This is an edited version of a longer story written for Leeds Writers Group.......
Excited at the prospect of attending her first school dance, Ruth Hennessy spent all her pocket money on cheap make up which she caked on with the subtlety of a clown. Seeing her little girl preening and pouting precociously in front of the mirror, Ruth’s mother decided that she could delay the inevitable no longer; the time had come to teach her the facts of life. Mrs Hennessy’s intentions were good, but when it came down to it she couldn’t bring herself to go into any level of biological detail and as a result Ruth spent most of the dance with horror on her face as she observed her classmates slow dancing and sharing awkward kisses, both activities she had been led to believe could make a baby if the participants weren’t taking what her mother obliquely referred to as ’precautions’.
A couple of weeks of secondary school were all it took for Ruth to realise she’d been duped; the contraband copies of Seventeen magazine pored over behind the bike sheds set her straight as far as sex was concerned, even if some of the practices referred to in the problem pages did leave her feeling repulsed. Although she was somewhat grateful that her Mum had spared her the embarrassment of a conversation complete with all the anatomical in and outs, she was livid that she’d been spun a lie which, had she had been unfortunate enough to repeat it, would have made her look like an idiot in front of her friends.
Several years previously Ruth had visited a magic show which culminated in the magician wowing the audience by making his assistant disappear. At the time Ruth was distraught, convinced that the girl had experienced some terrible fate and refusing to be consoled no matter how many times her grandfather explained that she hadn’t really been transported through time as The Great Magnifico had led her to believe. A disappearing act would, Ruth decided, be the perfect way to get revenge on her parents.
On Friday morning, Ruth ripped a page out of an exercise book and wrote a note which she left under her pillow. In her schoolbag alongside her usual books and pencilcase she packed her toothbrush, Gameboy and teddybear. Spending the night on the streets didn’t, she reasoned, mean that she had to live like a tramp – a few home comforts would make the night go a lot quicker. She wished that she could bring her duvet but there was no way she would be able to smuggle that to school without arousing any suspicion. Anyhow, she would be back in her bed tomorrow, with her parents so grateful to have her home that they would never dare to deceive her again.
When the school bell rang at 3.30pm Ruth made her way to the station and caught a train to the next town. Back home, her Mum sat watching the clock and wondering where Ruth had got to - she would usually have called if she was going to be delayed for any reason. By 6pm Mrs Hennessy was beginning to panic, and when her husband returned from work an hour later she was in a state of hysteria. At 7.15pm they found the scribbled note which struck fear into both their hearts;
‘Don’t look for me. I’m not coming back’.
For the first few hours Ruth kept herself entertained browsing the shops, but before long the only place open was a small supermarket and the suspicious looks that the security guard gave her as she traversed the aisles for the tenth time told her it was time to move on. She looked young for her age so even with make up on there was no chance of her being able to pass the evening in a pub, so the only remaining option was a fastfood joint. Ruth sat drinking a milkshake as slowly as possible whilst playing on her GameBoy until the batteries ran out. At 11pm the pizza-faced burger vendor apologetically told her that it was time to close, so Ruth reluctantly headed out onto the streets. It was freezing cold but she was adamant that she was going to stick it out; running away would be nowhere near as dramatic if she were to return home, tail between legs, before the night was through. Ruth sat on a bench and hugged her knees under her chin in an effort to keep warm.
“You should be careful around here, you know.”
Ruth turned to see a man looking at her out the window of a black car.
“Young girls on the street, well, sometimes they disappear. Why don’t you come with me and I’ll give you a lift home?”
“I’m waiting for someone” she replied, wishing that he would leave her alone. The way that he was staring, eyes wandering up and down her school uniform, was making her feel uncomfortable.
'Pretend what you like but it's true. Girls on the street disappear and never come back. Sure you don't want a ride?
Ruth shook her head.
'Your loss;' the man in the car muttered as he pulled away. Long after he was gone from sight the driver's words continued to echo around Ruth's head.
Disappear and never come back.
In that instant Ruth realised how flawed her plan had been. The magician on the pier, that had all been smoke and mirrors, and although the audience had marvelled at the fact that the girl had apparently vanished into thin air, they would not have been applauding if they had any doubt that she would live to perform the same act the next day. Out here however, in the strange and unfamiliar world of the night, tomorrow seemed very far away.
With tears in her eyes and regret seeping from every pore Ruth turned on her mobile phone and dialled.
This vanishing act was never going to receive a standing ovation or critical acclaim. It was time to bring the curtain down.