more in this area she may well—”
“Music!” my dad blasted when the parents’ evening was
over. “Music, Liberty! You’re unbelievable! I made it perfectly clear to you when you were small how I felt about you pursuing an interest in music and the same remains today. It was music that ruined your mother’s life and I won’t have it ruin yours. My own mother was stupid enough to let me follow my dreams when I was at school and nothing good ever came of it. I should have listened to my father and gone into business from the start, that’s where the security is, Liberty, you mark my words. But no, my dominating mother stuck her nose in and interfered as usual. So, I want you to listen to me good and listen to me hard. You will do as you’re told and follow a sensible career, one that won’t let you down or get you into trouble. You’re going to be twelve years old soon and it’s about time you put your head down and pulled your socks up. I don’t pay a fortune in fees for you to be at one of the best schools in the country so you can mess about. I’m paying for you to get ahead in life and make something of yourself. I want to see an improvement, Liberty, and I want to see it fast. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Daddy,” I said, because I know there’s never any point in arguing with him. He never listens to anything I have to say. Then he jumped in his car and roared off back
to his office without even saying goodbye. There was no little gift-wrapped parcel of love popping out of his heart for me; there never is. And that’s all I want, really. I just want him to love me too and not just Sebastian. Or even just to like me one tiny little bit. That would be a start. But I only ever seem to make him angry which drives him further and further away.
Two weeks later at the end of year Prize-giving Day things went from bad to worse. Sebastian won six prizes and got to make his first speech as next year’s head boy. And I got nothing! Zilch! Zero!
“I’ve had just about enough of this behaviour, Liberty,” my dad fumed when we’d finished our special celebration lunch for Sebastian’s success. “I’m shocked that you didn’t even manage to pick up one prize. You’re letting the side down, you know, giving us Parfitts a bad reputation and it really won’t do. You have to start towing the line and soon.”
I nodded and quietly tucked myself into the soft, red leather seat of his car. I tried to disappear and let his angry words drift over my head without letting them hurt me.
If only I’d known then, the truth about my dad and his own glittering success. If only I’d known the truth about
what actually happened to my mum and the real fact that success has nothing to do with good marks or money, I might have found the courage to stand up to him and speak up. I might have found the words to say that I
win prizes, and lots of them, and that he could be proud of me and send me little parcels of love to land like glitter on my smile. And that I wouldn’t be a failure and a disappointment to the Parfitt family, if only he’d just let me be who I am and follow my heart.
But I didn’t know any of that then.
I just stared out of the window with the long summer holidays stretching out in front of me, with no idea of how much our lives were about to change.
My school is
And I’m not lying. I mean, I know my dad does spend a small fortune on sending me there, but I truly think it’s worth every penny. Being at boarding school is like being at one long, never-ending sleepover. I mean, of course, we have to do school work and stuff, but living with my friends all the time is so much better than living with my family. It’s not as if I don’t love Sebastian and my dad because I do. It’s just, I feel lonely when I’m with them. If my mum were around things might be different, but something terrible happened to her when I was nine months old and she died. I don’t remember anything about her and my dad refuses to tell me the kind
of things I’d like to know. I have seen one photo of her so I know she had bright red, curly hair, just like mine. And I know she was obsessed with playing the violin, because my dad let it slip out one day, when he was getting stressed about me asking for violin lessons.
My dad has hated music ever since she died. He thinks it was the ruin of her but I don’t understand how music could ruin your life. I think music is the most amazing thing that was ever invented. I mean, you don’t even have to be clever or anything to love it. It’s so simple. It can just dive into you and make your skin tingle and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up on end and tickle you. It can make you feel happy or sad or excited or sleepy just like that, without even trying. And another thing I love about music is that you can hear a song or a piece of music and it can immediately take your mind back to a memory. Like the harvest festival song about the broad beans lying in their blankety beds. That one always takes me back to the time when Alice’s mum took Alice and me to Disneyland Paris for the weekend. We just couldn’t stop singing it, all the way in the car and in the plane. In fact we sang it so many times we started to drive Alice’s mum
so completely crazy that she bought us some lollipops just to make us shut up.
I don’t sing when I’m around my dad. I have to zip my mouth. Even humming might be dangerous. Alice’s mum bought me an iPod last Christmas and I downloaded all of my favourite pieces of music on to it. It’s mostly violin music because that’s my obsession and I’m not joking, I am truly obsessed with it. I think I must take after my mum. It’s so easy to listen to because you can just imagine all of nature and the birds flying and the streams running and the sun shining. And it kind of moves like the wind through my hair and glitters like stars in the night and soars and dives and touches my skin like soft, gentle rain. When I’m home with my dad for the weekend I shut myself in my room and listen to my iPod in secret.
Being secret in our house isn’t too difficult, because for a start it’s enormous. We have eight bedrooms, although most of them aren’t really used very often, and mine is at the top of the house. Our house is very tall and there are so many stairs up to my room that my dad’s always too lazy to bother to come up and see me. But I wouldn’t chance playing music that he might hear from his office – that would be too risky. Playing and listening to music
might seem like a very strange thing for a girl not to be allowed to do and I agree it is. But my dad says he has his reasons and one day, I promise you, I’m going to get to the bottom of it all and find out the truth.
What I don’t understand is why my dad cut us off from my mum’s side of the family straight after her funeral. I mean, you might have thought it was an important thing to keep in contact with your family, but then my dad doesn’t even have that much contact with his
mother, let alone someone else’s. My dad is an only child and my grandpa died years ago because he was very old. So Granny is my dad’s only surviving relative, apart from Sebastian and me of course. My dad says that Granny is an interfering old battleaxe who needs to learn to keep her opinions to herself. I disagree; I think he should listen to her more, because sometimes she says things that I think make sense.
“What your father doesn’t understand, Liberty,” she said one day, “is that I inhabit the Wisdom of Age, not the Insanity of Youth.”
On the few occasions in my life I’ve been brave enough to ask my dad about my mum he just sighed and said, “It’s not helpful for any of us to be talking about your mother,
Liberty. Let the past stay buried in the past.” Which is all very well for him, because it must be a terrible thing when your wife goes and dies, leaving you with two small children to take care of, but it’s not very helpful if you’re a curious type of person, like me.
I tried asking my granny the last time I went to stay with her. But she only had to look at me once with her shiny black eyes for me to know that questions about my mum are out of bounds. I do love my granny because, well, because she’s my granny, but also because she takes me out for fun. We go on these amazing shopping trips and out for lunch and to the theatre and the ballet. I love the ballet, but we have to keep that secret from my dad.
“What we do in our time, Liberty,” she says, “is our business and there’s no need for your father to know any different.”
When I go shopping with Granny it’s always to Harrods. She thinks my dad is useless at buying the right kind of clothes for me, so twice a year she travels down from Scotland to take me out. I’m pretty much allowed to have what I like, so long as I have some sensible things like a warm coat and a special occasion dress and comfy shoes and things like that as well. After shopping we always have
tea at the Ritz. The Ritz is my granny’s favourite place for tea and sometimes we have to meet her friends there too, which means I always get covered in bright red lipstick and half choked to death with old ladies’ perfume. And it means my manners have to be impeccable. Granny likes teaching me about manners and deportment and elocution because she says it’s important for a young lady to be able to carry herself well in the world.
Even though our main house is in London, Granny always prefers us to stay in a hotel. She says that then my dad can’t butt in on our fun.
Granny doesn’t really understand about my obsession with the violin either. Whenever I try to talk to her about it she just coughs and changes the subject, then a little later she might whisper into my ear something like, “Never give up on your dream, Liberty, just keep it under wraps for now.”
I think when she says things like that she is speaking from the Wisdom of Age. My dad has probably told her that the violin is a no go area for my life and for once she is listening to him and doing as he asks. I wish they would be friends; it would make Christmas and things like that much more fun. Granny always goes away for Christmas
on a month-long cruise. She says that the winter sun is good for her constitution.
The first time I actually picked up a violin was when Alice and I both began boarding at our school. We were about seven years old and the moment she pulled it out of its case, I just knew I had to learn to play. The shiny chestnut wood and beautifully shaped bow and four little strings hypnotised me. I didn’t even know anything about my mum and her violin obsession then; just the look of it, the feel of it and the sound of it were like wonderful magic to me and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it or stop the thought of it dancing around my brain.
“Daddy,” I said, on our first weekend home, “can I have violin lessons like Alice?”
“No, Liberty!” he shouted, so loud it made me jump out of my skin. “
am not wasting my money on music lessons and
are not to indulge an obsession like your mother’s. Do I make myself clear? You’ll learn what I want you to learn and do what I want you to do and that is that. End of story.”
So I never asked again and Alice has never minded me borrowing
violin. We have our secret all worked out. Alice’s mum pays for her to have the lessons and then Alice
teaches me what she’s learned. She isn’t really interested in the violin, she’s more of a bookworm and she only plays because her mum insists that it’s an important addition to a young lady’s list of accomplishments. Parents have very strange ideas sometimes. I’m not brilliant at it, but I can play quite well, especially for someone who’s never had a proper lesson. Alice thinks I’m a natural. I wish, I wish, I wish I could play for my dad one day. Then he might see that I’m not such a total failure as he thinks and he might even start to love me just a little bit more. I truly think that if Alice were to ever leave our school and I couldn’t play the violin any more, I really would just shrivel up and die.