The problem with Ethel was that she didn’t really fit.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t nice, oh no, most everyone had to agree; Ethel was about the nicest creature that anyone could encounter without bumping into a unicorn on the way to work. Provided that the unicorn didn’t gore you on sight. You see, some of them do have the tendency of doing that, not that anyone would have brought that up in conversation.
No, Ethel did not suffer from a lack of niceness, prettiness, ability to smile-ness, or any of the other so called ‘ailments’ that some other non-fitting people suffered from. She was bubbly in every possible way, was fronted by a fountain of pale canvased freckles, topped by a champagne coloured explosion of hair with a smile the breadth of a pigeon’s wingspan beneath. Her voice was more of a chirruping sound than a string of sentences, and she had a habit of bouncing on the toes of her feet when not enough was happening.
Precisely why Ethel didn’t really fit was quite a mystery, and yet… she just didn’t. Like a grain of salt in a sugar bowl- she was ever so close to being exactly the same, but nobody wanted her to be in their cup of tea, or five-a-side football team, or reading club. It wasn’t that she was particularly dim or overly smart or terribly clumsy at sport; certainly no more than any other fourteen year old child, it was just that she was… not quite right.
Ethel had known for some time that she was not quite right. Of course, one got the impression rather quickly when everybody kept repeating it. Oh, it wasn’t that they said it, not in words. You see, Ethel had become very good at listening to people’s faces. Teachers would pull the ‘understanding’ face, the one which was two creases away from disgust; classmates would pull the ‘sorry’ face, which was one twist away from embarrassed and three from sneering; and then there was her parents’ favourite, the one she had decided to call the ‘Ethel’ face. It was such a specific, nameless expression that they had created to use in regards to her un-fitting that she had been left without any other word to call it by. It wasn’t quite disappointment, but if she had thought hard enough about it she might have said that was probably the closest to it. Ethel didn’t like to think about it very hard though.
So it was, one uninspiring Tuesday afternoon, that Ethel decided that she should find somewhere that she did fit.
She was perched on her bridge at the moment of this revelation; a small, shambolic looking thing that had born the weight of too many freight lorries following their sat-nav directions instead of their eyes. It had become a regular pit stop for her on the way back home; a place to while away the extra fifteen minutes that she wouldn’t be missed for. There was a convenient notch on the western-most wall where one of the more careless lorry drivers had taken a good three inches with him on his way to the M5. Many a day had seen the girl who didn’t fit, sat in her dent on her bridge, kicking the rubber heels of her shoes off the remaining brickwork above the slow moving river. Thud. Ka-thud. Thud-ka-thud. Thud.
Absently rotating this thought of finding somewhere to fit inside her mind, Ethel contemplated the river. It was an ugly looking thing. Brown; the sort of brown chocolate milkshakes came in- the ones that tasted of powder and not chocolate. She couldn’t remember what it was called. She had asked someone once, but it had been a short, boring, ugly sounding name, so she had forgotten it almost immediately. Perhaps that was why people had trouble remembering her name, she thought.
She leaned a little forward. If she concentrated very hard, she could just make out her murky sister, swinging her springy heels against the muddy bridge made of ripples and whorls. It wasn’t at all like the rivers in the movies- sparkling, silver things, or black; with great strings of lights peering out of them. This one was trimmed with a lace of foamy scum, broken with occasional gashes of darkness- a bigger absence of brown in the face of a passing cloud, or an extra tug of the current from beneath.
Focusing as she was on a particularly dark laceration of water that had formed to her right, presumably due to the intervention of a plastic bag caught in the reeds ahead, Ethel couldn’t have told you precisely why she fell in. Part of her was quite sure that she must have been pushed, having never fallen in before during all her months of sitting in quite the same fashion, but at the time of her descent she was rather too occupied with the fact that she was falling, and falling very fast. A damp rustling announced that the plastic bag had been liberated from the reeds.
The air was smote from her ear drums, the water closed over her head, and she was cold.