Fri, Jan
9
2004

The Girl Who Folded Herself

libraryshelves.jpg

Until a few weeks ago, this was the opening of Rosemary and Time. I considered it good enough to submit to the Delacorte Press Contest, and it was good enough to prompt Maggie DeVries of Orca Books to ask for the rest of the novel.

Chapter One: The Girl Who Folded Herself

 

"What if we could travel at the speed of thought?"

--Marjorie Campbell

 

"The Mayor of Casterbridge has to be the most depressing book in all creation!"

Rosemary Watson tossed the worn-out paperback into the corner of her study cubicle. She pushed her fingers beneath her thick glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose.

You're only putting off the inevitable, she thought.

She was already two chapters behind in her assigned reading, a fact she'd realized five minutes before English class. Five minutes later, she was asked for her report. She could still hear Mr. Reed's words: "Really, Rosemary, you would think someone as bookish as you would appreciate good literature!"

French was its usual agony of tenses and the two classes together put such a pall over math that she flubbed an easy question. It was not a good day. At least it ended here, the last period study session, with Rosemary snug in a cubicle, poring over the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Rosemary cast a guilty glance at The Mayor of Casterbridge. Why couldn't they have chosen something more like A Midsummer Night's Dream? That, at least, had been fun.

The school library was half the size of the public library her father managed, but at least it had encyclopaedias, and at least it had the smell of paper. She felt the stress of the day seeping out among the hushed tones and the facts and figures. She took a deep breath and smiled.

Then she coughed. The scent of old paper was suddenly more powerful and tinged with mildew. It clung to her like mist. The smell seemed to be coming from the fiction aisle of authors whose names started with K through M.

Rosemary got up, slipped past the racks of battered paperbacks and approached the stacks. A burnt-out fluorescent put the aisle in shadow. The shelves towered over her like a hedge maze. A girl stood where the shelves met the concrete wall. She was flipping through a book. There was something wrong about her.

Rosemary pushed her glasses further up on her nose for a better look.

The girl looked a lot like Rosemary. She was about her age, wore glasses and had shoulder-length brown hair. She wore a school uniform similar to Rosemary's but, after a moment, Rosemary realized that this was what made the girl look odd. The uniform wasn't in Rosemary's school colours and the cut of the clothes was out of date. The girl's glasses were horn-rimmed instead of round. It was as though she had stepped out of the 1950s, or Rosemary had stepped in.

The girl stopped paging, and then turned and looked at Rosemary. Their eyes locked. The girl's eyes were angry.

"Who--" Rosemary stammered. "What's wrong?"

The girl turned towards Rosemary and disappeared.

Rosemary jumped back. The girl had not faded into nothingness, as though she were a ghost. A ghost Rosemary could handle, maybe. Instead, the girl folded out of existence, growing thinner as she turned until she was a line, and then nothing at all, as though she were a piece of paper, or a two-dimensional object.

And yet, Rosemary sensed that the girl was still standing before her, glaring at her.

The smell of dust was so intense that Rosemary thought her throat would close. She choked. Then the ringing of the school bell broke the spell.

Just a trick of the light, she thought. Just my overactive imagination.

But as she grabbed her backpack she thought: But I don't have an imagination.

Since then, a number of changes have taken place. The story gained a prologue, which helped set up some of the developments later in the story. Also, to help lower the age of the story and make it more clearly a middle-grade novel, I changed the The Mayor of Casterbridge reference to S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, which was something kids in grade six and seven are more likely to have read (but which I never did). She also needed a different reason to be in the library; rather than have her at study period, having her take refuge from the snowball fight outside made sense, and emphasized her outsider aspect.

That worked, but it was still a little dry. Then Cameron and Erin workshopped this chapter.

Although the opening has a catchy first line, Rosemary is rather passive throughout this section. Worst of all, she talks to herself; while many of us do this, it's a cliche for this to happen in a novel. Cameron suggested that Rosemary be more active, and Erin suggested that perhaps she needed to have a conversation with somebody, to better establish her picked-upon nature.

The result is as follows:

"What if we could travel at the speed of thought?"

--Marjorie Campbell

 

The Outsiders, thought Rosemary Watson, has to be the most depressing book in all creation.

She tossed the well-worn paperback into the corner of the study cubicle, pushed her fingers beneath her thick glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. The school bus was already late and getting later. Through the window came the muffled laughter of her fellow students and the smack of icy snowballs.

Rosemary sighed and slumped in her seat.

"Really, Rosemary," said a voice behind her. "You would think someone as bookish as you would appreciate good literature!"

She whirled around. Benson, a classmate, sat twisted in his seat by the study cubicle behind her, grinning.

"Go away," she snapped.

"What's the matter, ol' Sage?" said Benson. "'Fraid of a little snow?"

"Don't you have homework?" said Rosemary.

The school librarian shushed them. They looked up, and caught her grim stare. Benson flashed Rosemary a cheeky grin and turned back to his books.

Rosemary turned away. Benson had been imitating Mr. Reed, her English teacher, who'd said those exact words when he discovered she was a chapter behind in her assigned reading.

French was its usual agony of tenses and the two classes together had put such a pall over math that she'd flubbed an easy question. It had been a bad day. And her classmates weren't about to let it end, not while everyone waited for the school buses after the first snowfall of the season. So, instead of standing in a schoolyard with an invisible target pinned to her forehead she had chosen to hide in the library, taking refuge in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

As she opened the thick volume, she cast a glance at her copy of The Outsiders and sighed again. Why hadn't they picked something more like A Midsummer Night's Dream? That, at least, had been fun, even if all the boys had chuckled at the man named Bottom. The Outsiders was good literature, said Mr. Reed, but Rosemary wondered why people had to die in order to make literature good?

The school library was half the size of the public library her father managed, but at least it had encyclopaedias and the smell of paper. She felt the stress of the day seeping out amongst the hushed tones and the facts and figures. She took a deep breath and smiled.

Then she coughed. The scent of old paper was suddenly more powerful and tinged with mildew. It clung to her like cobwebs.

Rosemary stood up and looked around. The smell seemed to be coming from one of the fiction aisles. She slipped past racks of battered paperbacks and stepped into the stacks.

A burnt-out light cast the aisle in shadow. The shelves towered over her like a hedge maze. A girl stood where the shelves met the wall. She was flipping through a book. There was something odd about her.

Rosemary pushed her glasses further up on her nose for a better look.

The girl looked a lot like Rosemary. She was about her age, wore glasses, and had shoulder-length brown hair. She wore a school uniform, and that was what made the girl look odd. The school didn't have uniforms, and more than that, the cut of the clothes was odd. The girl's glasses were horn-rimmed instead of round. It was as though she had stepped out of the 1950s, or Rosemary had stepped in.

The girl stopped paging, then turned and looked at Rosemary. Their eyes locked. The girl glared.

"Who--" Rosemary stammered. "What's wrong?"

The girl turned towards Rosemary, and disappeared.

Rosemary jumped back. The girl had not faded into nothingness, as though she were a ghost. A ghost Rosemary could handle, maybe. Instead, the girl had folded out of existence, growing thinner as she turned until she was a line, and then nothing at all; as though she were a piece of paper, or a two-dimensional object.

And yet, Rosemary felt that the girl was still standing before her, glaring at her.

The smell of dust was so intense, Rosemary thought her throat would close. She choked. Then the muffled sound of the school bus horn broke the spell.

She darted out of the shelves, grabbed up her backpack and her winter coat, and ran for the door. Just a trick of the light, she thought. Just my imagination.

But as she ran from the library, she thought: But I don't have an imagination.


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