A Little Loss – Spring 2004

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The Easter cake was covered with pale blue icing the colour of a sparrow’s egg. On it sat a little basket of eggs, yellow, blue and green. Peering into the basket stood a miniature yellow chick. The chick looked soft and fluffy, his orange beak permanently open in a chirp. Ellie wanted the little chick, so did all the other children. As one of six, Ellie was used to disappointments. In her five years of life she regularly shouldered great injustices.

Suddenly, her brothers and sisters were shouting in unison “l want it! I want it!” Ellie remained silent. This time her mother said, “l think its Ellie’s turn.” She plucked the chick from its blue landscape and placed it, tiny clumps of icing stuck to its feet, in Ellie’s outstretched hand. The others had to settle for one of the tiny eggs from the basket. After sucking the icing from its feet, Ellie held the chick in one cupped hand and patted it with her other hand. Her siblings watched unhappily sending up complaints of “It’s not fair” and “l never get a turn! ” They stopped only when their mother threatened not to give them cake if they kept grumbling.

Ellie told the chick that she was going to look after him and that he mustn’t be naughty and try to fly away. Then, she showed him the garden and let him sit for a while on top of an upturned flower pot, so that he could watch how high she could go on the swing. At bedtime, the chick perched on Ellie’s pillow and she stared into its tiny black dot eyes until she fell asleep.

On Monday morning Ellie took the little toy chick to school nestled in her purple pencil case. Her friends “Ooed” and “Ahhed” and said “Can l hold it?” Ellie, secure in her ownership, let them take turns for a few seconds before snatching it back. A voice came from behind Ellie’s shoulder “Can I have a turn?” Ellie turned to see Joan Marston standing beside her. Joan smelled awful, she always smelled that way. No one ever wanted to sit beside her; everyone said you could catch germs if you did. When Ellie had told her mother about Joan, she had said “It’s not the child’s fault; you should be kind to her”. Ellie didn’t feel like being kind to someone who smelled that way. There was no way she was going to let Joan touch her treasure. “No” she said,” He’s very shy, he might fly away, he just wants to stay with me”. With that, she put the chick in her pocket and, pig tails swinging, walked away.

After lunch, the class of little girls waited in turn to use the bathroom. Then they waited in turn to drink from the water fountain, not because they were thirsty, but because what one did they all did. Ellie found herself queuing behind Joan Marston. She started to think about the kind of germs she might get from drinking after Joan. impatiently, she pushed her and said ”Hurry up, you’re taking too long!” Joan’s lip banged against the faucet. She straightened up, holding her hands to her mouth and started to cry.

Pushing and jostling, the cackle of girls gathered around them. There were cries of “What did she do to you?” and “Is it bleeding”. Ellie tried to say that it was an accident, but the others knew intuitively that she was lying. Ellie, sensing the subtle shift in power, knew she was at Joan’s mercy. “Tell the teacher on her” someone proffered. Ellie felt her stomach dance. She never got into trouble; she was a good girl. Everyone said so. She knew she shouldn’t have pushed Jane but something made her do it and now something awful would happen. If they told the teacher she would say that Ellie was bad, she would tell her mother and she might tell her father.

Ellie wanted desperately to halt the flow of events. “Nooo” she pleaded frantically, “Here, if you don’t tell on me, I’ll give you this,” she took the little chick from her pocket and offered it to Joan. Joan slowly lowered her hands from her swollen lip and stopped crying. The other children fell silent with envy. Joan reached out and took the chick, signalling a deal had been struck.

For an instant Ellie felt overwhelming relief before the knowledge of her loss closed in. The other children, aware that a justice of sorts had been achieved, headed for the freedom of the playground. Alone, Ellie stood watching through her tears as Joan wandered off stroking the tiny object in her hand.

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About this record

Written by Mary Delargy

Published here 21 Dec 2023 and originally published Spring 2004

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