Poetic Justice – A Short Story by Rachel Deeming

This story was first published on Reedsy Prompts on reedsy.com and was inspired by the writing prompt ” Frame your story as an adult recalling the events of their childhood. “

Journal of Dorothy Walters, July 13th 2018

Well, well, well! What a turn up for the books! I’m not one to dwell on the past nor am I particularly keen to revel in the bad that befalls others but today I will admit that I am indulging in both as I have just read some rather surprising news in the obituary section of the local newspaper.

Yes, Emily Ryder has passed away, peacefully at home, surrounded by family and friends, no doubt. All of whom worshipped her or at least pretended to for fear of repercussions to the contrary, I expect. You can imagine my surprise when I had just finished the sudoku (my daily mental exercise) and was leafing through the remainder of the paper, stopping before the sport, of course, when I was assailed by a large photo of my arch nemesis beaming out at me, with those bleached white teeth and sparkling tiara in an off-the-shoulder ball gown (it must have been taken at one of those posh functions she was always boasting about). It gave me quite a start, I can tell you, seeing her again and it brought back a whole lot of memories.

Ah, Emily Ryder! It is strange how our lives have run parallel, enmeshed together until these past ten years of our dotage where our lives had separated due to family commitments and less energy for good causes and community volunteering. I finally felt like I had come out from under her shadow. To be honest, I never thought I’d see her again but now that I have, it’s difficult to articulate quite how much I dislike the woman. Or should that be disliked? No, dislike – I still don’t like her even if she’s no longer of this Earth.

It wasn’t always that way, of course. At one point, we were inseparable. When we were in Mrs Hughes’ class at primary school, we could never have imagined sitting anywhere else except side by side at the same table. I can remember us being told off for whispering to each other on a daily basis and we’d play horses in the yard with skipping ropes as reins, swapping between being the horse in front and the rider behind. So much fun!

I mean, we were always a little competitive with each other, even before the strife: the prize for the Creative Writing composition given at the end of the year was always between us; sports’ day generally brought out the worst in us too but we were always forgiving at the end of the day. We were, at that stage, quite evenly matched and certainly very good friends.

I can pinpoint exactly where it all changed: the poetry recital competition, and Stephen Taylor.

I often relive that day in my memory. At the end of the year, the school held a small celebration of achievement and Emily and I had been chosen to recite poems. We had to choose which one we wanted to do and I had picked mine straightaway: Composed Upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth- long enough to be tricky, not long enough to be unmanageable. Emily, however, didn’t have a clue! Not a clue!

Stephen Taylor had also been earmarked for the competition, choosing one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Oh my, even now, thinking of him gives me a thrill. I mean, I was only 10 years old, coming 11 but Stephen, even at that age, was showing signs of the handsome young man he would become. Tall and rangy with shaggy brown hair and the deepest brown eyes and so funny! Not cruel funny – he would never have been mean to anyone but he was witty and always cracking jokes. Sporty too. He was the full package. I am not ashamed to say that as I sit here writing as an old woman, I am still a little in love with him. You know, your first love, even if unrequited, remains with you always.

One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I let him get away.

Both Emily and I liked him but it was me that he liked best. He would always come up to me and chat in the lines to get into class and to get out of class and to get on the bus. We shared an interest in Greek mythology and we were both from farms so there was a little common ground between us. Of course, Emily would try to muscle in and really, she was the more attractive out of the two of us, I would have to admit that. But for some reason, it was always me he made a beeline for. Of course, in the days after his snatching from me, Emily made it plain that it had always been her and that his talking to me had just been a conduit to her affections – chat up the friend and get to the prize. He’d told her apparently that this was the case. I’m not sure that this was true but it didn’t matter, did it? He chose her anyway.

I’ll never forget that day.

It was time for the competition. As usual, we were sitting together. Emily was called up before me. She leaned towards me so our heads were touching and whispered “Good luck!” which in hindsight was strange as she was the first one up, with me being a little later. Off she headed, plaits swinging, to the stage. No microphones in those days – projection was everything. Good posture, chest thrust out and clear vocalisation were key. She hadn’t told me what she was reciting at all so I was most perplexed when she steadied herself, hands clasped infront of her and said, loudly and clearly: “Earth hath not any thing to show more fair…”

The blighter! She’d pinched my poem! All I could do was sit, red-faced and panicked as she perfectly recited my poem. My poem! That was betrayal number one. How could she? I can still feel how incensed I was at this. What was I going to do now? I could hardly stand up and recite the same poem!

My mind scrambled while she left the stage towards the wings as Emily was part of the recorder group too and wouldn’t be returning to sit beside me. Bloody good job too as I think I’d have stamped on her foot or pulled her plaits or similar!

I couldn’t do the same poem. I’d look ridiculous! But the only other poems I knew were nursery rhymes or limericks, neither of which was appropriate but what could I do? In desperation, I plumped for one that Stephen had told me that morning. I didn’t really understand it at the time, not really getting the inference of lewd behaviour as I was only 10 but I had to do something.

I can still remember all of the words to that damn limerick:

There was a young lady named Yanker,

Who slept while her ship lay at anchor;

She awoke in dismay,

When she heard the mate say,

“Now hoist up the topsheet and spanker”.

Of course, I didn’t win the competition. I did win a lot of disapproving looks from parents including my own who were mightily ashamed although my mother had known the poem I’d chosen, was surprised at Emily’s recital and thus, was reasonably understanding for a parent who had been shown up in public by her only daughter, through no fault of her own and in a state of panic.

The only person who approved was Stephen Taylor whose face as I finished was full of a strange mix of shock and awe which subsequently became suppressed laughter. Again, I feel the thrill at pleasing him that day and all that it proposed for the future. If only.

I was obviously hustled off the stage, the crowd murmuring again after their initial shock and Mrs Hughes brought me in my ignominy to an empty classroom away from the main hall to sit quietly on my own. I was seething! First, my friend betrays me and then, I am forced to sit in a classroom on my own, shamefaced and embarrassed. It was awful.

No surprise then that Emily won the competition and I was brought into the hall at the end of the recitals to applaud the winners, although I was kept very much in the shadows at the back. Oh, she looked so smug although I noticed that she wouldn’t meet my eye at the time. There was going to be a tea with the parents afterwards on the school field with small cakes and sandwiches but my parents just whisked me off out of there as quickly as they could so I had no time to challenge Emily nor to say goodbye to Stephen who was heading to a boys’ grammar school after the summer holidays.

Later that day, Emily called and with teary eyes pleaded with me to forgive her. She even offered me her trophy which I was tempted to wallop her over the head with but she was so contrite and I am a bit of a soft touch. I listened to her as she told me how hard she had found it and how I am always better at these sorts of things than her and she just couldn’t think of another poem – blah, blah, blah.

I was sore but she was my friend and I always liked to think the best of people. So I accepted her explanation and she hugged me and thanked me and told me I was her very best friend. All lovely, yes? But then, once I was calm and on side once more, she picked up her coat and told me that she was glad I was alright but that she really must go as she had arranged to meet Stephen Taylor at the park and she was excited because she had a feeling that he might want to kiss her! And with that she went.

I was heartbroken that night.

Emily and I remained friends of sorts, I suppose, beyond that but we were never close again. Living in a small town makes it hard to shun people and it’s just not in my nature to be obtuse and difficult.

But there has forever been an element of rivalry between us: beating me in a tennis tournament; running for and winning the Chair of the Rotary Club when I decided to run; starting a book club when I put up flyers for mine in the Community Centre; buying flowers for the church when I offered them from my garden, etc., etc. – the list goes on.

I don’t know why she felt so fiercely about beating me at all. I found it all a bit wearing and unnecessary, with each of her victories, a little piece of my like for her dissipating. I mean, she even got Stephen so she was always the winner, wasn’t she? I mean, Andrew and I had a happy marriage but it was built on dependability and mutual like, God rest his soul. Passion was not really an issue although I wouldn’t change it. He was a good man, father and provider, all in all.

It would appear that there is only one thing that I have been able to beat her at: I am still alive! Aha! Yes, I won that battle at least. And what a battle to win!

You know, I wasn’t going to, but I think I might just go to the funeral.

Journal of Dorothy Walters, July 20th 2018

I am now finally fit enough to write in you, my dear journal and what a lot I have to relate.

I am currently here in my hospital bed, recovering from a rather nasty fall, which I will describe in due course. Whilst waiting for my energy levels to rise again after the shock, I have been thinking a lot about what happened and it still seems difficult to get my head around even now. How did I end up in Emily Ryder’s grave?

Perhaps going through it on paper here will enliven some ember of memory as I’m recording it and it will become more clear because it really was a rather strange day.

As my last entry states I had decided to go to the funeral of Emily Ryder and my dear nephew, Peter decided to accompany me, for which I was grateful because although I was keen to pay my respects, I was also a little nervous, if truth be told. For the past few years, I have not really come into contact with Emily Ryder’s world and so to enter it again, albeit for the last time, did make me feel a little anxious, like returning to a haunted house where you’d had a bad fright – why would you when you know it doesn’t make you feel good? But she was gone and so I felt that, as she had been a big part of most of my life, even if she was irritating, I should do the decent thing and attend.

So I did. Stephen was there, looking as handsome as ever. It was truly lovely to see him. I’ve not had a lot to do with him really over the years although we have often exchanged pleasantries when we have encountered each other casually but never to any great extent. He gave me the warmest smile when he saw me enter the church. Quite lifted my spirits and also reminded me of the young boy he once was. Lovely.

Anyway, the funeral went as funerals do with sadness and respect until the time came to place Emily finally to rest. I decided to hang back until after the family had left the graveside, the diggers respectfully waiting until everyone had left the grave before filling it in again. Peter was off with his phone in the trees trying to get some video footage of some bird that he had spotted, some rare breed, never seen usually in these parts and I headed towards the hole in the ground where Emily now resided.

Cautiously, so as not to trip, I stood as close as I dared to the grave.

“Well,” I said, murmuring but speaking clearly, albeit for my benefit. “It seems, Emily, that I have come out on top after all,” and having completed my statement and feeling, I am not ashamed to admit, a certain sense of triumph, I savoured the moment.

The next thing I remember is my face was cold and I had a mouth full of grit. My hip was hurting and there was an intense smell of soil and mould and general damp. I pushed myself up slightly so I could get my bearings and that’s when I saw the gold plaque that my face had been resting on on the top of the coffin: Emily Taylor.

Luckily for me, Peter had been filming his precious bird when I fell and he was facing the grave as my fall happened, catching me tumble in out of his peripheral vision. Despite his ornithological passion, he put his phone away quickly and ran over to see if I was okay and enlisted the help of the waiting gravediggers to get me out.

All in all, I was rather lucky as I suffered no serious injury – they have kept me in for observation purposes only due to the sudden nature of the fall and my lack of recall about its circumstances. I could argue that my pride and dignity have been seriously damaged but as there wasn’t much of either of them left, it is neither here nor there.

Two curious things that need mention though are:

Number one: Stephen has come to see me at the hospital twice since I have been here and we have had a lovely talk, not much different to the conversations that we had once in those school line-ups. He had been waiting for me to come from the graveside with a view to having a conversation and had been concerned when I took a long time to appear, even with my frail legs and cane. Our shared reminiscences brought us back to the day of the dreaded limerick recital, which he said was one of the finest moments he could ever remember whilst also being one of the saddest and that he was sorry that I had not been able to make it to the park that evening. Emily said that she had relayed the message but that I had refused to come as it was his limerick that had spoiled my chances and that I had told her to go instead.

Number two: Peter came to see me and asked if I had felt faint at all by the grave. I replied that I had not and he said that it might be an idea to look at the video, which he duly produced. My goodness! Now, I know that old people are renowned for losing their marbles but watching that video was very strange indeed because to all intents and purposes, it looks like I am being propelled into that grave. I am standing still with poise and you can faintly see my lips moving. Suddenly, I am lurching forward, almost as if two invisible hands are pushing me with force into the hole. It really is quite bizarre and I have noticed when I sit back against my pillows that my back feels quite tender in two particular spots.

Peter agreed with my suggestion that it looked as though I had been pushed but we both dismissed it as nonsense, putting it down to a fainting spell or some such.

I go home tomorrow. Stephen has asked if he could give me a lift home and I told him I would like that very much.

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