Most writers have many settings. Currently I am writing in my Kaylee / Azinia setting, and I have a space opera setting bubbling around in my head. Before that there was my Landrina setting, which was dominated by an eternal war between magic and science. In the same overarching setting was my Nokar (lost soulmates) and Vampiress Lessa (vampire hunter) plotlines. And before that was my first main setting – my Captain Codfish setting.
It all began with a short story about a ship during a storm and expanded into the treasure hunting adventures of Captain Codfish and his family as they explored exotic places all over the world. This story is about Kristen, the best friend to Captain Codfish’s oldest daughter – Anna. In college I took a creative writing class and for one assignment I had to write a realistic short story about a child. What did I know better than my Captain Codfish setting, so I wrote this side story. It has very little to do with the Captain Codfish setting, and realistic fiction isn’t really my preferred genre. I’m much more of a fantasy or a scifi girl.
I haven’t really done much editing to this story since college, so I’d like to think my writing style has improved a lot since then. Please don’t judge the rest of my writing based on this story because most of my writing does not follow this style. I have renamed this story several times. Right now I’m calling it “Kristen’s Araby” because my creative writing teacher in college said the story reminded her of James Joyce’s “Araby” with the loss of innocence at the end of the story. I don’t intend to publish this story anytime soon, so I thought I would share it here. And now, “Kristen’s Araby.”
By Robin A. Burrows
Kristen Williams stared out the window gloomily as the school bus bounced down the rough road. Blurs of red and orange filled her vision, but her mind was in turmoil. She took out her pocketbook organizer, which she had been required to carry for note-taking ever since she started middle school, and flipped up its gray display screen. A large yellow box appeared on the screen, noting that Ms. Kelly had added the date of their next test to the schedule.
Kristen sighed as she closed the box on her organizer’s screen. The next English test was a week away, on the day of her thirteenth birthday. Turning thirteen was a big deal. Yesterday had been her friend, Lisa’s birthday. Lisa had a big birthday party last night at her mother’s house in town. Most of the girls in their class had attended the party, and even some of the boys; though they only went to watch the girls splash around in Lisa’s pool.
Kristen scrolled through the menus on her organizer until she came to the monthly calendar. She stared at the little box in the middle of the calendar marked the 15th. It had been completely blank before the English test was added to the calendar. She hadn’t even bothered to add her birthday to the calendar. Nothing ever happened on it anyway. When you came from a large family, birthdays weren’t as important as they were in very small families. Being one of nine children, Kristen knew this fact bitterly well.
Sure, there was always a cake for dessert on the day of someone’s birthday, and sometimes she even got a birthday card. But it was a miracle if she ever got anything more than that. Birthdays were afterthoughts in her family – like President’s Day. No one ever celebrated President’s Day. But at least they got off school for the holiday. She didn’t even get that much for her birthday.
Kristen’s best friend, Anna, was forgetful and often forgot her birthday, or she was out of town with her father – the the famous ship captain. She couldn’t ever count on Anna to remember her. Ms Drew, her teacher from a few years ago had remembered her birthday once, but she was out on maternity leave.
But nothing compared to the birthday parties Lisa had every year. Everyone always remembered Lisa’s birthdays.
Kristen snapped closed the organizer and returned her eyes to the window. She wished just once that someone would make a big deal out of her birthday. The bus drove past Lisa’s house. Colorful streamers still hung from the balcony and limp balloons littered the front yard from the night before. Lisa had been telling everyone about her birthday for a month before it actually took place. Maybe that was part of the trick, Kristen thought. If I let everyone know when my birthday is, maybe they will remember it.
The bus began slowing and with a little jerk it stopped in the schoolyard. Kristen hurried to get a place in line to get off the bus so she wouldn’t have to wait for the end of the line and be the last person off the bus.
A smile tugged at the edges of her mouth as Kristen leap from the last step of the bus and landed on the sidewalk. She knew what she would do. Maybe she would get half as many presents as Lisa if she spread the word about her birthday like Lisa had done. She would make notes letting everyone know that her birthday was in a week.
In her mind, Kristen saw stacks and stacks of presents growing larger and larger. She saw lines and lines of people stopping by the wish her a Happy Birthday. There would be a lot for her to do before this day was over. Kristen cut across the grass on the way to her first class. She hardly noticed when the dew from the wet grass seeped through her shoes and made her socks damp and sticky.
Between classes, Kristen wrote notes informaing everyone that Tuesday, October 15 was her birthday. She tried to make the handwriting look like that of one of her siblings. She didn’t want it to appear as if she were begging for birthday presents after all. She just wanted someone to think of her; someone to remember her for once.
At lunch Anna bounced down in the seat next to her as Kristen was working on the notes. She quickly slipped them out of sight in her backpack and took a big bite of her hamburger. “Whatcha doing?” Anna asked. “I’m leaving on another trip with Father tomorrow. Want to come?”
Kristen shook her head. Ker parents would never let her out of school like Anna’s did.
That night Kristen finished writing the notes. She made one for each teacher that she had ever liked, one for each of her friends, and a few extras. She convinced a couple of her younger siblings to help her distribute them. If her siblings passed them out, it would look like they were trying to surprise Kristen for her birthday. Maybe someone would think of her.
That day notes were slipped on desks and into folders. One, Kristen hand-deliver herself in person. Right before lunch, Kristen stopped Lisa, gave her the note and then ran on ahead to lunch before Lisa could read it. Kristen wished Anna was there, but she was gone again.
The week passed quickly and Kristen could not sleep the night before her birthday. She was hoping to see Ms. Drew, since she hadn’t seen her in a long time.
The next day, six periods rolled by. Kristen had gotten a few well wishes for her birthday, but no one had so much as bothered to get her a card. It was easy to say Happy Birthday. It was harder to actually be thoughtful. Apparently no one thought of her.
Kristen was in her computer class at the end of the day when she thought she heard a familiar voice outside the door. Seconds later, the teacher called her name and Kristen was escorted out into the hall where Ms. Drew and her new baby were waiting.
Kristen had given up on anyone paying any attention to her birthday, so she couldn’t believe Ms. Drew was actually there. Ms. Drew gave her a hug and a birthday card and a balloon tied to a big bag of candy. “This is from all of your teachers,” Ms. Drew said.
The meeting was brief and Kristen was back in class beaming with happiness before she realized it. Someone had finally remembered her birthday!
It was only later, when Kristen sat on the school bus on the way home that the reality of what she had done began to sink in. She had done it, Kristen thought. She had used Lisa’s tactics and someone had remembered her birthday! But it didn’t feel the way she thought it would.
Slowly the smile faded from her face, and her stomach knotted. She got what she wanted, but why did she feel so…so guilty? She turned her full face towards the window and a tear ran down her left cheek.
Had it really been worth it, she wondered. She received this beautiful present from Ms. Drew, but it wasn’t cheap to receive. Something deep inside of her said she had done something wrong.
She wished they had thought of her on their own, instead of out of pity. She didn’t want presents because she begged for them, she wanted them because the people actually cared about her. It wasn’t the presents that mattered, it was the thought behind them.
She wondered if Lisa even remembered what it was like to receive a thoughtful gift. Maybe that’s why Lisa was so mean to the other girls.
I will never be like Lisa, Kristen decided. Never again.