extras // Side Stories
Over the years, readers have wondered what happened to Wendy to make her such an unlikeable character. This vignette, told through her own eyes, was written partly to address that kind of question.
(Contains spoilers for approximately the first half of the novel)
I Will Be Queen
I was four years old the first time I asked her, “Why don’t you love me anymore, Mummy?”
We were upstairs in her sitting room just-for-one, and I was staring at the red stains on the carpet that no one would ever tell me about, and holding my arm in the spot where it hurt so much it felt like the skin was on fire.
I didn’t understand this game we’d started to play.
This time round, it all started when she’d caught me mucking about on her piano. I’d only wanted to make some kind of music, something beautiful and not ugly, to make believe that I could be her, just for a few stolen minutes—like it could ever be me with the long blonde hair streaming down my shoulders, dressed in a princess gown scented of roses, my fingers fluttering over the keys, and my back arching with the grace of a fairytale swan.
In reality, I guess I’d been making so much noise—trying with more and more force to make the right sounds, wondering what impossible magic I’d need to get the notes to come out just so, the way she did with so little effort—that when the door slammed shut behind me it caught me completely off-guard. In another heartbeat she was at my side, clawing and slapping my hands away from the keys, harder and rougher till I felt myself falling backwards onto the floor. My head thumped against the carpet; the world around me flickered like a light being switched on and off. Then she was on top of me, glaring into my face, grey eyes burning into me just like my arm burned where she’d twisted and pinched the skin. “Never touch this!” she hissed at me. “This is not for you! You are dirty, disgusting! You make me sick!”
I’d cried and begged her, “Mummy, please.” I mumbled something about how I loved her, something else about how I was really a good girl, and how I couldn’t be dirty since I’d just had a bath, until her eyes narrowed and she slapped my face—hard. The shock of the sting put an end to all my garbled words, my lips quivering as I tried to hold in the tears.
Dirty, disgusting, sick.
Mummy had a baby inside her, but I wasn’t allowed to touch her there, not allowed to cuddle or rest my head on the big warm lump, because no matter what I did, I was never clean enough.
So, swallowing snot and with my lip still trembling, that was when I asked her.
“Why don’t you love me anymore, Mummy?”
Then she whirled away from me, finding a cloth to polish the keyboard before she closed the lid with those long graceful fingers that had so much tenderness for that piano and so little care for me. A long time passed before she answered, her voice low and calm, cold and without passion. “Because of what you are.”
She still wasn’t looking at me. By then I’d figured out that when Mummy switched off altogether, that was always worse.
I looked across the floor, spying Mr Rabbit slumped in a heap after I’d abandoned our tea party for the music, like I’d been called away by some whisperings of the devil.
I looked back at Mummy. The moment she told me, “Get away from my sight,” I snatched for the toy, and half-crawled, half-ran to the door.
I didn’t stop until I reached Daddy’s study. This door was closed, too, like always. I was afraid he’d be angry if I interrupted, but less afraid of that than I’d learned to be of Mummy. Anyway, I didn’t know what else to do, so I drew in a deep breath and I rubbed at my arm one last time and drew in another big deep breath and then I knocked as hard as I could.
Banging on the wood made my knuckles ache. As the sound echoed through the empty hall, I hugged Mr Rabbit very tight and waited and waited and waited. Then came the voice, deep and serious. “What is it?”
Standing on tippy-toe, I reached up to twist the knob. Now that my hands were all sticky with tears and snot, it took me a couple of tries before the door swung open. The nasty leftover smoke from Daddy’s cigars seeped into my nostrils. But like some vampire child, I wouldn’t cross the threshold without an invitation.
Daddy sat at his desk, frowning at a mess of papers piled in front of him, some white, some yellow, some blue. At last he looked up, pushing his glasses up onto his nose and blinking in surprise to see me. He started to smile, but the longer he stared at me the more deeply he frowned. “Wendy? You’ve been crying again.”
I sniffed and swallowed, and squeezed Mr Rabbit even tighter till I started to worry his head might pop clean off. I nodded dumbly; Daddy could always tell when I’d been crying. He said my eyes went all puffy and my cheeks got all bloated like a pink frog, but no matter what, he’d always cuddle me. Even as I thought about that, I dashed across the carpet, and he stood away from his desk and pulled me—and Mr Rabbit—into a hard, tight cuddle. He was so warm and strong and safe that it took all my strength not to start crying again. “Oh, sweetheart,” he whispered into my ear. Too late: I’d started crying again, anyway.
He carried me over to the armchair in the corner—his own special leather one—and sat me down in it. I felt like a big dolly, but still very small on the inside. From a shelf over my head he took down the music box, sat it on the footstool, wound the key tight, and then opened the lid. This was always our ritual, and like always, I tried not to think of how the lady dancer looked like a tiny Mummy or how the music sounded like something she might play (but never for me), and I looked at Daddy instead, who smiled at me, and I tried my best to smile back at him. He watched me carefully for a while, until my arm started to sting again and I rubbed at it uncomfortably. He looked down, and the smile disappeared altogether as he reached out to touch me there. That’s when I looked down, too, noticing the red skin and the claw marks, an I hate you written in a language without words that was all too easy to understand.
“Wendy,” he said softly, “you know you are a very good, very precious little girl.”
I wished I could say yes. But I didn’t know any such thing, except when I was with him.
“Will you tell me how this happened?”
I sniffed. The shivering had started up again, so I could no longer bear to look at him. If he should have seen that I was bad, too, what would he have done to me? What if he’d ever seen me the way Mummy saw me? What would I have done then? “I can’t,” I whispered, wincing.
Very slowly, he closed the lid of the music box, and reached out to take my hands in his. “Do you know,” he said slowly, “I have two tickets for the ballet—to see real live music-box dancers—tomorrow night.” He winked at me and squeezed my palms gently. “I was going to bring your Mother, but I do believe now that she might be too…ill for such a performance. I have a friend who is bringing her older niece, a nice, pretty girl, about six or so. Of course, we would need to buy you a new dress. That pink one, with the white roses, perhaps. Would you like that, Wendy-bird?”
I wiped at my nose, and he promptly fished a handkerchief from his pocket and helped me blow it. “Yes, Daddy,” I said, gazing at him hopefully.
His lips twitched, the smile returning to his eyes as he brushed the hair away from my face. That’s when her words came back to me. You make me sick!
“Is something very wrong with Mummy?” I asked, not quite sure what I wished he would say.
He got to his feet and turned back to his desk. “I think something has gotten inside Mummy.”
“A baby?” I said, wondering how he might not have already noticed. His shoulders shook with a little laugh, before he faced me again. Now he looked serious, just like he did whenever I saw him talking in church or to other grown-ups.
“No, Wendy. It’s some kind of demon.” He held up a hand quickly as my eyes grew wider than my opening mouth. “All you can do, my little princess, is pray. Pray for her to be saved. Every time you’re hurt, God is there, watching, and listening. Even when I’m not around. Trust in that. Trust to Him.”
I wanted to ask, Can He make Mummy love me again?
Instead, I said, “Can He stop Mummy hurting me?”
Daddy’s lips tightened. “In the end, yes. But right now it’s my job to see to that.” He gave my head a final tousle, then nodded at the clock hanging over the door. “A quarter to three. I think you’ll find Miss Minchin down in the kitchen, making biscuits. Why don’t you run along and help. Tell her Mr Delaware said you can lick the spoon.”
The night Daddy and I got home from the ballet my head was full of sleep and music-box dancers and glittery stars hanging from lit veils. Daddy carried me upstairs to my bedroom and tucked me into bed. I smiled at him as he stroked my hair, then I turned to snuggle with Mr Rabbit, who I’d left on the bed when Daddy had said I couldn’t bring him to the theatre.
Mr Rabbit wasn’t there.
“Daddy!” I protested, sitting up. “Where’s Mr Rabbit?”
Daddy frowned and gazed about the room, then picked up a pink Pegasus pony from the small pile under the bookcase and handed it over. “This one will have to do for tonight, princess. I’m sure he’ll turn up tomorrow.”
I didn’t like that answer, but I wanted to believe him, and I wanted him to know I was still a good girl. “Okay, Daddy.”
He stood in the doorway, his hand poised above the switch. But a bad feeling had gotten inside me now, and I didn’t want him to go just yet.
“Do you think I could be a ballemerina?”
He chuckled, sticking one hand in a pocket, jiggling coins and keys. “A ballerina? Of course, princess. Anything you want. We’ll talk about lessons later in the week.”
I nodded my head anxiously. “Okay. Daddy?”
“Go to sleep.”
“Can I get a real pony one day?”
He shook his head, but he was still smiling, in that way that didn’t exactly mean ‘no’. “We’ll see. Goodnight, Wendy.”
He switched off the light, and the door snicked softly closed. I tossed and turned for what felt like a long time. The pony took up more room than Mr Rabbit, and its mane made my nose itch. Eventually my eyes grew heavier and heavier though, and I danced away into dreams.
Sometime in the night, I woke up with a gasp. It was cold, and I was all alone in the bed, having ditched the pony and half of my doona. Angry voices from dreams still shouted bad words inside my head. I tried to snuggle down again, push the voices away and go back to sleep, but then I saw something moving in the shadows right in front of me.
Too scared to do anything else, I held my breath and waited for my eyes to adjust. The moon was big and round, its light streaming in through the clouds and curtains behind me. Soon enough the shadow gained a woman’s form, now standing over my bed. Another flash glinted on something in her hand, sharp-edged and metal. My heart pounding, I sat up and pulled the bed clothes tight around me. Too petrified to move, still trying my best to hold my breath, I waited, and waited, and waited, while the silhouette of Mummy swayed from side to side like a tree branch at the window. Neither of us spoke, not to each other, but I could hear her mumbling words in French. Then, from downstairs, a loud bang startled us both, and Daddy’s voice called out a single word. “Juliette?”
Mummy let out a sob, and turned from the room, closing the door behind her, leaving me alone again.
This time it took me much longer to cry myself back to sleep.
The baby didn’t look like much. Just rolls of red skin and lumpy hands and feet. It didn’t like food, and it smelled of powder and vomit, and it never seemed to stop crying. I wondered if it missed Mummy, since after the night of the bad dream Daddy had sent her away, and gave us to Miss Minchin to look after instead. I say us, but there was less time for me. Miss Minchin seemed to spend most hours at the doctor’s, for it always needed something checked, this baby. I didn’t mind, though. It meant I got Daddy all to myself, whenever he was home, and the rest of the time I spent on ballet lessons and practising my dancing, and then, of course, there was school. Miss Minchin figured out pretty quick that I didn’t want to play with the thing, and I was especially pleased the one time she complained to Daddy, only to have him say, “Don’t force the issue, Amanda. She never was a child to play with dolls.”
The baby’s name was Jaime, though I was told you were meant to say it Zhem because the word meant something to do with love in French, and that was why Mummy had chosen it. And it grew up into a boy, a pale, quiet, cautious boy, who learned not quickly enough for my liking that I wasn’t the kind of child who wanted to play with dolls or teddies, and didn’t care for holding hands. Because Miss Minchin was so protective of him, I had to come up with new ways of being cruel that she couldn’t prove to Daddy. I always worried that one day, Daddy might love him more than me. But Daddy said, “Don’t worry, princess. You’ll always be my favourite.” That should have made me feel better. But somehow, it only made me want to be crueller to him.
We were playing out in the garden one day, building castles in the sand, when Jaime looked up and saw our Mother at the window of her parlour, her hands pressed against the glass, her hair grown wild and unbraided hanging below her elbows, a look of sad longing on her face as she just stared down at him.
I might have been seven and he might have been three, by then, but I don’t know how many weeks or months it had been since I’d gotten such a glimpse of her. She looked so soft now. More like an angel than a demon.
“Weddy?” he said, pointing up at her (he still couldn’t say my name properly.) “Who that is?”
I tossed my head, sticking a shell into my castle wall before I leaned in close to his ear. “She’s an evil witch,” I hissed, “and if you’re ever bad, or go anywhere near her, she’ll claw you to pieces, suck out your eyeballs, and gobble you up like raw meat.”
He did something then that took me completely by surprise. He turned to face me, and he laughed at me. It was the kind of laugh that should have come from someone much older and bigger, the way someone laughs when they know by something you’ve just said that you haven’t understood them one bit. “She’s pretty,” he said to me, and reached for a shell of his own.
Filled with rage, I got to my feet, stomped his castle into the ground, and stormed back inside.
I didn’t want to tell anyone that what worried me most wasn’t that one day Daddy would love him more than me.
What worried me most was that Mother would always love him more than me.
Even though they’d never really met, and he smelled, and was hardly ever clean.
In the weeks that followed, I began to hear the piano again. I’d been dancing in my own parlour downstairs when another music had started floating down from the ceiling and in through the walls, discordant until I’d lifted the needle off the record and pushed its arm aside, listening half in dread to the older, more familiar notes. It was Mother, of course, though she hadn’t played much at all since she’d been locked away, and the moments between recitals had stretched out to years. For a moment I stood rooted to the spot. Then I put my hands over my ears and ran out of the house.
After that, I took my ballet practice outside or in the empty gym at school.
It was only a little while afterwards that a man dressed all in brown, looking like an owl with those thick-rimmed glasses, strode upstairs to Mother’s room, and sometime later slithered back down, nodding at Daddy only once on the way out. Once he’d gone, Mother and the boy called Jaime were allowed to be with each other at last.
I stood alone in the corner by the stairs, arms folded around my chest, pressing me tight in the spaces where Mr Rabbit—who neither Daddy nor I ever did manage to find—would once have been. That was when Daddy moved around in front of me. Staring deep into my face, he said, “Wendy, if you would like to see your Mother--”
“No!” I slapped a hand over my mouth as soon as I said it, for I’d shouted the word, and interrupted him, and I didn’t want him thinking I was being wilful or rude. After a moment, he inclined his head in a way that meant he’d seen but forgiven me. “I don’t want to see her ever again,” I confessed more tamely. “I have you, Daddy. I don’t need a Mother anyway.”
He nodded, and smiled, and patted my head. “You’re a good girl, Wendy,” he said, but there was something cold about the smile this time. “Always Daddy’s little princess.”
I went back to my room then, and started to go through my wardrobe—I had a recital in a week’s time, and Daddy had sent Miss Minchin and I to purchase a new dress specially for the occasion. It was so beautiful, white tulle and satin with a long lace train, sequined and feathered and spun with threads of silver. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was taking all my willpower not to slip it on, just for a minute.
I didn’t think I’d left the bedroom door open, but I slammed the wardrobe closed as soon as I heard the heavy footsteps thudding down the hall, then covered my face in the sneer I reserved just for my little brother.
“Hello, Wendy!” he said, bouncing up onto my bed. When had he learned to say my name, anyway? “I met my Mama! I told you she was nice!”
I turned up my nose, about to go on with my well-rehearsed ritual of ignoring him, when out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a familiar, floppy ear. Spinning on my heel, I stared down at him, then reached out and pushed him off the bed, so hard he almost fell flat on his face. I was already so angry, I didn’t care what happened to him.
“Where did you get that?” I snapped, before he could cry or talk, or look at me like he saw everything, or do any of those other things that made me hate him a thousand times over.
But I think I already knew the answer, even before he told me. “Mama gave it to me.”
I don’t know why, but I didn’t just snatch it off him there and then. I think maybe because it was a clue, something like the scratches on my arm that day, something to remind me that I was right, and there was no going back. I don’t need a Mother anyway.
So I let stupid little Jaime keep the rabbit his precious Mama had stolen from me.
I never liked my uncle Cyril. I don’t know if it was because he smelled of vinegar and eggs, or the way he kissed me too close to the lips when he’d say hello to me, or how he pinched me on the bottom when Daddy wasn’t looking, but somehow I always knew never to be alone with him.
One day Miss Minchin had time off to visit a relative, and Daddy had been called to a lunch-time meeting where for some reason he had to bring Mother but not me, and uncle Cyril came over to look after us, for a couple of hours, supposedly. I was twelve by then, so the awkward kissing and the pinching that set my teeth on edge every time he walked behind me had stopped just recently—thankfully—and now he paid more attention to Jaime. So it was that I’d been able to sneak away to my parlour and lock the door and practice my dancing. I was glad Mother was not there now, but even her piano playing, while still unnerving me, no longer stopped me.
In the windows high on the wall, the light had already grown dim, when once again the record played out, and a muffled knocking sounded at the door, tapping out a nervous rhythm against the wood. Frowning, I checked the clock above the mirror. It was nearly four. Daddy’s car had driven away shortly after noon.
I untied the ribbons around my feet and massaged my toes, before making my way across the floor. All was still for a moment, so that I jumped back when the knocking repeated, that same intermittent beat. Then, hearing a soft voice murmuring my name, I slid back the lock and pulled on the handle, and Jaime practically rolled inside, curled up in a ball. He was shivering and half naked, and blood stained the inside of his legs.
I don’t remember what I said—I’d never really seen blood like that before, so just the shock might have been enough to make me care what had happened to him. I know I asked about uncle Cyril. Even I didn’t believe it when I searched the whole house inside and out, and finally found his car gone. Then my mind went into some strange place where it delivered instructions and all I had to do was carry them out. First I ran back to Jaime, took off those pants of his and put them in the bin, buried them down deep. Next I shoved him into the tub in the bathroom we shared, and left the taps to run while I went to wipe the blood off the floor. When I’d finished with that and finished with him, I threw the cloth and the flannel away.
Anyway, I don’t think I ever asked him what happened. Maybe I already knew. Either way, I definitely didn’t want to hear the answer. And then Miss Minchin arrived home, just as I’d been trying to get rid of the towel. After examining it, and Jaime, she was off again, just like the old days, taking him to see some doctor, leaving me behind to lie for all three of them, when at last Mother and Daddy returned.
I must have been asleep by the time they came back. If there were fights afterward, I don’t remember them. Anyway, that was probably the last time Miss Minchin ever came to our house.
Our house… It became a dead thing after Mother walked into the sea, as though her spirit had kept the building alive, too. Now everything was silent, no music, no creaks in the walls or rattling windows, no feet upon the stairs.
It was the last morning before Daddy sent me away to boarding school, and as far as I could tell, I was all alone in the house. I didn’t know how I’d found my way to Mother’s room, but there I sat, fiddling with the lacy edges of the bed clothes, as I gazed from the familiar form of Mr Rabbit lying on the pillow to my reflection in the looking glass by the bed. A pair of puffy eyes stared back at me out of red and bloated cheeks. Some things never change. As I stared, a thought kept cycling through my head: Why am I being punished for their sins?
I wanted to stay with Daddy. Jaime wasn’t being sent away; why me? Did he think this was my fault, somehow? No. I would never let anyone blame me for this.
So I hated Daddy and I hated my brother and I hated her most of all.
Another glance at Mr Rabbit, and this one held. Why had Jaime left it there? As some kind of keepsake, a sentimental farewell? That stupid toy, that stupid lie—it never even belonged to him.
I reached out for Mr Rabbit. “Everything you are is false.” The words were for it, and my brother, and my Mother. Then I snatched it up and stormed out of the room. I couldn’t ever let myself forget this. I needed to keep the clue.
Downstairs, I squeezed the toy into the suitcase, bouncing on the lid to get the thing closed and stow the evidence before Jaime got home and missed it.
I needn’t have panicked. A car didn’t come for me till around five, and it was empty, except for our driver. Waving away the maid, I loaded my own suitcase into the boot, and saw myself into the rear passenger seat.
For most of the drive into the dirty heart of the city, I stayed silent, staring at my reflection in the window, adjusting my hair and my lips just so, trying to seek out vestiges of her face in mine. By the time we arrived, I’d remade myself.
I stepped out of the car, and glared back at the city, no longer Daddy’s little princess.
From that moment on, I would be the Queen.