Chapter 4 : Light as a Feather
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Light As A Feather
5 October 1967
Lily kneelt on the sofa and looked out the front window, bouncing with impatience. It was Petunia’s tenth birthday, and any minute now the guests would begin arriving for the slumber party. Lily had never been to a slumber party before. She, Daddy, Mummy, and Petunia had spent the whole morning getting ready. Swirls of pink and yellow crepe paper crisscrossed overhead, bunches of balloons floated in every corner, and the table was set for a lovely afternoon tea. Most beautiful of all was the large chocolate cake that Mum had set in a place of honour in the middle of the dinning room table.
While Lily hopped around in anticipation, Petunia waited quietly on the other side of the room. She was trying to act calm, but Lily could tell from the way she fidgeted and clasped her hands that she was actually quite nervous.
“Aren’t you so excited, Tuney?” Lily smiled, trying to ease her sister’s nerves, and wiggling with genuine glee.
“Excited? I feel sick,” Petunia answered. Then, realizing she’d accidentally dropped her cool façade, she snapped, “And don’t you dare call me Tuney in front of the others!”
Lily turned away from the window, slid down the cushion to sit properly on the couch, and stuck out her tongue in silent protest.
Mum came into the front room and leaned against the big armchair Petunia had chosen. She gently smoothed her older daughter’s hair. “Don’t worry, baby. It’ll be fun. Oh, look, here are the Worths. Get the door, won’t you dear?”
This last bit was said to Daddy, who promptly abandoned the newspaper he’d been reading at the table and opened the door to reveal a ruffled looking woman and two identical girls of Petunia’s age. Each had dark pigtails, a mess of freckles, and a pair of obviously brand new saddle shoes. Their names were Candace and Josephine – Lily didn’t know or care which was which – and they were the most popular, as well as the most despised, girls in fourth form. Tripping up the front steps behind them came Susie, who wore enormous glasses but was really a much better sort than the twins. The rest of Petunia’s school friends trickled in, until there were nine girls. (No boys; unlike Lily, Petunia thought boys were nasty.)
When everyone had arrived, Mum clapped her hands and ushered Lily and the partygoers out into the backyard for games. Daddy started them off with hide and seek, but Petunia halted the game soon after he went inside, in favour of her and Lily’s current favourite fantasy.
Lily knew the story of the game by heart, and joined in right away. She was mid giggle when one of the twins glared, pointed her nose toward the sky, and said, “I didn’t think Petunia would want a little kid to play with us, did you, Josie?”
“Definitely not,” the other twin replied.
Petunia looked from the twins to Lily, and back again. Lily watched her sister’s eyes go from soft uncertainty to steely decision. The older girl moved toward her schoolmates, turning over her shoulder to issue the verdict. “Go inside, Lily. You can’t play with us.”
“Tuney!” Lily clapped a hand to her mouth. She hadn’t met to let the nickname slip.
Petunia rounded on her. “Go away, Lily.” Under her hateful stare, the autumn day faded from gold to grey in an instant.
“GO AWAY!” Petunia shrieked.
Lily couldn’t breathe. The flood of tears pushing for release almost overwhelmed her, but she held it back. “I don’t want to play with you anyway!” The sour taste of the words singed her throat and turned her stomach.
She stomped inside.
“Back already?” Daddy asked. Then he caught sight of her face. “Lily, what’s the matter?”
Lily looked up. Mum and Daddy were in the front room, drinking tea with a few of the other parents who had stayed to visit. She wasn’t going to throw a fit in front of all these strange people.
“Nothing,” she lied and added, because her father looked entirely unconvinced, “Just using the loo.” Then she had no choice but to dash up the stairs toward the bathroom before he could call her bluff.
Lily spent the rest of the afternoon reading under the bed with a torch. She didn’t say a word about the fight, but Petunia tattled.
At teatime, Mum said Lily was allowed pudding after dinner, but had to sit alone at the kitchen table as punishment for losing her temper. She couldn’t see the other girls, but she could hear them. She heard the laughter, and Petunia’s protests, as Daddy delivered eleven gentle bumps for luck in the coming year. She heard slurps of tea, happy conversation, and the hush of a wish after the birthday song. Shortly after, Mum returned to the kitchen with a slice of cake for Lily.
“Here, love,” she said, replacing the empty dinner plate with the fancy china. The cake looked delicious. She’d even managed to get part of a purple fondant flower. A petunia, of course.
“Thanks, Mummy.” Lily suddenly didn’t feel very hungry.
Mum patted her cheek and returned to the party. The chocolate frosting was salty with tears.
The evening wore on, until at last Daddy was tucking Lily into bed, and Mum was turning down the lights, spreading sleeping bags in the front room, and begging the other girls to at least try to get some sleep. Lily hid her face in the pillow, and listened to the muffled giggles and whispers sneaking their way up from the room below. It was no fair. Why couldn’t she sleep downstairs with the others? Why did they get to tell secrets and scary stories, while she lay in bed by herself? A great wave of loneliness swept over her, scalding her heart and stealing her breath. One of the girls released a particularly loud squeal of laughter, and Lily simply couldn’t lie in bed another moment.
Quietly, stepping carefully to avoid the squeaky floorboards, she crept past her parent’s bedroom, along the hall, and down the steps. She didn’t reveal herself immediately when she reached the front room, choosing instead to crouch alongside the banister and see what the big girls were doing.
“Come on, Petunia, don’t be such a baby.” The speaker wore a fashionable yellow nightie and sat primly in front of her twin, who was weaving her hair into a clumsy plait.
Lily felt a sense of justice at the familiar, unkind words, but also a strong desire to slap the bully with all her strength. A snarl of words crowded her mouth, and she only just prevented them from escaping.
“Why do I have to go first?” Petunia asked, not quite concealing the tremble in her voice.
“The birthday girl always goes first.”
“I don’t want to do this,” Petunia squeaked.
The reply was predictable. “Are you scared, baby?”
Something wild stirred in Lily’s chest. No one could talk to her sister that way. “You leave her alone!” she demanded, leaping out from her hiding place.
“What are you doing down here?” Petunia hissed, her face flushing. “Go back to bed.”
Josie snorted. “Aww, ickle baby Petunia needs her ickle baby sister to come to her rescue! How sweet!”
Lily stretched out to her full height (which admittedly wasn’t very high) and cast the others what she hoped was a defiant glare. “You’re just a big bully!”
Petunia’s cheeks were growing redder by the second. “Lily, mind your own stupid business, why don’t you!” She turned back to her friends, bit her lip in obvious terror, and stammered, “It’s alright. I’ll – I’ll go first. My baby sister is just being an arse.”
There was a collective intake of breath at the use of a bad word. The twins directed the partygoers to sit in a circle around Petunia. Taking their cue from Petunia, they ignored Lily, who stood, teary eyed, on the outskirts of the room, unable to move for fury.
Each of the girls in the circle placed two fingers under Petunia, who lay rigidly in the centre. They began the chant that always went with the game.
“She’s looking ill.”
A single, dreadful tear snuck down the side of Petunia’s face toward her ear, and the line of her mouth was grim. Well, it served her right! Lily had tried to help, but Petunia didn’t want her.
“She’s looking worse.”
Lily loved Petunia, loved her with the sense-defying, all-forgiving love of a sister. But Petunia didn’t love her back. She mustn’t. How could she love her and then turn around and say such wretched things?
These girls were bullies. Bullies, and cowards too scared to stand up to bullies. And Petunia was a bad as any of them. Angry, disappointed tears crowded Lily’s eyes and dripped down her cheeks.
Petunia shuddered visibly.
“Light as a feather, stiff as a board.”
Lily’s heart pounded unusually fast, beating an angry rhythm against her chest. Her thoughts were smeared, the words lost to a red fog of hurt. Sweat beaded on her brow as heat surged in her veins.
“Light as a feather, stiff as a board.”
The collective force of so many fingers began to take effect. Slowly, Petunia rose a centimetre off the ground. Her eyelids fluttered at the shock.
“Light as a feather, stiff as a board.”
Susie let out a tremendous shriek, her glasses tumbling to the floor. It took only a moment for the other girls to join in the panic.
Petunia was floating, not a centimetre off the ground, but knee high - now waist high – now shoulder high, and no one was supporting her as she rose toward the ceiling. Petunia herself seemed unable to move. She was not, however, unable to speak. Lily didn’t realize what she was saying until the quiet of the others, their stares directed her way, caught her attention.
Petunia’s screamed again. “Stop it, Lily! Please stop! I’m sorry I teased you! Please put me down!”
The realization hit Lily like a thunderous wave. It was her. She was making Petunia float. She let out an audible gasp and the colour drained from her face. At the same moment, Petunia came crashing back to the floor with a piercing scream.
Lily felt a horrified cry leave her own mouth, and a great wave of relief washed over her that Petunia’s rather rough landing was cushioned by pillows and sleeping bags. She ran to her big sister and threw her arms around Petunia’s shaking form, all anger evaporated in her concern.
“Tuney! I’m so sorry! It was an accident, really. I don’t know what happened!”
Petunia wiggled out of her embrace, pushing her away. “Get off me, freak!” Her eyes remained wide with fear.
Daddy’s footsteps on the stairs silenced them. He entered the room in his pyjamas, his hair messy and his eyes fuzzy with sleep. “What on Earth is going on down here?”
All the girls started talking at once. Only Lily and Petunia remained silent.
“Hush now, hush.” Daddy said. “Petunia, dear, will you please tell me what happened?”
Please don’t tell him, please. Lily couldn’t even imagine what would happen if Daddy knew the truth. The weight of Petunia’s eyes on her, unreadable, sent Lily’s skin prickling with anxiety.
“It was Lily’s fault,” Petunia began, and a lead weight settled in Lily’s stomach. “She”—
“Yes, Pet, keep going,” Daddy encouraged.
“We were playing this game. I guess we got a little scared, and Lily came down and startled us. It was an accident.” She looked around at her friends, daring them to contradict her story. Their silence played loudly in Lily’s ears. It was so quiet she could hear her own heart beating.
After a moment of deliberation, Daddy sighed. “Well, no more playing that game, I think. And it is very late. Everyone needs to get to sleep. Now.” He scooped Lily up and held her at his side. “Let’s get you back to bed, Lily Flower. And I don’t want to hear another peep from down here, or all your parents will hear about it. Is that clear?”
A quiet chorus of, “Yes, Mr. Evans” rose out of the silence. Then Daddy carried Lily back upstairs and tucked her into bed with a kiss. She lay awake all night, memories of odd things she’s done, little things, always quickly explained away, darting ceaselessly through her head. Nothing like this, though. This was something else entirely. But how in the world had she done it?
On Monday, Lily heard the girls in Petunia’s form discussing the party. “I can’t believe you got scared by a stupid game,” one of the twins was saying.
“I wasn’t scared,” another girl put in. “I knew it was pretend the whole time.”
From across the schoolyard, Lily caught Petunia’s eye. Thank you, she mouthed. Petunia gave an almost imperceptible nod, and Lily knew that, although they would never speak of it again, neither girl would ever forget that night.
A/N: Thanks so much for reading. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this chapter!
A big THANK YOU to shazalupin and Penelope Inkwell for their very contrsuctive help with this chapter!
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