Authors: Jodi Taylor
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Contemporary Fiction
The Nothing Girl
Jodi Taylor brings all her comic writing skills to this heart-warming tale of self-discovery.
Known as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband
the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland
and for her, nothing will ever be the same again.
With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world's most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!
Fans of Jodi Taylor's best-selling Chronicles of St Mary's series will adore the quirky humour in this new, contemporary novel.
As it turned out, I didn’t kill myself after all. I don’t mean I didn’t try. In fact, I made all my preparations with the thoroughness of a thirteen-year-old girl whose teachers always commented on her ‘thoroughness’ because they couldn’t think of anything else to say about her. I had carefully considered ways and means and made my choice.
I didn’t go for the wrist-slitting. I think it was because of the mess. Someone would have to clear it up afterwards. I’d been brought up not to make a mess. Not to make a fuss. I know you can do that sort of thing in the bath but I really didn’t want people seeing me with no clothes on, so paracetamol it was. I stockpiled, carefully camouflaging a packet here and a packet there amongst other, more innocuous purchases, not knowing when exactly, but pretty sure it would be soon.
And it was. The weekend followed the normal pattern. There was the usual Friday-night euphoria. School was finished. I had two whole days ahead of me when I didn’t even have to think about it. Monday was an age away. I was happy; although happiness was, in my case, just an absence of misery. I woke on Saturday morning – no school. Yay! By Saturday afternoon, however, I was thinking – this time tomorrow I’ll be nearly back at school again, and the darkness started to nibble at the corners of my mind.
On Sunday, my first thought was – I’m back at school tomorrow, and then the whole day was wasted in fearful anticipation of the following week. By Sunday night I was a little pile of misery in the corner of my bedroom.
And then the next day, of course, would be Monday.
But not any more. I’d had my last Monday. And Tuesday and Wednesday and all the rest of it. This was my last Sunday night. There would be no more Mondays.
I had a nice bath. I was quite calm. I thought I might be nervous, but knowing I wouldn’t ever, ever have to face the world again gave me the quiet strength I needed. It was good to let go. I brushed my hair carefully, put on my favourite jeans and top, and sat back carefully against the pillows. I’d assembled everything I needed – because I’m thorough – water jug, glass, and three packets of paracetamol. There was no note. I wasn’t interested in making people suffer. I did wonder, idly, how long it would take them to find me. When I didn’t turn up at school tomorrow, would they simply assume I had another doctor’s appointment and hadn’t told them again? They never said anything, because they didn’t want to be seen to be picking on the girl with the problems. If, of course, they could remember who I was. I wouldn’t blame them if they couldn’t. Sometimes even I had difficulty remembering me.
God knows when my family would miss me. Maybe when I started to smell.
I hadn’t bothered with a will either. Partly because I was only thirteen years old but mostly because my parents were dead and I lived with my uncle and aunt. My parents’ money had come to me and now it would go to them. My uncle is a solicitor. I know these things. Not that they needed it. They weren’t short of a bob or two themselves.
So there I was, all set to go. Possibly as a means of avoiding school it was a bit OTT – a sledgehammer to crack a walnut – but I couldn’t do this any more. My road had not been very long, but it had been painful and I couldn’t see it getting any better, so I was going now, before it got any worse. It seemed unlikely the world would miss me. Or even notice.
Years later, someone would call me a nothing girl. Admittedly, it was an emotional moment, with greed and hatred and betrayal ricocheting around the room and damaging everything in their path. But all those years ago, when I was only thirteen and still struggling to find my place in the world, before I even heard the phrase hurled at me, that’s what I was.
The Nothing Girl.
I know now there are other people like me. People who, either accidentally or on purpose, fall through the cracks of life. And nobody notices. You call out and no one hears. You drown and people don’t see. You’re not being ignored because that implies they can see you in the first place. I’m talking about people like me – ghosts in their own lives. Hurting themselves just to check they’re still alive.
I wiped away a tear and pulled out the foil blister packs, pressed out the first two tablets, and swallowed them down with a sip of water. I was about to take two more when, from nowhere, a voice said, ‘
I think two are enough, don’t you?
I nearly fell off the bed in shock. I don’t know what I thought. A mysteriously appeared Uncle Richard? A burglar? God?
Scrambling off the bed and scattering foil packets everywhere, I said, ‘Who’s there? Who are you?’
That was when I got my second big shock of the evening because I became aware, belatedly, that I was speaking normally.
This doesn’t happen to me. I’ve got a stutter. A stupid thing. I had a little one as a child that came on if I was upset or frightened. After my parents died it got worse and worse, until it seemed I had to dredge words up from the very core of my being and every single word spoken depleted me somehow. And it was such hard work. And it took so long. At first people were sympathetic in various ways. They waited patiently for me to struggle through a sentence, which made me feel bad. Or they finished the sentence for me which made me feel worse. So I said less and less over the years and now I hardly said anything at all. I certainly didn’t come out with: ‘Who’s there? Who are you?’ without a huge amount of stammering and spluttering and all the massive effort my classmates find so mirth-provoking.
Strangely, I didn’t feel that frightened. After all, I was in the process of taking my own life. How could it get any worse? I think I was more angry than scared. I’d worked my way up to this – this was the most important and probably the last act of my life and someone was telling me two paracetamol were sufficient, as if I just had a mild headache, instead of a life so unbearable that I didn’t want to be in it any longer.
At this moment of high drama, as I stared into the shadowy corners of my bedroom, I became conscious of the smell of warm ginger biscuits. Well, I was only thirteen at the time. Biscuits played a large part in my life. Besides, the smell was familiar and reassuring.
I reached over to my bedside lamp and turned up the brightness. The small pool of light around my bed grew larger and brighter as the darkness retreated. Standing a safe distance away, over by the wardrobe, was an enormous golden horse.
A real horse. Not a picture or a projection. A very real, very solid, very large horse. In my head, I said, ‘Are you a hallucination?’
I think vision is a much nicer word, Jenny, don’t you?
‘Are you a vision?’
‘Am I imagining you?’
‘Am I dead?’
‘What are you?’
He looked down at himself in surprise. ‘
I’m a horse!
We regarded each other for a while.
‘Why are you here?’
To be your friend.
This seemed too good to be true and I refused to let myself believe it. Friends were not something I had.
‘How did you get in here? Can horses climb stairs?’
I can go anywhere you go. Because I’m your friend.
I sat back down on the bed and stared at him. He was right. He was a horse. He was the most beautiful horse I’d ever seen. And certainly the biggest. He was golden and glowed slightly in the lamplight. His mane was long and cream, as was his gently swishing tail. His forelock hung between his ears, slightly obscuring a white star on his forehead and two very large, dark eyes.
He twitched his ears and shifted his weight slightly. I had a sudden vision of enormous piles of horse poo all over Aunt Julia’s expensive gleaming wooden flooring.
He snorted. I got the impression he was laughing and it was funny, but I was still trying to get to grips with an enormous golden horse in my bedroom and a so-far-uncompleted suicide attempt. I was therefore actually feeling a little bit aggrieved at the interruption. Suicide is a big thing.
I think we both know the answer to that one.
‘Have you come to stop me?’
I don’t have to,
’ he said, calmly. He lowered his head and began to examine the contents of my bookcase.
‘Why don’t you have to stop me? You can’t, you know. I’m going to do this.’
He turned back from the bookcase. ‘
No, you’re not.
‘You can’t stop me,’ I said, trying not to sound petulant.
Jenny, let’s not start off with an argument. You can say anything you like to me. In fact, I wish you would. All I ask is that you’re truthful with me. If you lie to me then you’re lying to yourself.
I was angry. ‘I want you to go away.’
No, you don’t.
‘I do. Go away. You’re frightening me.’
No, I’m not.
‘I’ll call my uncle.’
And tell him – what?
That stopped me. I’d already had more than my fair share of ‘doctor’s appointments’. The last thing I needed was to bounce downstairs announcing there was an enormous talking horse in my bedroom.
’ he said, gently. ‘
Pick up the packets and throw them all out of the window.
‘No,’ I said, clutching them to me.
You’re not going to do this.
‘I am. I am.’
No, you’re not
‘You don’t know that. How do you know that?’
Because you’ve done your homework.
You’ve done your homework for Monday. It’s over there. An essay on Julius Caesar, two pages of German translation, and what looks like … yes … a page of simultaneous equations. You’ve got the second one wrong, but all the others are right. Well done.
I stopped dead, wrestling with the implications. He was right. I had done my homework. Even though I’d planned to kill myself on Sunday night I’d done my homework for Monday. And now, as I looked around the room, I could see my stuff ready for Monday. My uniform would be hanging in the wardrobe. My shoes were cleaned and ready. I told you I was thorough. I tried to think about what this meant and ended by bursting into tears.
I heard him move across the room towards me. His breath was warm and comforting in my hair. I could smell ginger biscuits again. He stood between me and the door. My shield against the world.
It’s all right
,’ he said, gently. ‘
It really is all right, Jenny. You just wait and see.
I wiped my nose on my sleeve. ‘Why are you here? Why me?’
I never forgot his reply.
Because, Jenny, you’re special.’
So that’s how I met Thomas. I asked him his name and he said, ‘
’. It was surely only a coincidence that that was the name I was thinking of at the time.
Five years later, I left school with good A levels; better than both my cousins certainly. In a perfect world, of course, Francesca would have had the beauty and Christopher would have had the brains. Well, the universe got it half right. Francesca was very beautiful. Christopher, sadly, had the brains of an earthworm and slightly less personality. He never got anything right. Even with tall parents and a tall sister, he managed to be well under average height. In a good-looking family, he was not only undistinguished but unmemorable. Ten minutes after he’d gone, you’d be hard pushed to remember what he looked like. He compensated by being obnoxious. The only talents he possessed were delusions of adequacy. He truly believed he was something special and even when various business affairs came crashing down around his head, as they invariably did, he was always unshakeably convinced it was everyone else’s fault. So stupid was he that he’d managed to take Rushford’s only bookshop and run it slowly into the ground. God knows what it cost Uncle Richard to keep him afloat. But he did. What Christopher wanted, Christopher got. Because on top of everything else, he was a cowardly, spiteful bully who delighted in tormenting those weaker than himself. And I should know. I remember, when I was a child, Russell Checkland had yanked him off me a couple of times.
And no one ever mentioned A levels and Francesca in the same sentence. She didn’t need them.
They went on to have proper lives. Nothing happened to me for another fifteen years. After what Aunt Julia told me that day, I made sure I kept my head down and lived a gentle, uneventful life.
It happened when I tried to make a bid for freedom, picking my moment and then nervously showing my aunt a number of university brochures and pamphlets. She looked through them all very carefully, using the time to think of something to say. I did think it was because she was hurt that I wanted to leave home, but it was worse than that.
‘Jenny, dear.’ She stopped.
I took a deep, steadying breath, marshalling the words one by one like recalcitrant sheep. ‘I … like this one. Look at the History … syllabus.’
‘Of course, it didn’t come out as smoothly as that, but typing my stutter would take for ever and reading it is even more irritating than listening to it. You just have to imagine it.
‘Jenny,’ she said again.
‘You aren’t … looking at them.’
‘Jenny. I so hoped we wouldn’t have to have this conversation. I need you to listen to me very carefully. Naturally, your uncle and I were very pleased with your exam results. It’s nice to see you doing something well.’
Deep inside me, things began to clench. I could almost see my words flying free out of the window, leaving me far behind, never getting off the ground.
‘My dear, the thing is … oh dear, this is so difficult. Jenny dear, you’ve lived with us a long while now and we hoped you would always continue to make your home with us.’
Behind me, Thomas breathed into my hair. I couldn’t see him but I knew he was there. He was always there for me. ‘
Be calm. Breathe slowly. Wait to see what she has to say first.
‘You see, some years ago, you remember, when we took you to see all those doctors and the thing is, well, they wanted you to go and live in – a special place – where they thought you would benefit from being with others like you.’