Amelia completed Martina Devlin’s short story ‘Singing Dumb’:
Mama told me I was a big girl after it happened. “All grown up,” she whispered as she scrubbed dry red from under my nails. She washed my hands with hot water until it hurt. My skin went a bright pink.
That same night she burned my clothes in the fireplace.
I tug at the rim of my dress, wishing I was in trousers. Mama told me to wear it today. She had a feeling the guards would be coming and said I should look neat. I shouldn’t look like a girl that gets into trouble. My hair is combed and tugged into braids at my sides. Brown curls still poke out and tickle my chin. I stand straight and hide my hands behind my back.
The shorter guard sighs and clicks his tongue. He leans close to me and I smell smoke and rotten fruit on his breath. “You’re quite the troublemaker,” he says with a smile. I don’t smile back.
“She’s not usually, Sergeant Hartley,” Mama promises. I want her to send them away. I don’t like the beads of sweat on his forehead. I don’t like his sharp teeth. “It was all an accident. A terrible mistake.”
“A brutal mistake,” says the guard with the missing fingertip.
“She’s awfully sorry,” Mama says. “Aren’t you, Kitty?” All eyes are on me and my skin starts to itch.
My throat feels sore and tight. I’m scared it will hurt when I speak. “Yes,” I say, nodding my head but my voice croaks. This makes the sweaty guard laugh. I look to Mama, hoping I said the right thing but she isn’t smiling. She looks very pale. She’s watching the tall guard and I see he is holding handcuffs in his skinny fingers.
“Please,” Mama says. She puts her hand on my shoulder. “She’s just a child.”
The small guard clicks his tongue again. “Children don’t do what she did.”
They take me outside.
On the porch, I see that neighbours have gathered to watch. Some stand in the street, squinting at us. Others peep behind curtains. Their whispers sound like swarms of bees.
Ned, Josie and Baby Bridie look up when we walk outside. They’re all sitting on the damp grass but they don’t look like they’re playing. Bridie is crying as Ned bounces her on his knee. Josie is biting her bottom lip but she doesn’t say anything. We all knew this was coming.
The guards hold my wrists as we walk. Their fingers are bony and cold. I don’t know where they’re taking me. Ned thinks they’ll put me in jail. The thought makes my stomach twist.
“She’s innocent!” Ned shouts. It makes Bridie cry harder and Josie looks angry. Mama tells them to be quiet and I am upset she doesn’t say anything more. I wish Dada was here. I keep walking down the broken steps as Ned continues. “She didn’t do anything wrong!”
I wish Ned was right. But there’s still dried blood under my nails.
Tall Tales, Short Stories celebrates 20 years of the V.S. Pritchett Prize, the great range of the short story form, and what is possible when we use other writers as inspiration. Our anthology contains the first 500 words of winning entries to the Prize and of stories from judges over the past 20 years. Our Tall Tales, Short Stories competition asks those aged 14-18 to finish one of the stories with a new ending of their own.