The Life and Times of the Why-Child

Submitted into Contest #7 in response to: Write a story with a child narrator.... view prompt





Mum came out with that business about my initials just being coincidence again today. Well, I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it as Mr Prentice says when we come up with some excuse for our homework not being done. Say what you like about Mum, but she’s not stupid, and she has a way with words and all that, and I can’t believe that it didn’t dawn on her that Wilhelmina Harriet Yarrow gives you WHY. I’d rather she was just honest about it.

    Or would I? Lucy, who’s been a bit odd since she started going to Scripture Union every week, says we were all formed before we were born. That the plan was there for us. Of course she means God’s Plan. Thinking about that – well, I can’t get my head round it. In my case it wasn’t – what’s the word? – divine – but because I came ready made as the heroine of the WHY-child books. Yes that’s me. I’m the WHY-child, who’s been in 31 books now, and counting. And they keep on selling, that’s the funny thing. Mum has told me about the I-Spy books (and they sound pretty boring to me, not to mention I bet everyone cheated, no matter what Big Chief I-Spy thought about it!) and how they “fell by the wayside” as Lucy might say but although, as she says with an air of weary resignation (I read that and rather like it!) sales aren’t what they used to be, and of course she’s online – or should I say I’M online – they’re still selling! Frances Yarrow has not gone out of fashion. Mum has always resisted the name, but inside I think she’s quite pleased that the whole lot have started to be called The Life and Times of the WHY-child.

    Oh, by the way, I’ve now decided I am most definitely only going to answer to Willa. I can see the pitfalls, not least that I’m not exactly wispy, but it’s the lesser of – well I’m not quite sure how many evils. Mum went through a spell of saying that if I must shorten it she wished I would say “Minne”.   That has something to do with medieval German minstrels and I don’t doubt the WHY-child will find out more about it soon enough.  I can’t believe it didn’t dawn on her that it sounds just like “Meaner” and that I had to point it out, adding as a final defiant flourish, “And you a writer!” 

    “Don’t be impudent, Wilhelmina,” she said, but I can read her like a book and I knew that wasn’t “serious” cross. She likes the fact I have a bit of spirit, as she calls it. She more often calls the WHY-child feisty. Which I suppose she is.   In awe of Mummy’s wisdom and powers of research, but feisty.

    Anyway, if I can’t read folk like a book, who can, seeing as I’m IN a book. I’ve a feeling that might count as “trying to sound clever” but never mind.

    When Mum is asked if the WHY-child books are true, she often says “essentially”. Now I always used to think that meant the same as someone saying it was essential you wore sensible shoes, or it was essential that you got your parent’s signature, but apparently it means something else as well – along the lines of “in essence”. And it’s not like vanilla essence. Or maybe it is.

    I really did ask a lot of the questions, she says, especially when I was little. Well, I can believe that, but though I’m an only child I have younger cousins and – well, I won’t say friends, but their mums and mine are friends – and I’ve realised that much as it would be quite flattering to think so, EVERYBODY goes through a phase of asking why the sea is blue, and why fish don’t drown and why you’re the wrong way round in a mirror. I wasn’t unique. Shucks! 

    Like me, the WHY-child has dark hair and blue eyes. When she first came on the scene we grew up at more or less the same rate, but though some of the questions are what Mum terms more “complex” in the later books, she seems to have stopped growing when she was about nine, and I’ve carried on for another three years (nearly). She still has pigtails and I don’t (I can admit here I half-wish I hadn’t persuaded Mum to let me have my hair cut, but it’s a lot less trouble now I’m expected to see to it myself) and she still wears dungarees which I haven’t since – well, actually, I can’t remember ever having worn them at all! 

    Then there’s the house. Not that Mum goes on that much about the house, not as much as she used to, I don’t think. In the books the WHY-child lives (AND I QUOTE!) in a cabin in a clearing in the woods, where the air is fresh and the pine-trees grow. HAH! For as long as I can remember we’ve lived in a house on Willow Avenue and the only conifers (Yes, the WHY-child did ask why some trees lose their leaves and some don’t, or don’t even have leaves at all!) we have are the Leylandii (if I’ve spelt it right) in the hedge that Mum always trims so they have a neat flat top. I often wonder why, if she wanted that sort of hedge, she didn’t just plant a normal hedge like they have next door instead of trying to make trees look like one, but I don’t think that question would fill a WHY-child book, not even one of the bite-size range she introduced last year. 

    The books never actually say the WHY-child doesn’t go to school, but her Mum (who is always called Mummy in the books) seems to furnish her with all the information she needs, because of course she has all the answers, and if she doesn’t (AND I QUOTE) she always knows where to find out, even if she does seem to make life a lot more complicated than just Googling it, which is what Mum generally does, for all she’s got that stack of reference books. I’ve gone through spells, when the other kids are being annoying (though to be fair, I’ve never been bullied – those silly cracks about my name don’t count, and when it comes to words I can always give better than I get!) about thinking I wouldn’t mind being home-schooled, but it doesn’t take long for me to change my mind. 

    Oh, and the pets. Clarice the Cat was real, but she passed away (as Gran says, and Mum tells her off) when I was only six, and I can’t remember that much about her, except that though she could be a bit grouchy but the feel of her on my lap was nice. She lives on in the books, as does the tame pigeon Peter (very original – NOT!) who I don’t think is ever actually called her friend, Mum likes to keep things what she calls “reasonably realistic,” but who is sometimes referred to, in one of those phrases I’ve never quite grasped, as her partner in crime. Oh, and of course there are the forest creatures.

    I’ve not had a pet for years, though we put up fat balls and peanuts for the birds. And I don’t think I’ve even seen a forest creature when we went to the forest on holiday. I wish we had an urban fox like Gillian’s family. Though to be honest, I don’t know why. I don’t see she gets much out of it apart from leaving food and sometimes seeing a scrawny glimpse of it that’s not at all like the foxes in books and then there’s the poop. Oh yes, I have my own “Why’s” but don’t want to make a book out of them.

    I wouldn’t mind writing a book though. Not like one of Mum’s, though I wouldn’t say I really don’t like them. Okay, perhaps I would, sometimes. 

    The thing is, I’ve found out about this children’s writing competition. I wouldn’t mind having a go at it. Our English teacher, Ms Barrett, says I should. But there are two things. Well, 3 really because I wish she’d stop going on about it being in the genes – Mum’s not the only one who doesn’t seem to know how things sound but that’s not all. But leaving that out of it – I most definitely DON’T want to enter the youngest age category, which technically I should. How on earth can you tell a decent story in less than 300 words? And I think it would be just plain unfair to six and seven year olds to have me in competition. I decided to enlist the help of Gran. It could have gone either way, but she saw my point of view and agreed that as I would be 12 before the winners were published, it did no harm to stretch a point. I also pointed out that I didn’t want to use my real surname, as it’s an unusual one and even if it might be pushing it to say EVERYONE would think of the WHY-child books (there are, after all, people who have never heard of them!) I wanted it all to be in my own right. “Well,” she said, reading the small print (and I had my fingers crossed behind my back – there’s one of the books that explains why we have our superstitions and Mum tries to be very interesting and fair while making it plain they’re silly even if they do have a fascinating history!) “though they don’t mention pen-names, they don’t say you CAN’T. So I reckon it’ll be okay.” So I transformed into Willa Malloy (Gran’s maiden name) and she signed the consent form as “Guardian (Grandmother)” though there were a few worrying moments when she fretted that she wasn’t quite sure about making it sound as if I was an orphan. But she decided it would be – well, if not fine, acceptable. That was her word – acceptable. Not a very exciting word, but never mind. I have absolutely no trouble remembering there are 2 “C’s” in it the way some folk do – it just looks WRONG with one!

    I know I can write stories. I’ve always , well, nearly always, got good marks for them and always enjoyed writing them. When they give us one of those silly topics I can always write a story. Before she got all religious Lucy used to say I couldn’t half rabbit on. Well, okay. She’s not wrong. And though I like being praised and told what a good writer I am, I don’t mind it when Ms Barrett isn’t always just full of kind words. Maybe I do, a bit. But Mum says we shouldn’t mind constructive criticism (mind you when that reviewer said that the WHY-child was getting just a bit tedious she used a word I’d get told off for using, and I bit my tongue so as not to say, he should try BEING the WHY-child). Anyway a week or so back, Ms Barrett told me one of my stories was derivative. I asked her what it meant and got the usual stuff about if you don’t know the meaning of a word then look it up in the dictionary! Mind you it’s no hardship to use the big old-fashioned dictionary she’s so fond of. And I suppose she was right. I was trying to do my own version of Harry Potter. “Well?” Ms Barrett asked, quietly when I had looked it up. “I suppose you’re right,” I admitted.

    “I love JK Rowling as much as you do, but we don’t want a second one of her, we want a first one of you!” Well, despite the criticism (I like that word even if I don’t always like getting it much!) that was one of the nicest things she’s ever said to me. Oh, and she isn’t hung-up about the world nice the way some teachers are, specially in books.

    To be honest I’d much rather have a subject for my story than them saying it can be about “anything”. 

    I mean do I write about someone with magic powers (no, I won’t go there! They might think it’s “derivative”!) or someone in danger, or with a great talent for something, or living in an out of the way place like a tree house or an igloo, or with a strange parent.

    Oh! Now there’s an idea. Not that I’m saying Mum is strange, not really. She doesn’t even wear odd old-fashioned clothes like Mummy in the books, not most of the time, anyway. She’s quite a good cook though she doesn’t force-feed me kale or sprouts or cereals you never stop chewing like Gillian’s mum does. I’m not surprised she likes the fox. She probably nicks some of his food because it’s more appetising than hers. No, that’s just being silly. But all the same, writing endless books about your own daughter except it’s not really your own daughter, asking all kinds of questions, most of them she’s never asked – well, it’s to use a phrase Michael’s brother Kevin who’s in Year 10 uses as a constant putdown, borderline weird. Though come to think of it I’m never quite sure if it’s a putdown or a compliment! I think Kevin himself is more than borderline weird. He has lovely eyes, though.

    Sometimes (not that often to be honest!) other kids say it must be fun to be a character in a book. Not sure if fun is the word I’d use! But thinking it over it has given me an idea. Only I’m going to turn it around! Turn the tables on her! Not in a nasty way. Honestly! I’ve got the first paragraph going round in my head …..

    Once upon a time ….

    No – not once upon a time. It’s not a fairytale. Not that I mind fairytales.

    There was once …..

    Not sure about that. What was it Ms Barrett once said – dive right in! Mind you another time she says we ought to set the scene, but never mind that.

    Mrs Young, whose first name was Frieda, lived in a boring house in a boring town with her daughter, a twelve-year old named Wanda. They got along very well, and enjoyed going to the library and the swimming pool together, and sitting in their garden where there was a bird table and Leylandii trees, both of them reading their books and pretending that they didn’t mind the insects buzzing around them and it was all part of the fun, like when you’re on a picnic. 

    That Sunday afternoon when they were thinking about going in because their neighbour Mr Lawson’s lawnmower was beginning to annoy them with its buzzing and whining , Mrs Young let out a sigh. “Do you ever wish life was more like it is in books, Wanda?” she asked. Wanda thought it over as she ran her hands through her glossy black hair. “Sometimes I do,” she said.

    The idea came to her all at once when she was in the middle of eating a chocolate brownie (she was glad her Mum didn’t have strict ideas about things like that). 

    Her Mum was very fond of the word “wish” and probably didn’t even know she was herself. She didn’t say it in a whiny or teary sort of way, or as if she was unhappy, but sometimes she had a look in her eyes (which were blue, like Wanda’s) that was WISTFULWanda sometimes wondered why the word wasn’t wishful, though there was such a word and maybe they didn’t mean quite the same thing. She liked looking up words the way her English teacher Ms Bryant always told her to. I WISH we had more money, Mum said, though she always went on to say of course money wasn’t everything and they were quite happy as they were. I WISH I could lose a bit of weight, she said, I WISH I could learn how to play the piano,  I WISH I had some time off work due. 

    So her Mum wanted to be in a book, did she? I can fix that for her, thought Willa Wanda and sat down with her notebook (she always liked to write things first in her notebook) She had already invented a name for her Mum’s character and decided that it was to be the first of many books she was going to write about the Life and Times of the Wish-Woman …..


September 20, 2019 06:44

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