Mummy always said that to be a brave girl, what you have to do, when something is difficult or goes wrong, is you need to go back and do it again, straight away. So you don’t get too scared, you see. Like when my sister Jessie fell off her pony, Mr Socks, and broke a rib, and her whole side turned this horrid purple colour and she had to have weeks off school: Well, once she was better she didn’t want to ride again. But Mummy said you have to get back on the horse – quite literally in her case - and she did. The next year she won silver at the Gymkhana and we all cheered her on.
Or when I was fifteen and in my end of year ballet show: I wobbled off-pointe and fell in front of everyone. I was completely mortified! But I still had to go on for the second act. And I kept up my lessons and at Christmas I did a show again and it all went very nicely that time and Miss Minchin said I was becoming very accomplished. So it was good that I was brave and kept going.
My teachers said the same thing one way or another. I remember Mrs Rainer telling us in assembly about the time she was climbing a mountain and twisted her ankle and had to be carried home. But once the ankle had healed she went back and climbed that mountain all the
way to the top! That always stuck with me. When I was at school Mrs Rainer was the most obviously brave person I knew, with the mountain climbing, and abseiling and things.
Or in history class Miss Stuart told this story about a king, I think Bruce something, who had been defeated in battle, and wanted to give up, but then he saw this spider trying to make a web. It kept missing the beam, but it still kept trying and trying and trying again. So he kept trying too, and then he won another battle that was important I think. History was never my best subject, but I really liked that story and it meant I was never scared of spiders after that. If there’s one you need removing (gently, of course) I’m your woman! I guess that means I’m brave too in my way.
No, spiders are fine, but what gets to me – and I’m really sorry, I know it’s stupid – is ants. That first summer, when I moved in with Tom: Oh my goodness, the swarms of ants! They made me squeal. I know it’s irrational. I know. I do.
It’s so silly of me. I did say so to Tom, that first summer, and last summer too, when they came back. I know I’m a coward and stupid and weak. For the ants and for everything else. I know that.
But I don’t know if Mummy was always right. I’ve tried, I have. I’ve tried so hard. To be the perfect girlfriend, perfect future wife, perfect daughter. To be the perfect girl. To try, try and try again, every time I fail.
I fell off the horse. That’s what I’m saying. Fell and broke my ribs like my sister did when we were children. Fell and blackened my eye.
I’m going to be brave now, but I’m not sure if brave is always what they told me, my teachers and Mummy. I think I walk away now and I have to be brave enough not to look back.
Joanne L. M. Williams
Joanne’s short story Cages, first written for Liars’ League, was published in the 2018 collection We/She by Arachne Press. Her other short fiction has been previously published online in .Cent Magazine and by Liars’ League. She lives in London where she works in Theatre Management and is also a ballroom & Latin dancer taking part in international competitions. She can be found on Twitter @joannelmw.
Illustration Mahsa Dehghani
Our literary Editor Katy Darby also is part of Liars’ League, a monthly live fiction event where writers write, actors read, audiences listen and everybody wins. Videos and MP3s can be found at liarsleague.com.