A birthday picnic goes terribly wrong.
Usually I post my update before my story each month, but as I don’t have a lot to update on, I’m posting my story first. Enjoy.
‘Not all romances have fairytale endings, Pen.’
Penny watched as the sandwich crumbs fell from Dan’s mouth on to her nice clean picnic rug. Summer sun warmed the back of her freckly neck, but she still felt cold. The breeze blowing from the west tasted earthy and sour.
‘Dan,’ she began, then stopped as he took another bite of her homemade sandwich. She shifted her position, but comfort was impossible. Small pointy rocks jutted out of the grass, like someone had scattered them on purpose. One of them was particularly annoying her, its sharp edge jutting into her upper thigh.
Dan swallowed his bite of sandwich. His Adam’s apple moved up his scrawny throat. ‘I mean it,’ he said with complete seriousness. ‘It’s over.’
She didn’t say anything. She was waiting for him to give a proper reason.
He ate more of his sandwich, just sitting there eating while he demolished their three-year relationship. Three years of mothering him, of being told she was too fat, too boring, too needy. But they’d been happy, hadn’t they? God knows she’d tried so hard to be happy.
‘It’s my birthday,’ she said to fill the silence. ‘You can’t break up with a girl on her birthday, can you?’ She faked a laugh, poorly, in a desperate, futile attempt to turn this all into one big joke. Dan always said she wasn’t much of a laugh, so she’d really been trying lately. But he didn’t seem to like that much either.
He still had sandwich crumbs stuck to his wispy moustache, the one she hated but never mentioned, and she resisted the urge to wipe them away. He didn’t want her to care for him anymore.
‘I’m going for a walk,’ he said at last, putting down the sandwich. The thought of him going without an explanation filled her with sudden irrational fear.
‘You can’t go,’ she squeaked. ‘We haven’t eaten the cake yet.’
He looked at her, then at the half-squashed sponge cake she’d made yesterday. At the sight of it, he shrugged and walked off, knocking over a half open bottle of coke with his foot.
Penny watched the growing stain spreading over her nice, pale pink picnic rug, the beautifully prepared food utterly ruined. She’d spent hours planning this birthday outing, for her own birthday. She’d picked this place especially, because it was so quiet and high up, and if the weather was clear enough, like it was today, you could see for miles. She used to go here as a teenager when she wanted to get away from everyone, her magical place, sitting beneath her favourite twisted tree on a fairy hill. But when they got here, it was stonier than she remembered, and Danny had been pooed on by a pigeon, which put him in a foul mood. Perhaps that’s what triggered it.
‘Not all romances have fairytale endings, Pen.’
As she watched him stomp around the hilltop, a sudden realisation shot through her, reframing her view. There was no way he’d have come up with such a line on the spur of the moment. He’d rehearsed that speech.
Sickening horror filled her stomach. Did he know he was going to break up with her, she wondered, as she sang him their favourite song from the shower that morning? Did he consider his words as she’d prepared lunch the night before? How long had he been waiting, simmering and resentful, readying himself for the day he’d kill her happiness stone dead? Since Easter? Since Valentines? Since Christmas?
She pictured him in the car that morning, slumped and silent in the passenger seat as they drove for two bloody hours to this place full of precious memories, only for him to stomp all over her happiness with his size 10s. She’d felt sorry for him, she thought bitterly. She’d even bought him a coffee. Well, he wasn’t getting any pity from her. Not any longer.
Penny put up with a lot. She could have accepted his sulks, his lack of gratitude, even his rudeness. But she could not accept this deception. He’d gone too far.
There was warning in her voice, a coiled serpent anger ready to strike. Dan ignored it.
He kept stomping, muttering to herself.
He continued to ignore her. In frustration, she picked up a sandwich and threw it at him. Only it wasn’t a sandwich. It was a rock.
He fell like a pin struck by a well-placed bowling ball, his head smacking a stone as he hit the ground. Penny screamed and ran to him, stepping in the cake as she did so and squishing its jammy insides. She found him lying on the grass, blood oozing from a gash on the head. She crouched down to check he was still breathing.
‘You… bitch,’ Danny rasped, through pained, tight breaths. ‘You… total… bitch.’
‘I didn’t mean it,’ she stammered, huddled over him. ‘I thought it was a sandwich, you have to believe me.’
He made a harsh, choking sound, that was probably meant to be a laugh.
Penny scrambled back to the picnic rug and hunted in her rucksack for her phone, thoughts tearing through her mind. It had been a sandwich. She knew the difference between a rock and a sandwich, for God’s sake. Something had happened to it as it left her hand. Maybe she was losing her mind.
She found the phone, typed in 999 and pressed call. Nothing happened. She tried again and again, but it wouldn’t work. She had full signal and it wouldn’t work.
‘Dan!’ She looked up at him, praying he was still breathing. ‘Where’s your phone? Mine’s broken!’
Dan didn’t say a word. She ran to him but he’d fallen unconscious. At least he was still breathing. She began to riffle in his pockets, searching for his phone. It wasn’t there.
She screamed in frustration. Maybe she should run down the hill, see if her phone started working, or if someone could help her. The thought of someone finding out made her throat tighten but she couldn’t just leave him like that. He might have treated her like garbage, but he was still a person. He was still her Dan.
She looked around for the phone, and her eyes landed on the rock, the one she’d thrown. It looked strange and dangerous. Like it had been deliberately sharpened.
Penny picked up the strange rock. Her brain screamed at her to go and do something about Danny, but she found herself drawn in by the strange etchings around the edges, uncannily like writing.
She put the rock in her pocket, without thinking, and looked back at her former boyfriend. He was breathing shallowly, but still unconscious. If only she could think straight. It was as if the very earth was poking its way into her head, filling it up so she couldn’t function. She took the rock out again and stroked it absently.
As she did, something snapped behind her. She turned, heart pounding, and saw the tree walking towards her. Only it wasn’t a tree any longer. Their curly hair swayed like the branches, and their wide gold eyes reminded her of summer. They stepped towards her, and the stones hummed. The smell of the earth was stronger than ever, mixed in with forest leaves and sweet tree sap.
She felt the rock slipping from her hand. They bent down and picked it up. It turned into a pigeon and flew upwards with a swift woosh, cooing softly.
‘You… did this,’ she croaked.
The tree figure’s face was gnarled and old, yet beautiful, as if carved from heart wood. They stared down at her, kindly yet sad.
‘You wanted a fairytale ending,’ they said. ‘In fairytales, the wicked are always punished.’
Penny turned to Dan’s body. He was still now, though she could still hear occasional faint breathing.
‘You didn’t have the right,’ she said at last.
Fire sparked in those golden eyes. A hand caught hers, and it was rough and warm, like a tree holding you tightly, the branches closing around your chest and swallowing you whole.
‘This is my hill. My land. I tolerated you because you respected me and were kind. I did this thing for you in return. And now you are ungrateful.’
The hand twisted tighter. Penny tugged but could not pull free.
The stones in the grass began to tremble. A sudden gust of wind pushed her backwards, and she tripped over Dan, falling to the ground. Her head hurt and she tried to get up, but the wind shoved her back down. The figure was standing over her, its fingers like sharpened twigs. It held the marked stone in its hand.
‘I didn’t want this,’ she whispered, turning her face away, knowing it was over. She shut her eyes, bracing her body for pain.
It did not come. The wind vanished. Somewhere above, a pigeon cooed softly, landing with a thump on the tree’s branches. Dan moaned like a wounded seal.
‘Urgh, my head,’ he groaned, sitting up and squinting at the sun. His forehead was completely healed. ‘Must have fallen asleep,’ he muttered to himself, then saw Penny lying next to him. ‘Got any of that cake left?’ he asked, smiling down at her.
Penny rolled to one side and pushed herself up. She stared at the tree for a long while, then turned and she smiled back at Dan.
She walked to the picnic rug and pulled it out from under the remaining food, dumping it on the grass. Then she jumped up and down on the cake and the sandwiches, leaving nothing but mush.
‘Hope you enjoy it,’ she chirped, still smiling as she rolled up the rug and placed it under your arm. ‘I’m leaving and you’re not coming with me.’
Danny sat there, mouth open, looking at the ruined food. ‘But… we’re miles away from home!’ he finally spluttered, face going as red as the jam smeared grass.
She shrugged, picked up her rucksack and began to walk away. As she did, she thought she saw a spindly figure watching her. Their head inclined a little, as if in farewell. She nodded back. Wind whipped her hair, and the smell of meadow grass filled her nose with sweetness. She ran down the hill towards the car. Was this what it felt like to be happy? She’d forgotten.
This story was (bizzarely) by a throwaway line in Married at First Sight Australia. Which makes my procrastination worth it, apparently.