The Reading Cove

A short story about Hattie, a girl who escapes the confines of high-school, for why, she never quite understands.
In response to the quote 'That's the thing about pain, it demands to be felt' from the novel The Fault in Our Stars

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1. The Only Chapter

 


'Pain... it demands to be felt', is that it? It's something I read in a book amongst books, sat in the library most likely; I couldn't say which book though.

I visit the Library, day after day, sitting in the 'reading cove', which is meant to be the spot for extra quiet reading, and easily spotted by the loud, pink, green and orange neon cut-out letters 'r-e-a-d-i-n-g-c-o-v-e'. I sit in the Reading Cove and read any old toff; one after another, they seem to seep into one another. There never seems to be any conviction between narratives and characters nor information anymore.  I read so many books that every book has become pretty much one and the same, with only a minor change in words. So, I couldn't possibly guess where I had read that quote: 'That's the thing about pain...'

 

Upon finishing my exams the Brighton Church of England Primary and High School (a bugger to fit onto an exam paper by the way,) had let me go, pinning the other last years by the tails as they scratched to get away. I imagined my peers questioning, 'Well why the hell does spesh get to leave?’ receiving the programmed reply my teachers had been taught by the counsellor: 'She's got quite a bit going on right now.'

Clearly, I don't have a lot going on; I've been un-pinned to drift as I please (if you can call staying in one place, all of the time, drifting,) because I am 'clearly not well with myself', according to the school counsellor, a stick figure lady, but not elegant like the spindly women in Lowry paintings, scribbled in Biro, with brown straw hair, often seen in the hands-on-hips position.

Upon my first meeting with Ms. Kleben (I'm not joking, this is her actual name; as 'damaged' as I am I can't help but giggle whenever she introduces herself.) I opened the door inscribed 'Ms. S. Kleben' to see her nibbling on raw carrot sticks. She had asked to see me, so I sat there as she listed through all the phone numbers I could ring and the websites that would help: Childline (which is useless by the way,) Brighton Children's Service (housed in a grey building on an industrial estate that looks ready to collapse at any moment,) as well as her number should I need any more expert counselling. Then she sent me on my way, saying if she got any more reports of 'depression signals' from my ever vigilant teachers she'd call me back. I did not want to have another Kleben experience so I braced myself, ready to ignore the hyped up, angered animals that the head teacher insists on calling students, tails pinned down,  staring at me with their big eyes, eyes darting away as I catch them in the corners of mine. But, as the source-less quote charters, pain is uncontrollable.

 

'What do you like to do then Hattie?' (Oh that's right, I'm called Hattie, I was trying not to bring it up; I've always wished for a more inbetweenie name, like Alice, Hazel or Jane to hide me in the crowd a little better).

'Reading.' I settled with as, I had clocked a few hours in the Reading Cove already.

'Reading?! Fabulous, you'll love this task then...' Her voice (when she isn't using her counselling one,) is piecing, it drives you insane after a while. Not a great quality for a counsellor.

She sent me away with the task of writing about my feelings. I returned the next week with this:

 

' Oh-bloody-woe. I am exiled to this Pit of Shame, I am to sit the deepest corner wherein the stupids, the twits, the boring and the plain old useless sit, with flayed extremities, splayed on the cool floor without a good thought in their heads, nor a single speck in their vision for the complete lack of light blinds their eyes, minds, and souls. And I am the most detestable of all of the creatures who have had to fall to the lowest anybody else has been, for I am a creature of responsibilities not a woman; once a Sméagol turned to a Gollum, of strange noises and barely wondering. The Pit of Shame is only punishment suitable for such a brash creature as I.'

Hmm...'  Ms. Stick mused over my dramatic splerge. I must admit, I did have a giggle writing it; I love dramatising and pretending, playing it up as if I was talking to long dead Horatio or longing for my dear Romeo. 'How have things been Hattie sweetheart?'

'Fine miss.'

'Call me Ms. Kleben, if that makes you more comfortable.' I would have stifled a laugh if I wasn't completely uncomfortable and miserable as it was upon being sent back to her. Nothing shouts 'spesh' louder than being sent to a school counsellor (or a bunch of teenaged insolents catcalling it at you).

'Sure.'

'You are obviously a very lively girl.' Every minute not spent at school, or travelling to and from there, was spent in my bed. 'Up there I mean,' she continued, pointing to my head 'I just need you to let it flow out into your everyday life.'

I just stared at her knees after that; I should have been in bed.

'Harriet.' I must have zoned out. My eyes blurred in and out of focus as I replied.

'Hattie.' Hattie isn't short for anything, as much I as I wish it was, I felt I shouldn't leave her misinformed.

'The fire alarm is going' she said in a different, sugary voice they must have taught her at counselling school. She'd apparently left, assuming I was behind her, only to find me sat still, staring at where her knees used to be. 'Come on.'

As all the other kids piled onto the puddle strewn field, lobbing clumps of wet mud and grass at each other, whilst teachers herded them into lines, I stood with the other teachers and visitors at the front, as apparently I was 'in no state to be rushed around'. I was fine but I was hardly going to argue.

 

So, thereon began my bi-weekly visits to the plain grey office of Ms. Kleben, the high-school counsellor, wherein the Klebenfrau would worry as I drifted off into a world of unfocused scratchy office chairs and government posters about some disease I should avoid. 

 

'Hattie, sweet pea,' she'd say, constantly, in her newly adopted sweetened and professional tone. 'Are you going again? Did you ring the number I suggested last week?' 

I nodded, trying to be reassuring so she'd leave me alone, but really not knowing what she was talking about at all.

"I think you should start studying from home." continued Ms. Kleben one session on a sharp spring morning. "Such a busy environment  is constricting you, I think. Keeping you here, I think, is just wasting such a bright mind! What do you think?" Another one of her fabulous phrases, 'What do you think,' although, this time I must admit I perked up out of my drowsy haze. Although I loved learning new information, lessons had ended, only to be followed by revision sessions. These sessions mainly involved various items hitting the back of my head as girls and boys who couldn't care less about the context and meaning of 'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck, chewed on gum, laughed and chattered, throwing anything they didn't need anymore at the 'spesh-bin'. 

So, I gladly agreed that I was a complete loon and that I needed to be given leave to explore and unleash my inner beauty and intelligence etc. and my string was loosened, to be fully untied as soon as my exams were completed.

The next couple of months were spent in my bed, cramming Jaffa cakes and knowledge into myself, taking my body as if it were an empty vessel. Repeating 'Ryan's Mother Is Visiting Uncle Xavier's Garden', trying to clasp my memory onto the Electromagnetic Spectrum and other special sciencey words that were vitally important.

I splattered information on to paper as eloquently as I could and then it was over. I was free to drift, away from the dreaded careers advice fortnight the other creatures had to endure. I had somehow avoided that helpful punishment. I floated freely like a loose balloon from my bed, on occasion to get a cup of tea, and then, as freely as ever, floated back. 

After some, immeasurable amount of time, my mother sat me down to have a talk, which went like so:

Mum: You have to go outside.

Me: Mmm

Mum: Snap out of it, you're going outside.

Me: Well I don't actually have to.

Mum: Yes you do, you're going out tomorrow.

Me: Yep. 

I agreed so she'd leave me to my mindless sipping tea and staring at the wall opposite the head board of my bed (sometimes at the ceiling if I fancied a change).

Although I could no longer feel the pain as I did before, when a variety of objects would thump the back of my head, it was still their, protesting, demanding to be felt, behind the fuzzy walls of my unfocused eyes.

The next day I drifted out the door to the first place that would take me, and that's how I made my home, during the day, in the Reading Corner. 

 

 

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