The day before she got her scar, Jane had been playing in the street with her little sister Lizzy. It was a residential road with large, unkempt, grey Victorian terraces looming up each side. The houses had been built as family homes, but many had recently been sectioned off into separate bedsits or had become student house-share rentals. The houses got noticeably tidier the further up the hill they were. It was cold enough to need coats, but not so cold that fingers hurt. They were playing catch, back and forth. The sisters smiled at passers-by, who for the most part were strangers. There was a hardness to this new city, that they were still negotiating.
During their game, they became aware of a young couple arguing in the middle of the road. He had a large, dark bushy beard. She had brown hair, long and straight. Both looked deliberately scruffy and slightly outdated, belonging to the previous decade. Their voices were raised, hers conciliatory, his with a hiss. Then the woman screamed and held her side.
“Did he just hit her?” the younger sister asked.
“I think so,” Jane replied.
He did it again. It was hard to know exactly what had happened as his movements were sly and hidden. But she was clutching her side. She was in pain. He was unrepentant. Did the sisters hear him say that she’d asked for it, that it was her fault? Or was that just in his demeanour?
“Should we do something?” Lizzy asked
“No,” Jane replied. She wasn’t sure what they could do. It felt more mature to accept that this sort of thing just happens.
The man walked away. The woman still clutching her side turned around and looked at the girls before going back inside. She was pale, with dark-ringed eyes. There was an absence in her face. Jane knew she would dream about her that evening. Her recent dreams had all been vivid and sad.
Later that evening, after Lizzy went inside, Jane was joined by some other girls from the street who were slightly older. She felt unsure of herself, although they were friendly enough. She could throw and catch with them, but she couldn’t contribute to the chat. Maxine led the group. She was the sort of girl you would be scared not to be friends with. She was fashionable with a large bosom, which she pushed up with her crossed arms as she passed judgement. Her face would probably photograph well, but had a firmness in reality that was disconcerting. She wore pale, frosted-pink lipstick. The neighbourhood girls let Jane know that they thought she sounded posh. Her West Midland flat vowels were the wrong flat vowels. It would be a few months before she could imitate this new accent. In their company, Jane pushed herself to show an edge she didn’t really possess. She developed a hyper-awareness of her own softness and vulnerability. As the evening darkened, they climbed over the wall in the back alley to the park. They told each other ghost stories. Jane felt it was a test of her endurance. She stifled screams when the girls described a disembodied head being banged on a car roof. She knew that if she kept hanging around with them, one night they wouldn’t help her back over the park wall.
The scar was on her left knee. Jane was playing rounders on the hard playground of the primary school. She hated PE because she had to change in the draughty classroom and she had breasts that the boys wanted to look at and that the girls construed as showing off. The other girls might have crowded around her to protect her modesty, if they had liked her, or may be if she had just asked.
PE also meant cold knees even in Spring term, even when the rest of her warmed up by running around. Jane’s team was fielding first. For most of the team that meant standing around in the cold, but Jane was a decent slow bowler. Miss Wilson had chosen her for the mixed school team. It wasn’t much of an achievement. Most of the girls simpered when a rounders ball was being thrown. Jane would have simpered too, but she didn’t want to show weakness. She missed the grass of the playing fields of her last school. She missed being popular. She missed understanding what people said and being understood. She would rather be playing netball.
After bowling out the head girl (she knew that was a mistake she would pay for) her team were put into bat. Jane’s batting was best described as haphazard. Much though she pretended not to care about the hardness of that small ball, she did not put herself in front of it willingly. Jane took what she thought was a wild swing but she made contact with the ball and was taken aback by how far it went. It wasn’t until she heard the chants to run that she realized she needed to move. There was a power to the chanting. It was excitement and a blur. She focused on first base. She didn’t know why she tripped. Was she running too fast? Was the ground uneven? Had a lace come undone? Had one of the boys stuck out his leg?
She went down. She scraped her knee on the gravel, with the little stones embedding themselves in her flesh. All the hate she felt for the school, for the girls who couldn’t be friendly, for the leering boys, for the new house, for her parents’ new jobs, boiled up in her and she screamed. She screamed loud. And when no-one noticed her pain, she screamed louder.
There was blood and there was missing skin. Lizzy was told to take her inside and to get matron to clean it up. Once inside, Jane stopped crying. The nurse cleaned the knee, put on a dressing and Jane got changed back into her school uniform, away from the prying eyes.
She heard Lizzy walk back to the playground.
“Would you have screamed like your sister?”
“No way,” she said.
Jane gulped a little at the betrayal, although she understood it.
Jane’s family eventually moved to a greener, easier part of the city. She felt her shoulders relax as she moved into secondary school and was filtered away from her primary school cohort. One summer, having gained confidence in her soft, skinny, vulnerable body, she was wearing a short skirt and her boyfriend asked about the scar. There was still a blue patch on her knee, looking like a squashed fly. She just laughed and said, “You should’ve seen the other guy.”
Even now in middle age, amidst the bubbles in a bath shaving her legs, she knows that if she looks hard she will find the blue fragments of skin. The scar is still there, faint and lingering. It was a real injury not just an over-reaction to a playground fall. The feathery lines can bring feelings of pride at the young girl who knuckled down and got on with things. And sometimes, Jane still cries for that girl.
About the Creator
Writer-Performer based in the North of England. A joyous, flawed mess.
Please read my stories and enjoy. And if you can, please leave a tip. Money raised will be used towards funding a one-woman story-telling, comedy show.