La Petite Sirene

Short story co-authored by Viking_Ma and FinlaysonPalmer for the Off The Page: Co-Author Competition.

1094 words by Viking_Ma and 1051 by FinlaysonPalmer, total word count is 2145.

2) A fairy tale set in modern times


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1. La Petite Sirene

Ariel was the amazing invisible girl. Whether she was at school or out with her family, nobody apart from her best friend Marnie ever noticed her. Nobody looked her in the eye, but instead they smiled vaguely over her head, afraid to truly see her. Ariel felt like she had vanished as all that anyone saw was her chair.

She was ‘Very Rare.’ La Petite Sirene, Mum had called her, the little mermaid. Born with her legs fused, she’d been through countless operations. She was no good at running or jumping, but there was one sport she excelled at, for Ariel loved to swim. She loved the water more than anything in the world. In the water, she looked like the mermaid she’d been born as, her long red hair flowing out behind her, her strong white arms slicing through the turquoise pool. The water held her, supported her, lifted her up. As she swam, she smiled. She had swimming therapy three times a week at the local leisure centre, and glided up and down, while watched by Beth or Joey, the lifeguards.

She loved it when they praised her, especially Joey. Ariel had a soft spot for him, her heart fluttering a little each time he cheered her on or gave her one of his dazzling smiles. Being in the water was the only place that she felt at home, this was her happy place. Here she could move gracefully, and nobody stared at her like she was some sort of exhibit in a freak show. In the water she could really be free, she felt truly alive.

After swimming, Ariel loathed it when her mum placed her gently back into the chair to have her hair dried. Mum was fussy about her hair, calling it her ‘one true beauty.’ She made sure that the dark red silky lengths were dried and styled before leaving the leisure centre, as she was terrified of Ariel catching a cold or getting an ear ache. Ariel rolled her eyes and endured, imagining Joey gently brushing her hair instead of Mum. When they were ready to leave, she always took a deep breath in case he had wandered out to reception, and she got to say goodbye. But, to her mixed relief and disappointment, he never did.

Joey had never seen her in the wheelchair, she was glad of that. She hated the chair with a passion. Her Mum insisted it was top of the range, the best that money could buy. What her Mum didn't understand was that money couldn't buy her what she really wanted. All Ariel simply longed for was to be able to blend in, and to be like everyone else at school. To walk down the corridor and talk to her friends without having them look over her or down on her.

To be fair though, people at school were generally pleasant. She had a side place in the classrooms, and a nifty lift to use to get up to the third floor for art. She loved to draw almost as much as she loved to swim. Miss Salt, the art teacher, was one of the few people who actually looked her in the eye. Ariel appreciated that. A lot of her art was inspired by the sea, and the fantastical sea-creatures that hid beneath the rolling waves.

It was after Art that she saw the poster on the noticeboard outside the classroom. It had a picture of someone plunging from a diving board into the turquoise ripples of water below. 'End of Term Swimming Competition' it said it big, bold lettering. Ariel was excited, this was something she could do, but her heart sank when she saw that it would be held in the school. She wasn't so sure she'd have the confidence she needed to swim in front of all the people that avoided her eye on a daily basis.

Marnie, her friend, read it alongside her, squinting through her thick glasses. ‘Woah Ariel! You gotta do it! You can swim faster than a dolphin!’ she gasped. Ariel narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. Maybe she would.

Later that night, at home, she casually mentioned it to her mum. ‘It’s on the last day of term, Mum, and I think…I could…’

‘What, ma petite?’

‘I think I want to have a go! What do you reckon?’

Her mum frowned at her. ‘I don’t mind your swim therapy, but a race? At a gala? It would tire you too much. I don’t want you making yourself ill, my darling.’

'You're always baby-ing me. I'm nearly sixteen Mum, I want to do this.'

'We're not discussing this now. I've told you it would make you ill and that's an end to it.'

'You always do that. You make all my decisions for me.'

'Ariel that's totally unfair. I only ever do what's in your best interests. I love you.'

Ariel sighed, her shoulders slumped as if the fight had been knocked out of her. 'I know you do Mum, but I really want to do this.'

'I'll make you a deal.' 'Go on,' Ariel said warily, she wasn't sure what kind of bargain her Mum might offer up.

'I'll let you enter this competition, but you've got to let me arrange for Beth or Joey to come along in case you need help,' she smiled, pleased with her offer. Ariel's stomach churned with nerves. Beth maybe, but not Joey, she thought. The idea of having Joey watch her at school surrounded by her classmates made her have the fluttery feeling again. The idea both terrified and excited her.

‘OK mum! But get Beth please, she’s the best.’

Ariel’s mum gave a sideways smile, knowing her daughter better than she guessed. Later, she jogged up to Ariel’s room. ‘Sirene?’

Ariel looked up from her homework. ‘What’s up Mum?’ she asked.

‘I called the leisure centre. They agreed to give you lifeguard cover, but Beth is on holiday that week.’

‘What?’ Ariel’s heart seemed to do a somersault.

‘So Joey is going to accompany you. I hope that’s alright? He’s such a nice boy. I talked with him for a long time on the phone.’

 ‘Oh my god you didn’t!’ breathed Ariel in a panic. ‘What did you say? What did you tell him? What did he say? Did he ask anything about me?’

Her Mum laughed. 'He's more than happy to come along. He said he wouldn't miss it for the world.'

Ariel could feel her cheeks burning as they flushed scarlet. 'Err, thanks Mum,' she stuttered. That night Ariel dreamed she was in the middle of an ocean. Dolphins danced through the waves around her. She dived after them and realised her legs were covered in emerald green, sparkling scales. She swam with the dolphins as their equal, and the ocean their world.

The rest of the week at school sailed by, and Ariel talked excitedly to Marnie at breaktimes and over their lunch. Marnie couldn’t wait to come and cheer-lead, she was even secretly making Ariel a banner with her whole graphics class.

Before she knew it, it was the night before the gala. Ariel checked her form, seeing that she was entered into the freestyle grand race. That night she could barely sleep, she was so nervous.

She tossed and turned all night and by morning she was exhausted. 'Oh Ariel, you look terrible,' her Mum placed a cooling hand on her forehead. 'You don't feel hot, but you don't look well at all.'

'I'll be fine Mum I'm just a bit tired.'

'I'll call the school and Joey.'

'Why?' Ariel sat bolt upright in bed, face white with panic.

'You can't possibly enter the competition like this darling. You'll make yourself ill.'

'No! Mum please, I have to do this. You don't realise how important it is. I've got to show everyone I can do this. I'm fed up being just the girl in the wheelchair that no one wants to looks at, or feels sorry for.'

'Oh sweetheart, I'm sure no one feels that way about you. You're perfect in your own way.'

'Mum please just let me do this. I’m fine.' Ariel's Mum sighed.

'Okay, you can do it. But any sign that you're struggling or not feeling well, then I'm pulling you out of that pool.' Ariel had tears in her eyes as she hugged her Mum, she felt like today was going to be the first day of her new life.

The drive to school was a blur and Ariel was listless as Mum unloaded her wheelchair and gently lifted her in. ‘Right,’ said Mum determinedly. ‘Let’s show the school how good you are! Good luck, ma Petite Sirene!’

Ariel tried to smile, but inside, she was quaking.

 Then, Joey bounded outside to meet them. ‘Morning Ariel!’ he said, and she gazed at him. He was so handsome, just like a prince from a fairy -tale.

 ‘Hi Joey…thanks for doing this…’ she managed to stutter, her face as red as her hair. Joey gazed at her, the morning sun sparkling on her skin, thinking that she looked beautiful.

‘Why don’t you head in to school and get changed?’ he asked. ‘The gala begins soon.’ Ariel nodded, and mum pushed her inside. There seemed to be a special buzz about the place, and the secretaries stood to give her a thumbs-up as she rolled past. She was more surprised when kids she barely knew patted her on the shoulder and said ‘Go for it Ariel! We’ll be cheering you on!’

Ariel cringed as her Mum lifted her from her wheelchair and sat her down at the edge of the pool in her costume, and hair squished up under a tight swimming cap. She dangled her feet in the cool water, all the nerves and tiredness seemed to evaporate as the water lapped at her ankles. This is where I belong, she thought as a huge smile spread across her face. Everyone else in the race lined the edge of the pool, poised ready to dive. Ariel was allowed to dive from sitting, she had her arms outstretched and, pointed like a dart at the water. The whistle blew and the crowd erupted into cheers as the competitors dived beneath the surface.

Joey danced with excitement as Ariel thrust into the lead and then executed a perfect tumble-turn to begin the swim back. Suddenly though, the boy next to her got into difficulties. The audience didn’t notice, all screaming for Ariel. Marnie and her class frantically waved their massive banner, which said ‘Ariel is The Best!’

Joey spotted the boy in trouble, and kicked off his trainers to dive in. Ariel had already realised he was drowning, and abruptly changed her course. The crowd screamed in frustration as another girl won.

Ariel reached the boy, Tom, first. She pulled him to the surface and strongly swam to the side, where Joey reached forwards and helped her haul Tom out.

The crowd cheered for Ariel as they realised she was helping Tom. 'Thank you! You swam like a mermaid. You we're amazing.' Tom coughed before being taken off to get checked over.

Ariel blushed, especially when Joey hugged her. 'That was so brave. I'm really proud of you.'

‘Thank you. Sorry about your top though.’ They both laughed as they could see her watery silhouette emblazoned across his t-shirt.

The judges called for quiet as they wanted to make an announcement. 'We'd like to thank Ariel Waterson for her act of bravery today, and offer her a special commendation. If she hadn't turned back to help Tom Sandford then we're sure she would have been this year's winner. So we have come to the decision that we're awarding a joint first place!' The crowd erupted into a frenzy of cheers and clapping for Ariel. She felt a surge of pride and happiness as she saw all eyes were on her. No one avoided her gaze, Ariel realised that she had been the one avoiding looking at others. She smiled at her Mum who gave her the thumbs up, and Joey beside her who was giving her one of his most dazzling smiles.

The next day, the pool closed for refurbishment. The grand reopening was six months later, and the head teacher invited Ariel and her mum to join the party of local councillors and journalists.

They all stood beside the pool, which was covered. The Mayor put his arm around Ariel and pointed to the pool. ‘You inspired us, Ariel,’ he chuckled.

Her eyes were like saucers as the cover was removed to reveal a beautiful tiled picture of Ariel with a mermaid’s tail on the bottom. ‘Your bravery will be remembered!’ he said. Ariel’s mum was crying as the photographer snapped a lovely picture of Ariel grinning, giving a big thumbs up.

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