Story by Carole Russell: Runner-up

16th December 2011

An entry into our 2011 Short Story Competition on the theme of Starlight

It was a ridiculous name. She’d always hated it. It was worse than Peaches, Trixibelle, Cruz- in fact, worse than any of those celebrity children. What had her dad been thinking? Whenever she’d asked he say something like, ‘It’s a lovely name, beautiful, like the stars’. She’d make a retching noise and says, ‘pleeeese!’

She’d told all her school friends to call her Jane. Something plain, sensible and ordinary.

Not that her life was so ordinary. School was getting tougher. Revision couldn’t be a whiz through the text books on the way to school, now it had to be a couple of hours or she’d flunk her GCSE’s. The mocks had been a disaster. Dad had been on her case but what was the big deal anyway? Did she really want to go to University?

She wondered this as she walked up to the station. The woman was waiting there as usual - a little way down the platform. She gave a friendly wave. Same faces, same journey, same every day. What would she give for a different set of circumstances?

But, to give Dad credit, things weren’t so bad. She just let him think that from time to time. She was allowed to be grumpy, she was a teenager wasn’t she?

Sticking a couple of pitta bread in the toaster, searching for the hummus in the fridge, she heard Dad’s key in the lock.

‘One of those for me?’ he said cheerily, walking in the kitchen. ‘Put the kettle on, will you, Star.’

Tea made, she escaped to her room, checked out Facebook, stuck on her headphones and flicked to shuffle songs on her Nano. Opening her books she sighed. Not long til Christmas now. What would they do, this year?

It was freezing. The train had been cancelled and the announcement said there wouldn’t be another along for at least 20 minutes. There was no point going to the waiting room, the heater didn’t work, it seemed to attract the oddest people and it always smelled. The woman was standing in her usual place, wearing a brown duvet coat with the hood up - it made her look fat.

Star stamped her feet - she couldn’t feel her toes and there was a gap between the top of her boots and the bottom of her skirt where her legs were exposed. She hated her school coat and refused to wear it so she couldn’t complain if two inches of her legs turned blue.

Dad had said they’d be at home again for Christmas. He mentioned midnight mass, a panto and Leslie might come over. A panto! How old did he think she was? She thought back to the year they went to Euro Disney. She spoiled the whole trip, complaining about everything, Breakfast with Mickey Mouse had been flatter than the pile of pancakes.

She was wearing that coat again. Practical but not pretty. Star waved back.

At last school was over for the Christmas holidays. She’d arranged to meet friends for a shopping trip and there was the film to look forward to. Dad had wanted to take her to the cinema, he’d said Leslie could come too. ‘Why would I want to go with you and your girlfriend? She’d sneered. ‘I’ve got a life too you know, friends of my own.’

She wasn’t sure why she always snapped at Dad. Clearly, he was keen on Leslie. He mentioned her all the time and he was meeting her more and more. She would definitely try to be nice if Leslie came to the house.

Dad had gone to work. A week of the holidays had passed and Star was already bored. She’d made a half hearted attempt at decorating the tree, she strung up the dozen or so Christmas cards and plugged in some flickering fake candles which she put on the mantelpiece. She put on some music and lay on the floor reading Macbeth.

There was a knock on the door. Dad had forgotten his keys again. Through the glass panel in the middle of the door she could make out a shape that certainly wasn’t Dad.

‘Hello’, said the woman in the duvet coat. ‘I’m Leslie’.

Coincidence? Stalker? Weirdo? Star let her in.

Leslie had always known. For weeks she’d stood on the platform trying to make contact, trying to break down barriers, trying not to make their meeting artificial and awkward.

‘A cup of tea would be great, thank you. It really is lovely to meet you properly at last. I’m sorry if I scared you.’

‘Not scared, just surprised,’ Star swallowed.

‘I met your Dad at the station too,’ Leslie said. ‘He started talking to me one day on the platform.’

‘I know,’ Star said. ‘He told me.’

‘Really? I wonder what else he’s told you.’

Star let the sentence hang in the air as she went to fetch mince pies.

Leslie had gone by the time Dad got back but she knew as soon as he walked in that Leslie had told him.

‘Well, what did you think?.’

‘She’s OK’. OK! God, why did she have to be so vile. ‘No, she was nice, really nice’.

‘I’m pleased. She didn’t tell me she was going to spring that on you but maybe it was a good idea?’

‘Yeah. She said she might come with us to Midnight Mass tomorrow.’

‘Well, if you’re ok with that. Could be nice?’

It was arranged. We’d meet her at the church.

Dad and I walked along the slippery streets. There’d been a light fall of snow in the afternoon , not enough to bring out the gritters but enough to make the pavements pretty treacherous. I’d reached for Dad’s hand as I fell awkwardly off the kerb and I hadn’t let go. Now we were comfortably hand in woolly hand – it felt right.

The night sky was clear but we could see our cloudy breath as we quickened our pace as mass beckoned.

‘Dad, do you think Leslie might move in?’ I asked.

‘You only met her yesterday and you’re already making plans,’ Dad laughed. ‘Why? Would you like that?’

‘Yes and no, I guess. It would seem odd. It has been just you and me forever.’

‘Well not quite forever,’ Dad said quietly.

‘Well, it is forever for me. Not even a photo of me and mum exists,’

‘If you only knew how much I regret that Star. You know I’ve told you before It all happened so quickly. Taking a picture was the last thing on my mind. The nurses were trying to find the doctor, the midwife was shooing me out of the way, the machines were making all these noises, you were screaming…..

‘But you said you and Mum talked. How did you manage that when all that was going on?’

‘That was later,’ Dad murmured. ‘When they said there was nothing they could do.’

‘So you could have taken a picture then, Dad. Couldn’t you?

‘Yes. Yes, I could have done. But I wanted to hold you… and Mum… That was when we named you.’

‘What? I thought you said you’d come up with my ridiculous name.’

‘I only said that when you told me how much you hated it. I didn’t want you to blame mum for anything’, Dad choked back a half laugh. ‘We were looking out of the hospital window on a night pretty much like this one, just holding you and that was mum’s last word, Starlight’.

She could see Leslie standing outside the church in that ridiculous coat. Dad kissed her on the cheek. ‘Happy Christmas, Star, or would you rather I call you Jane? ’ she said, pushing open the church door.

‘I’m happy with Starlight’, I said taking hold of Dad’s hand once more.

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