The Writers Bureau Short Story Competition 2019
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Short Story Competition 2019

Amanda Jane Davies

4th Prize – Amanda Davies with:

Mirella's Umbrella

Mum had helped me to put on my coat. It was a big blue duffle coat with funny-shaped wooden toggles. It had once belonged to my older sister Francesca.

The hood had been too big for me, and I couldn't see properly when it was on my head. When I ran it would slip off making my hair wet.

Then one day my sister bought me an umbrella. She said it was for my birthday but gave it to me the day I started full-time school. I loved my sister; and my umbrella.

By Christmas the following year I had grown out of Francesca's coat, so I got a new one during the winter sales. The hood was perfect. But I still loved my umbrella.

I would take my umbrella to school even when it wasn't raining; it was good for pulling branches down so I could look at, and smell, the flowers. Sometimes I used the handle like a hockey stick to move things out of the way.

When I grew older, some new girls at the junior school started teasing me, saying "Mirella, Mirella. Sleeps with her umbrella.” Francesca would shout at them; but they just carried on. Francesca was good like that; looking out for me.

When I moved up to the comprehensive school it wasn’t too long before I started to be bullied again. Although my sister tried to look out for me, she couldn’t fight all of my battles.

I wasn’t like Francesca, she was popular. She knew which bands were cool and which ones were not. She wore make-up and fussed with her hair. Whereas I didn’t have a clue. It probably didn’t help that I still carried my umbrella, talked about nature and was never seen without a book.

At the end of my second year at the comprehensive something awful happened. Francesca collapsed with an undiagnosed heart condition. It was called Dilated Cardiomyopathy. There was no history of heart disease in the family, and Francesca and I had led healthy and active lives.

I visited her at the hospital. She was in an induced coma. Her long black hair laid messily on the big sterile pillows. She was so pale, and her lips and nails were tinged blue. I told her I would put away my umbrella and allow her to do my hair and make-up, if she would just get better.

Francesca was a fighter, and within days of waking up she wanted to come home; but the doctors refused as she was still too weak. She needed an operation to fit a pacemaker. In the meantime, I allowed her to paint my nails and play with my hair.

She nagged me to lose my umbrella, it was eight years old, the handle was battered, and the red fabric had faded to pink. I told her I would as soon as she hurried up and came home.

Francesca died during the operation. It was no one’s fault; her heart was just too weak.

After her funeral I put my umbrella away. I couldn't bear to look at it. I hated the sight of it, and I hated school; especially as I had to face the bullies without my sister.

Francesca had wanted to be an art teacher, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I didn't want to let her memory or my parents down, so I did my best to ignore the bullies and get decent exam results. It was hard though.

It wasn’t like films or books; by losing my sister I felt like I had lost a part of myself too. In stories the bullies magically disappeared or became your best friend, in real life they just stopped commenting on my umbrella and talked about the way I dressed or talked instead.

I never told my parents about the bullying, they, like me, were still grieving for Francesca. I just concentrated on my studies and found solace in making things with fabrics and wood.

On my sixteenth birthday Mum and Dad gave me a package from Francesca. She must have got them to make it up for me during those last days in hospital. This upset me. I couldn’t work out if I was angry that everyone had kept it a secret as to how unwell she was, or if I was sad that I could never thank her for this unexpected gift.

In the privacy of my bedroom I tore open the large brown envelope. Inside it was her diaries. I had often wondered where these had got to. We had kept her bedroom exactly as it was for a year after her death, but as my interest in making things grew Dad suggested turning it into a hobby room.

The package also contained a number of her favourite sketches, and a photograph of her and me standing underneath my umbrella outside the HMV store. She had written me a letter and given me a list of things she wanted me to do to remember her.

She started the letter by saying "My Dear Sister, Mirella. Be an umbrella! Open yourself up to the world. Dance in the rain. Protect those you love, but most of all be the girl who looked up not down."

She went on to explain the reasons why she didn’t give me the package before my sixteenth birthday. Francesca had wanted me to find my own way in life; and she said that some of the things in her diaries weren’t suitable for me to read when I had been twelve.

She closed the letter by stating how sad she was that we wouldn’t grow old together. She urged me to look after our parents. She told me to always believe in myself, and to think of her whenever it rained. Francesca had always known how to comfort me.

Her words were all that I needed; suddenly I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I went to college first and then on to university.

I wipe my tears as I finish reminiscing about the old blue coat and red umbrella, and of course, my unforgettable sweet sister.

Outside rain pours down. The wind chases an empty can and it rattles down the pavement. Inside I swallow down a chicken sandwich, I’m too nervous to chew it properly.

I straighten the already straight framed pencil-drawn images that hang on the pale grey walls. The wooden frames match the colour of a bright umbrella that a little girl is holding in each picture. The umbrellas are the only thing in the sketches that have colour. Some are red, some are yellow but most are multi-colored.

She's me - the girl in the drawings - these are Francesca’s sketches.

It's time; with my heart thumping, I unwrap sheets of 1999 newspapers off something Mum fetched from the back of my wardrobe. I don’t stop to read that eleven countries have started to use the Euro or that Bobbyjo has won the Grand National.

Dad’s car pulls up outside, he opens the door for Mum then holds her hand as she gets out. They stand next to the other people waiting. There’s more of a crowd than I thought. The rain hasn’t kept them away.

As I rip off the last scraps of newspaper, I hug my much-loved umbrella tightly. I haven’t seen it since the day after Francesca’s funeral. She was right, it was tatty, but I still loved it. And I loved my sister.

I hook the umbrella over my arm, then grabbing the giant scissors I breathe deeply and unlock the door.

"Thank you all for coming." I say to the crowd. Lifting the scissors I cut the huge red ribbon that’s stapled to each end of the doorframe, and I shout, "Francesca, this is for you!" The rain intensifies as lightning explodes. It couldn't be more perfect.

Inside my new studio family and friends mingle with my old bullies. I hear the ringleader exclaim how she always knew I would be a success. She is trying to impress my husband, but he knows exactly who she is.

She lifts up one of my luxury handprinted fabric samples, and asks him how much it would cost to attach it to one of the bespoke wooden handles I’ve made too. Sipping champagne, I walk over to them and sweetly say to her "What? You want to buy a Mirella Umbrella?!"

About the Author

Amanda Davies, from Neyland, has loved reading and writing since early childhood. With several health issues that slowed her physically Amanda was able to explore and express words creatively to make sense of her world.

As an adult writing became a way to unwind from work. When she is not found in the garden writing, she is in the greenhouses growing fresh food for her and the family.

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