Mona — Second Place in Our First Literary Contest
By Clara Heathcock
We apologize for the hiatus between posting our winners. We posted our second runner up/third place story back in May which was the rousing “No Name” by Selaine Henriksen, where the heroine was a bit of a vigilante in her own way. Ms. Heathcock, with her excellent first runner up story, “Mona,” presents a very different portrait of female strength that is no less amazing and enduring. Check back here next Wednesday the 10th, and we will unveil our grand prize winner, her interview, and give a taste about plans for the next contest coming in January of 2015!
Also, please do read through to the end to learn a bit about Ms. Heathcock and where to find her on social media!
Hello, my name is Mona. I am writing this diary because I am about to start my two weeks work experience in a factory that makes bows for girls underwear and Miss Lainesworth, who is my form and art tutor at school says that we should keep a diary as a record of what we learn. I am writing it like a letter to myself even though I know that someone else will read it but I am pretending that I don’t know that to make this sound more “genuine.” Actually doing that makes me feel strange so I think I will stop doing it now. Mr. Showalter said that we had to do work experience because it would help us get the career of our choice. I said I don’t think that I want a career because all the people who you hear talk about their careers and not their jobs seem mean. Or else they seem so stressed they’ve become very relaxed, all bragging about how fulfilled they are while looking like they want to cry. He told me to stop being a ‘smart alec’ and write my application letter. So I did, but I think it was the wrong kind of letter because when my mom saw it she laughed, but she stopped herself laughing straight away because she is my mom and she knows I don’t like it when people laugh at me and moms don’t do things you don’t like unless they are things that are good for you in the long run, like eating vegetables or attending therapy sessions. Here is the letter: Dear ____________, I would like you to pick me to do work experience at your company starting on the 20th of June. In case you don’t know what work experience is I will tell you now. It is where I work at your company for free for one week. In case you are bad at maths I will tell you that this would mean I would be finished working at your company on the 25th of June. I would do this because by starting early doing bad jobs eventually I can have your job or an even better one. If there are other applicants you should pick me because I am very good at designing clothes. I have attached some examples of some clothes I designed so you know that I am not lying. I am modelling them in the pictures because I couldn’t get anyone else to do it but you should bear in mind that I am not very “shapely” and that they would look even better on someone who was not fat. Also I work very hard and am helpful and kind. I am sure that you already know this because I did the maths for you about when I would leave but I am saying it again in case you didn’t notice. I look forward to you telling me I have got the job. Yours Faithfully Mona Peterson It’s the kind of letter I would like to receive because it explains everything, but Miss Lainesworth said that I have to assume that the rest of the world isn’t like me. I have to learn their rules and communicate with them in a language that they find easiest. Sometimes doing that can make you very tired. Sometimes it can make you very angry too because it is like no one really wants to talk to you they just want to talk to themselves in a different form. Mom wrote another letter and sent it out to all the tailors and fashion shops she knew about and no one said yes so she sent it to all the textiles factories she could and only one said yes. I got angry when mom told me about the girls underwear factory, because I knew what people were going to say at school. They were going to make jokes about how I am not sexy and do not own that kind of underwear and so I won’t see it other than in the factory. Also they would think I’m not good at designing clothes even though I am very good. I was right. It would have been different if someone like Derrick Green or Patrick Jones got their work experience there because they would have been able to do this thing where they talk with a laugh in their voice and other people know that its supposed to be funny that they are doing this, because really they are much cleverer than you need to be to do it but still they will be good at it anyway. I have learned that when people talk with a laugh in their voice like that it is called being “ironic.” Some people will think that its ironic that I know this because I am not supposed to be very good at understanding other peoples tones. Because there are times when I don’t understand no one ever thinks that sometimes I might understand and just not want to participate. I feel bad that I got angry with mom because I know that she did her best for me like she always does and I probably really hurt her feelings. Despite that she still made me spaghetti on toast for tea and washed up and called me Mona the Marauder when I ironed my school clothes and put the milk away after I made my milkshake. I feel sad writing this now. It turns out that both Patrick and Derrick got their work experience with their dads companies. Well I just thought that was really funny because they both look exactly like their dads except for being thinner and less wrinkled and choosing socially acceptable clothing for a different group. And I just thought how in twenty years they would be their dads and reminisce about the old days and wear Simpson’s ties and get their suits tailored at a brand name store and think it makes them really original. And I just thought that was so funny I laughed until I hurt and Miss. Lainsworth said I had to go and sit in the quiet room until I could be calm. I know I said in my letter before that I am kind and I also said that I don’t like being laughed at. I know that it would seem that it would be unkind to laugh and Patrick and Derrick because it is a thing that I don’t like but it’s not really because they are mean to other people every day so meanness’s back at them count less (mom wouldn’t say so but she is wrong and anyway she has never had to spend time with Patrick and Derrick.) Also they don’t dislike it as much as I do so it doesn’t count the same for that reason too. Anyway this book is not for writing about Patrick or Derrick it is for writing about me. This entry is a very long explanation of finding out where I got my work experience. Although reading it back it is not too long because a lot of the writing helps “set the scene,” so that you will know some things about me first. *** Today was my first day and something very good has happened. The good thing is that I have fallen in love with a girl called Rita. She is very pretty. I haven’t told mom yet because it feels special but its okay because she thinks I am just tired. It feels weird because I tell mom everything so I will have to tell her soon because otherwise I think I will accidentally spell it out in alphabet spaghetti or something. I will start telling about my day in a chronological order now. I meant to always do that with this diary but I wrote the Rita thing down first because I was excited. I did it even before I had time to think about my overall plans and now looking at it I think it ruins the neatness of the page. I think I will wait until the next clean page and then start telling chronologically again. I told you about how I wanted it to be because I think that you should judge people by how they would like things to be and not how they are because often people can’t help the way things are. So now you know that I am someone that likes things to be neat and clear and ordered. When I got to the factory I went on a tour with two other work experience boys. The tall one with the marijuana pattern bag was called Shane and the short one with the hair parted into lots of upward facing sections was called Lee. They both had stubble on their upper lips and walked like they were pushing people out of the way with their shoulders and carrying something heavy in the front of their trousers. I thought that they must have both went to the same school and been friends before the tour because straight away they were looking at each other whenever the tour guide said something, and they said things like “classic“, “absolute legend“ and “aha, nice one“ when one of them did something like trip slightly on a doorframe or pile the bows they were meant to be sorting into the shape of a penis. Later though it came out that they’d met each other at the same time as I’d met them. It always happens like that to me when I‘m in new situations. I think that I’m being alert but somehow groups of friends form around me and it’s like they’re suddenly talking in code and if you say something they give you a blank nod or reply so they can tell themselves that they’re not being rude or mean. Really though it’s already been made clear that whatever the other person there says will be conversation and what I say will be a quirky add on. I really did try. I stood near them and walked when they walked. They kept saying things about the tour guide’s bottom though, and talking about things they would do to her if they could. I didn’t join in with that. The thing is that around some people the only way to be honest is not to say anything. I found out later that the tour guides name was Charlene. It’s funny because the whole time I was walking with Lee and Shane they never mentioned that so I could have gone the whole day without knowing her name if I had stayed with them. I liked that the factory had lots of different sections and everyone knew what job they had to do. I didn’t like that most people couldn’t see the other jobs going on though. I am glad we had the tour because I like to understand everything. In the afternoon I sat in front of a big plate glass window and sorted coloured bows into different “chutes.” The plate glass windows made me think about swimming pools. *** I realised that I have never told you what Rita looks like. I mean I told you she was pretty but I remembered that different people think that different things are pretty. I thought that when I said that you would think of Rita because that’s what I think of when I think of pretty. But I have remembered that that isn’t true so now I will describe Rita to you objectively. She is five feet and four inches tall. She doesn’t have a lot of body fat but there is some on her breasts and some in a good arrangement on her thighs and bottom. I had to try really hard not to think about that when thinking about the underwear that we made because it would have shown on my face. What if someone had asked me why my face looked like that and then I had told them about Rita by accident because I am a bad liar?. I feel a little ill thinking about that actually. Anyway on top of her body Rita has a great head. She has hair that is yellow like a banana skin and eyes that are light brown like fudge or like blended chocolate milkshake with 3 parts milk. Her teeth are white like living room paint and her skin is peach like a peach except not really it is more human coloured than that. She chews bubblegum a lot so she smells like bubblegum sometimes but she also has a plain clean girl smell that is very delicious to me. It smells even better than the chocolate milkshake smell I love. She wears uniform at work but I saw her arriving and she was wearing a yellow flowery dress with big flowers on it. The flowers were kind of ugly actually, but she looked like she liked the dress and you could see the shape of her breasts in it so it was still a very good dress. Today Rita asked me if I liked playing tennis. I told her that I was very bad at P.E. Then she went off and talked to Shane and Lee. P.E is the worst subject of all to be bad at. In textiles we always go on the worst kids terms and it means I always have to wait around while Jason restarts because he forgot about seam allowance again. The teacher talks to him like he has just accidentally missed some important information before. But In P.E we always have to be as good as the best kid and teachers and pupils all treat you like its your fault you’re bad at P.E. My mom say that it takes a special kind of cruelty to be a P.E teacher, I don’t know if this is true because I don’t know what exams you have to pass to become a PE teacher. That was me being funny because obviously no exam would test for cruelty it would just go along with whatever else they were testing for. I was making myself seem worse at picking up jokes than I am because exaggerating can be funny sometimes. When I have done this before some people have thought that I really didn’t know things though and that made me feel sad. It is okay that I didn’t tell today in chronological order because thinking about Rita was the main thing in my day so it should get to go first. Actually I think it is okay anyway because sometimes a lot of important things that happen in a day did not happen in that day. I just felt really excited because I thought that when Rita asked if I liked tennis she was maybe trying to be my friend! I probably should have carried on the conversation but I didn’t know how to do it without lying. I think now I will get into bed and feel excited about talking to Rita tomorrow. *** This morning I told my mom I wanted to make friends with someone (although I didn’t say that really I wanted to make ‘girl’ friends with them. Hahaha. She said to talk to them about hobbies but I don’t have any hobbies. A lot of people at school have hobbies that you get certificates for. They announce them in assembly. Sometimes seeing Shanice holding another laminated sheet saying that she can tie twelve different types of knot can make me start to have a headache. One day when we had just got back from the summer holidays and they announced that Justin had managed to prepare for his future career by organising a scientific expedition to Borneo I hyperventilated and had to leave the school hall. That night my mom told me that Justin is a “chronic overachiever” and that his mother is the same except now she has to take Xanex. I do do things though. One thing I like to do is daydream about good things that could happen to me. Additionally sometimes I daydream about me doing something good and being caught doing it by someone I want to impress. And I like putting paper that has good patterns on it onto my wall in geometric patchwork shapes as well. Also I like to think about clothes. I think about things that I like such as goldfish scales and I think about how to make them into clothes in print or patterns. I think that that is enough really. At lunch time we all had our food together and they exchanged face book details. I don’t have facebook because it is hard enough trying to tell people things about me through talking let alone through abstract things like pictures and jokes and one liners. I saw Rita’s facebook picture though, when she had it up on the computer screen at lunchtime. It didn’t look anything like her. Her face was at an angle and she looked like she knew a lot of things and was mean, also she looked a lot thinner than she is. I thought about how facebook is interesting because it shows how we want to be seen. As everyone knows what we really look like anyway though it is very embarrassing. I wonder why Rita would want to look like that. She already looks quite great. *** Something very, very, very bad happened today. I told Rita that I liked her. It was very very bad. It was so bad. I wish I had more words. I want to be sick thinking about it. Oh god. She was sat by herself at lunchtime so I went over and I said quite quickly that I thought she was very pretty and would always look good in the clothes she wore. She looked really disgusted and confused and asked me to say it again. I should have known then. But I didn’t know, I said it again but louder and then I asked if she wanted to be my girlfriend. She said, “I’m with Patrick Jones, you little freak,” and she laughed at me. Then she went over to Lee and Shane and I could tell that she was telling them what I said and I wanted to be dead.
The thing is that I was talking to her with my heart but she was listening with her ears. And I don’t think she thought that not understanding what I was saying meant I was talking poetry, I think she thought it meant I was stupid. And that made me feel like I was stupid, and I’d said something really bad. I felt worse in the afternoon because I thought about how she would tell Patrick and then people from my school would know. Mainly though I felt worse because I felt like I didn’t know if I was a better person than Patrick anymore. He probably thought about Rita in bed as well, and he probably even knew her better. When I was honest with myself I realised that actually a lot of me liking her was because I wanted other people to know we were together and then they would know she thought I was pretty. I wanted people to look at us together. I don’t think it really had anything to do with her and that’s not fair. When I tried to eat my food that night I couldn’t taste it and I couldn’t see my house when I opened my eyes I could just see black and sense Rita’s face in the black and so I drank my milkshake really fast. But then I felt sick so I went and lay on my bed and tunnelled my head into the pillow and clawed at my face but I couldn’t even feel that really and I started to get scared that I wouldn’t feel anything ever again. There is a name for this feeling and it is a “panic attack.” I tried to get under the patchwork blanket I keep on my bed. My Aunt Gloria made it me when I was a baby and I have had it on my bed on top of the duvet ever since then except when Katie from Girl Guides slept over then mom moved it away for the night but she moved it back in the morning. I wanted to lie under it because I thought that being close to something familiar would make me feel better. This was a big mistake because it made me feel a whole lot worse. When I spread it over me I thought of Aunt Gloria sewing it and I wondered if she knew what it felt like to be older and like girls and hate yourself and feel sick with thoughts and not even know if you were better than Patrick anymore. I thought that she had been alive a long time and she probably did know. And I thought about how she could know about those feelings and still try and make something neat and pretty. And when I touched it again the blanket felt like a lie and I didn’t want to be touching it any more but I didn’t want to throw it on the floor either because it might get torn or something and I just lay there not knowing what to do and feeling sick for a very long time. *** I was very glad that today was my last day at the factory. None of the other work experience people spoke to me but that was okay. It was funny because I felt like I have more right to be there than I felt I had before. I think it’s because I was waiting for their permission and now I knew I wouldn’t get it so I just had to tell myself I was allowed to sit and do my job.
I still felt very sad though. After school I went to the park by myself and cried. A dalmation came and sat next to me. Some of my tear drops fell in his fur and those chunks of fur went sort of stiff. When I went home I felt sort of brave. ***
Today was the day my big sister Frida came home to visit from university. I still felt very sad but I was pleased that she was here. She asked how I was and it went quiet but in a big way not a little way. I wanted to tell her but I didn’t want to do the telling and it was big in the air me not knowing what to do. I opened my mouth and then accidentally told her everything about Patrick and Rita and not knowing if I was a good person anymore. She listened and she didn’t make me feel guilty for feeling things. That’s the thing about writing this knowing Miss.Lainesworth would read it. People wanting you to be happy can be too much pressure to bear. Also it makes me think that she doesn’t think I’m a person like she is. She often looks out the window and listens to that sad swoopy music at lunchtime.
Actually it made me feel a bit like when Mom makes me have people from school round and they are all in my bedroom standing on my rug and touching my CD’s and it makes my skin hurt.
When I was finished talking Frida said, “that’s shit Mona.” It went quiet again. “No go on,” she said, grinning, “go on, go on” And I said, “it was shit that Rita was mean to me.” It was good because then I felt like the sadness was all mine again and I felt like Frida gave me credit for it. I think that when I lay on my bed and felt bad about Auntie Gloria’s blanket I felt so bad because I felt guilty about feeling sad. Actually I think that I looked after myself a lot better when I cried on that dog in the park. A part of me feels quite proud about what happened with Rita now because I feel like all that drama is my drama and I am part of things, and that is something that no one can take away from me.
*** I think knowing Miss. Lainesworth would read this is what made me write it in the first place but when I started I liked it. I think a lot of it was for me really. I would like to be someone that didn’t need it maybe helping someone else to help myself. I think I will keep writing and I will promise myself that I won’t let other people read it so I don’t write it for them by accident. It’s mine, It’s mine, It’s mine. **
About the Author — Clara is a children’s literature student, socialist feminist activist and short story writer. Your can read some of her short stories and keep up to date with her work at ourpennydreadful.tumblr.com or keep up with her on twitter @ourpennydread.