Molly Takes the Stage

Submitted into Contest #50 in response to: Write a story about a person experiencing pre-performance jitters.... view prompt



Author's Note Although the two stories are unrelated apart from a village setting, a few may recognise the legend of the Green Children of Woolpit I also used in my story "Scribes and Scribblers". It's fascinated me for ages and somehow I can't just dismiss it!

For a long while, my daughter Molly used to accuse me of being frightful. But I should explain that though I certainly have my had hair days and am definitely not always Number One Mum in the Popularity stakes it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounded. I don’t know if she got fretful and fearful mixed up or just decided it was a word that made perfect logical sense in the way she used it. Which, of course, it did. I’m almost sorry she’s grown out of it, probably at least in part due to her English teacher Ms Harcourt, who (with very good reason) she regards as far more of a reliable arbiter of matters linguistic than I am. 

     Still, today she said it without thinking, and I got this stupid lump in my throat hearing it. She isn’t the least frightful, or if she is she’s so good at hiding it that it would be robbing the world of delight and genius if she didn’t have a career as an actress. That’s her current ambition, though she still rather fancies being an astronaut. 

     I never know quite how I feel about parents telling their children they can be and do anything they want. Nobody with a scrap of compassion or common sense would dampen a child’s ambitions for the sake of it, and yet the fact is there are a great many children who will never be an international soccer star or win an Oscar. They’ll probably do something far more useful instead.

     Of course Molly’s greatest fear (and, to be honest, my own) was not of making a mess of her performance or forgetting her lines or tripping over or anything like that. It was of not being able to take part at all.

     It wouldn’t be the first time. For us, one step forward, two steps backwards isn’t just a turn of phrase, it’s the way of life. I still remember how delighted she was to be taking part in the Nativity Play, and she was genuinely not remotely bothered about not being Mary – the shepherd girl was far much more interesting! But she was taken poorly only the day before, so of course it couldn’t happen. That turned out to be a bit of a false alarm, but one of the more gloomy (or realistic) of her doctors has warned me there will be no real false alarms. Or not for a very long time. 

     That got her down, poor kid, though in typically protective mode she did her best to hide it, and even pretended she liked sprouts when it came to Christmas dinner. But perhaps she’s not that good an actress, after all.

     Well, now it’s nearly the end of the summer term, and she’s been well for months. I will use the word well. Yet that nasty nagging little worm burrowing in my brain tells me that well was before she caught sepsis. Before something as beautiful as a rose dug its thorns into her and a little scratch, soothed with a kiss and a sticking plaster with a picture of Mickey Mouse, turned into something menacing and marauding.

     Yes, she was lucky. Don’t think I don’t know that. She lost no limbs, she suffered no brain damage. But I was told she had a compromised immune system

     For Molly, colds and grazed knees and any number of things have never been matters to be taken lightly, not since that day. She had to know herself, at quite an early stage, and oh how I hated that. 

     But now nothing has gone wrong for months, and I have even been able to concentrate, at least sometimes, not on her health, not on symptoms, but on the fact that she seems to have blossomed both before my eyes and without my noticing it, from a plucky, appealing, truculent child into a rather lovely young girl mature beyond her years. She will be going to “big” school next year, and I can’t help worrying about that though she is already looking forward to it.

     The “Upper Juniors” are, at the suggestion of the head teacher Mr Shaw, having a separate play of their own this year. Naturally enough, the absolute main parts tend to have been given to the children who are leaving at the end of this term – that will be Molly’s turn next year, and I will refuse to let it even enter my head that anything other than that will happen. Oh, yes, I realise the contradiction of that very statement. Still, she has a good part.

     It’s based on the local East Anglian legend about the village that was visited by Green Children in the Middle Ages. The thing about the Green Children legend is that there does seem to be some stubborn kernel of truth about it, though of course all manner of legends and conspiracy theories have arisen.

     Anyway, it was taken as a given that the Green Children themselves should be played by Becky and Billy Hawthorne. Even though the original children weren’t twins, and that’s one of those facts that seems to give it a certain veracity, as twins would be just, well, too obvious. Still, as Mr Shaw said, it’s our own interpretation. I’m not going to complain about that. After all, Molly’s part is something of an elaboration on most versions of the legend. She’s Amy, a local girl who befriends the Green Children and in a rather modern take on it, but one that works, thanks to a humorous and un-preachy script, (by Ms Harcourt, of course!) takes some to task for judging folk by their skin. At one point she puts on greenface herself. I’ll be honest, that bothers me, though I’ve tried not to let it show, and not, I have to admit, for any moral or philosophical reasons but because I’m worried about any potential damage. Still, Mr Shaw has assured me it’s an entirely harmless vegetable dye. She doesn’t mind vegetables in that form! It may be a cameo part, but it’s a large cameo part. 

     There’s something so touching about the attitude of the children in general to the play. They’re fascinated by it and approach it with the kind of absorbed intensity that they will grow out of all too soon. Yet at the same time, they have a lightness and a perspective that means it’s the adults (no, not just me!) who stress about it. 

     They’re old enough to know the difference between fantasy and reality and not be given nightmares by some of the slightly spooky scenes yet still young enough to suspend disbelief and persuade adults in the audience to do likewise. Not a bad age to be! It isn’t tchnically a musical, but there are a couple of songs in it, and a “piano presence” with music by Mr Shaw’s brother – obviously a talented family! Anyway, it’s made Molly ask me if she can have piano lessons, and I’m inclined to consent. I can see why she’s so taken with it – I’ve only heard snippets of it at rehearsals, but the way it meanders from seemingly authentic (not that I’d know and I suppose they didn’t have pianos in the middle ages) medieval music to an almost atonal, improvised-sounding atmospheric background is impressive. Maybe that will be her next career ambition! Mum and Dad have a piano, and they keep it tuned, so that would be handy.

     I am starting to make plans! I am starting not to be “frightful” of making plans. Of course, there is nothing to worry about in playing the piano. I suppose I am grateful that she’s never shown much inclination to be keen on sports, though she has a precocious fascination with watching snooker. But next year she will be in an environment where there won’t just be soft balls to toss and Music and Movement (which she has already started to regard with some contempt and I honestly don’t blame her!) and Nature Walks. Mr Shaw has a bit of a bee in his bonnet that well pre-dates any connection with or consideration for Molly. He makes sure the children get fresh air and keep active, but has, as he’s confessed, an aversion to compulsory team sports, specially at junior level. “Yes,” he said, with that endearing grin that makes you forget he’s a head teacher, “I was the child who used to pretend he had a sprained ankle to get out of football!” Oh, the school has teams, and they do rather well – but it’s extra-curricular. Not that everyone wholly approves of that. But most people, broadly speaking, approve of Mr Shaw, if not necessarily of all his ideas.

     The one “sport” she has expressed an interest in participating in is swimming. And the truth is, that – well, if she hadn’t scratched her finger that day, I would have had her taught to swim of a matter of course, quite early on. I firmly believe in children being taught to swim. Whether she wants to learn because it truly appeals to her, or because she wants to do something all her friends are doing or have done, I don’t know. Probably a mixture of both.

     But I do know that I will have to, if my daughter is to have any chance of what we choose to call a normal life, I will have to give consent, and appear to give approval to at least some things that are not, I know inside, probably entirely safe.

     She has a rebellious streak, for all she can be stoic and pragmatic beyond her years. In principle I approve of that. I soon lose patience with the saintly sickly children beloved of literature of a bygone age – Little Women is one of my favourite books, to this day, but I never quite lost a certain irritation with Beth. In some ways some of the kids in the magazines I say I only buy for the puzzles are no better. Molly gets on with things as well as she can. But she hates it, inside. I know she does. 

     All parents have been banished from the backstage area. We have done our duty. We have helped make costume, we have heard lines rehearsed, and now it behoves us to know our place, which is sitting in the school hall (that can make a nice impression of a little theatre, even with a stage) and waiting to appreciate our offspring’s talent. In fact, apart from Ms Harcourt (of course!) and possibly Mr Shaw, backstage is currently an adult free zone.  Oh, how I have tried not to be a helicopter mother, but I still worry about Molly in an environment with a limited adult presence. I will have to get over this. Next year I suppose I will have to let her get on the bus into town to go to school. Or will I insist on driving her, at least at first? Well, that particular battle is still a while ahead. 

     She has never been a shy child, and is more than capable of holding her own. She’s one of those children whose very mutinous streak means she may never actually be a leader, not in the conventional sense, but will always be heard, both literally and figuratively! Though so far as I know (and Mr Shaw would never stand for it) there’s been no bullying, the “top year” children in the play tend to be somewhat condescending when it comes to the lesser mortals below them who have been admitted to the holy of holies. But you don’t condescend easily to Molly. She’s still a bit below average height, though she’s spurted up lately, and not an obvious “presence” among the other children, but her intelligence, her maturity, and yes, her kindness, make her stand out. 

     Things are suspiciously quiet backstage. Oh, what hypocrites we are! We ask, tell, bribe, plead with our children to be quiet and yet when they are, it’s worrying! Still, Ms Harcourt is there. It will be fine. I have started to see her as a talisman as much as Molly does! We have become quite good friends and out of school, so to speak, call each other Julie and Marion, but even though she’s a few years younger than I am, I still tend to see her as an authority figure! Because one day Molly will discover (in fact she already has, quite possibly!) that adults need people to reassure them and to make things run smoothly too.

     The piano, played behind the scenes by Mr Shaw’s brother (I’m sure it can only be the regular piano they use for assembly, which has been moved from its regular place, but it seems to have an odd echo to it, almost like an overstrung piano) has started to weave its magic musical spell, though this is quite a simple melody, evoking village life. It is (thank goodness!) nothing like the theme music to The Archers yet perhaps it you traced them back far enough there might be a common ancestor. The curtain rises. Molly has confided in me, with the air of a spy passing on important clandestine information, that they’ve had some problems with the curtain, but this time it comes up easily enough. Ms Harcourt and Mr Shaw were wise enough to know that no matter how well produced, a school play and its set have their limitations, and there was no attempt made to recreate an actual medieval village in detail. But a few clever props – old-looking tools, a backdrop painted in vaguely sepia shades with a stylised manor house in the background, some bits and pieces of greenery, manage to convey something convincing. Much as I am not going to be one of those mothers who has eyes for her child only, and much as the Hawthorne twins look very affecting wandering around stage hand in hand, as if on a voyage of discovery, as the music subtly segues to something slower and more mysterious, I am still impatient to see my own child make her entrance! 

     And now she is on stage, my Molly, taking her elders to task about the way they look askance at the green children, making her big speech. She is word-perfect and has been so for weeks – she has a very good memory, probably better than mine! But now – well, she’s not quite keeping to the script! Only the tiniest diversion! She is supposed to tell the innkeeper and his wife and the blacksmith, that, “There’s no cause for you to be worried about these children, they are just the same as we are!”

     But instead she tells them that there’s no need to be “frightful” about them – and it works, because she has adopted a local accent that is unmistakeable without being a parody, and somehow the very way she speaks the words gives them a flavour of authenticity, and I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t enter anyone else’s head to think she’s a child who has her words muddled up. But I can take a hint. Molly is not just talking to the innkeeper and his wife and the blacksmith, nor to the audience in general. She is talking to me, and letting me know in no uncertain terms that I have no need to be frightful about one particular child – my own!

July 17, 2020 06:31

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Niveeidha Palani
07:09 Jul 21, 2020

I love the twist at the end! Amazing use of vocabulary! Keep writing!


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21:48 Jul 21, 2020

This is a delightful story, so very much the way a mother's mind is operating. Looking forward to reading more of your writings!


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Batool Hussain
15:34 Jul 20, 2020

Amazing! Your stories always wonderful! Loving the twist at the end;) Mind checking out my new story and sharing your views on it? Thanks;)


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08:01 Jul 17, 2020

Good story, well done.


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