Where Bluebirds Fly
When they first told me about High Fell Hall they called it a SPECIAL school.
I said, “I’m not a retard.”
So they said, “It’s a school for children with emotional difficulties.”
And I said, “Then why are you sending me there?”
I was still in hospital, in one of the side rooms. They all stood around my bed and talked about me as if I didn’t exist. There was Mum, my social worker Helen, my named nurse Siobhan, ‘Hairy’ Hickory my form teacher, Mrs Stein who is the TOP person at High Fell, and Mr Gillespie the psychiatrist. Gillespie was the only one who didn’t speak; he just stood there with his arms half folded, stroking his chin.
Mum kept trying to hold my hand, except I wouldn’t let her.
And Helen was all, “Please say something, Ruby.”
But I kept my mouth shut and my thoughts to myself.
“High Fell is an option, that’s all,” said Helen. “That’s why Mrs Stein is here; to tell you how it works and to help us make the right decision.”
Help THEM make the right decision. I wanted to go home, but it was six against one and I didn’t stand a chance. I tuned out. Made up a song in my head about lions and tigers and bears. And it worked until someone said something wordy and stupid and I couldn’t block it out.
“The breakdown of family relationships … obsessional behaviour … difficulties attending mainstream school …” Blah blah blah.
After the last one I said, “What difficulty? I go, don’t I?”
Hickory said, “Your attendance is not the problem, Ruby. It’s your behaviour when you are in school.”
He was talking about THAT drama lesson. The one where we had to devise a piece about a social issue. I wanted to do homelessness. I was going to be a girl lost in a storm with her little dog, who meets a whole bunch of whacky characters on the road to a happy ending. It would have been fun. But my group chose domestic violence.
They wanted me to act drunk. I said, ‘Just because you’re drunk, doesn’t mean you’re violent.’
And Isaac Thomas said, “Yeah, well you should know.”
And I said, “What does that mean?”
But Isaac burst out laughing and no one else had an answer. No one actually came out and accused my dad of being a drunk, but that’s what they meant. Anyway, I wouldn’t do it. It wasn’t proper acting and they were picking on me, so I lost my temper and walked out.
“One incident?” I said.
“Which incident?” said Hickory.
And Helen said, “You’ve walked out of a number of lessons, Ruby. You seldom produce any written work and you’ve been increasingly withdrawn. ‘Closed off’ is how several teachers describe you. Everyone is worried about you. And we know things at home have been…”
I put my fingers in my ears, said, “Blah blah blah,” and pretended I couldn’t hear.
Mum shook her head. Gillespie raised his eyebrows. And Helen carried on talking. But I didn’t want to remember how things had been at home. It wasn’t until Mrs Stein started saying about the beautiful green countryside and the wildlife and the garden that I took my fingers out of my ears.
“…the perfect place for you to get better. High Fell Hall isn’t like a school at all,” she said.
As far as the last bit is concerned, they were right.
It was late when we arrived and I was tired. I wanted to crawl into a bed, close my eyes to the world and forget I was alive. But Lily (the head of care) came out to meet us and Helen was pulling my bags from the boot before I’d even undone my seat belt.
“Be friendly,” she whispered. “And smile.”
Faces appeared at the windows. Nosy staring faces, looking at me. One of them was covered in face paint; white skin, green eyes, black lips, and crude zigzags over her cheeks.
I put my backpack on while Lily and Helen talked. And then I waited, wishing I could be somewhere else, away from prying eyes. But this niggly voice in my brain kept saying, “Be yourself, be friendly, be yourself…” and so like a total loser, I looked back at the faces and waved. Not a massive arms flying all over the place wave; just a tiny shake of the hand. Enough to make the painted one scream with laughter and the others join in. Even though the windows were shut, I could still hear them.
“Hole in the ground, please open up and swallow me,” I said.
Lily stopped talking to Helen and looked at me, then the house. “Would you like to meet the girls?” she said.
There were five of them. Pearl, Bianca and Scarlet were about my age. Amy and Rachel were younger. Pearl was the one in weird make-up. But not only that; she was dressed in black from head to toe, including clunky boots and a leather glove on one hand. Amy wore pink fairy wings and a princess tiara. The others looked normal.
“Is this a fancy dress party?” I said.
Pearl, Bianca and Scarlet all snorted. I went bright red. Lily told them to be nice and to remember what it felt like to be new, and Pearl said, “Shall I show her THE ROOM?”
Lily said, “That’s really kind, Pearl. Thank you.” And to me she said, “Take a few minutes to unpack and settle in, then come down and we’ll have supper.”
When we got to THE ROOM I realised she meant MY ROOM. I wanted to be alone, except that Pearl was all, “Where do you come from? What’ve you done? Was that your social worker? Who do you live with?” She plonked herself on the bed and pulled my case towards her, clicking open the catches and lifting the lid before I could stop her. “Got anything to eat? Can I have a look in here…?”
“Leave it,” I said, shoving the top down on her gloved hand.
Pearl tugged it free. “Suit yourself. Only trying to be helpful.” She folded her arms, and looked all hurt.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s been a long day.” I took my backpack off and sat down too. The bed had a flowery pink duvet and white pillow cases. There was a white chest of drawers with pink handles, and an old wooden wardrobe and long mirror. The walls were white too, and looked wonderfully bare.
“I’m across the hall. Bathroom’s next to me,” Pearl said, arms still folded. “And you’re not allowed in anyone else’s room without permission, but they’ll tell you that.”
She so obviously wasn’t going to go.
“I need the loo,” I said, “I’ll be down in a minute,” hoping she would take the hint.
But she pulled open my door and leaned round it, pointing. “That one,” she said, staying very firmly put. I didn’t want to leave her in my room alone, but what else could I do?
In the bathroom, I sat on the toilet with the seat down and my pants up. I breathed a big deep breath in, then blew it out again; like I was blowing away all the noise and bad stuff. I closed my eyes. My head was spinning. I imagined I was in a whirlwind, a twister, watching my life whiz round and round. Helen. Mum. Hospital. Dad, drunk and falling over himself. Nanna ordering me to bed… and then there was Lucy, my baby sister.
“Oh, Lucy, I’m so so sorry,” I said, out loud. The rainbow song started leaking out of my brain, through my mouth. Not like I was singing, more just humming with words. And I lost myself for a few seconds, maybe a minute.
When I heard noises outside the door, I dried my eyes on toilet roll, flushed the loo and washed my hands. “I have to get out of this place.” If I was ever going to see Lucy again, I had to make it work.
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