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This old nursery rhyme got stuck in my head and refused to go away. So I decided to start a piece with it and see where it went. I’m planning to include the issue of bullying in my novel, and the voice that shouted the loudest when thinking about this flash fiction piece was one of a young girl. Bullying is something we are struggling to deal with as a society, especially for young people, and unfortunately there are no easy solutions.

Sticks and stones painting

Sticks & Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me

They’re just words. I say words all the time. Or at least I used to. Now they’re just in my head, whirring like a spinning top does when it has some speed and is whizzing on the ground. Like a ballerina on her tiptoes. Like a breakdancer whirling on the top of his head. I’m the bit when they all stop spinning. When there’s nothing left and it just slumps into a heap.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me

I remember when the only name I had was my own. Karina. Karina. Karina. I prefer names that end with an ‘a’ or an ‘e’. Vowels are better than consonants. They’re easier to keep track of as there aren’t that many of them. They’re a team not a swarm. I don’t like swarms. Once we found a swarm in our garden. A big Walnut Whip full of honeybees. I thought they were loud coz they were angry, but dad said it was just because they were busy working to protect the honey. Plus they had a queen to serve, a big queen that got looked after and didn’t have to do much, which sounded like a good job to me. For a whole summer I sat under the tree and watched them. The workers coming and going, sometimes so full of nectar that they flew all over the place like they were drunk. Then one day I turned up and they were gone. The hive was on the floor cracked in the middle with dead bees stuck to the goo inside. I buried it beside the tree and put up a wooden cross that said ‘Queen Karina & her subjects’. I didn’t think she’d mind me naming it that, seeing as she was dead.

Stick and stones may break my bones but tales will never hurt me

They called me tattle tale. It was a few years ago when we were in primary school. They took a library book from me and wouldn’t give it back. I kept renewing it, but eventually the librarian asked me where it was. When I told her I lost it she said I’d have to pay for it. Back then all I heard about was how dad had lost his job and every penny counted. She wanted me to pay five hundred pennies.Plus I wasn’t allowed to get another book out till I paid it in full. So I told her what happened. They had to pay and I could keep getting books out. Now I wish I’d just saved up the pennies. I’m still paying, just in a different way.

Stick and stones may break my bones but taunts will never hurt me

If I could choose a name apart from my own it would be Jennifer. I know it’s boring and doesn’t have a vowel at the end, but I like the way the three long syllables sound. I used to spell it out on my notebooks until one of them found it. Then for a whole year my name was Lesbo, which they wrote all over my Facebook page with pictures of women with the question ‘Would you screw her?’ across the bottom. When I closed down my account they e-mailed instead. Even though it went into spam I knew it was still there. Lesbo was actually one of their better names as it ended in a vowel, and besides what’s wrong with a woman liking another woman? The hardest years were the ones of bitch and slut.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but lies will never hurt me

People lie all the time. There are small ones that are called white lies, which means they are good really, kind of holy like angels. Then there are the biggish lies that are grey. They’re in the shade so are shady, but not that bad. Criminals use them to stay out of jail. Not bad ones like murderers, but the other ones that steal or break into houses. The worst ones are the black lies. Those are dark as a canyon. Telling them puts holes in your soul same as the ones in Jesus’ hands. But what about the lies you have to tell for someone else? What if they’re not your lies, but ones you to tell to cover up for someone else? Like “I don’t know what happened to it” or “It was my fault” or “I fell over on the way home from school”.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but rumours will never hurt me

Sometimes I find notes in my locker or bag that say things like ‘We don’t want your AIDS’ or ‘I hear you’re horny. Call me on ….’ Whispers always mean there’s a new rumour. When I come close talking stops and people just stare. When I walk away the whispers start. Loud and scratchy like a wind that rattles the trees. In our back garden we have an orchard and I often go there, lie on the grass and watch the leaves. I see them when they’re born, grow up and crinkle into old age. It’s not a long life, but it seems pretty free and they’re always surrounded by friends, which must be nice.

Sticks and stones may break my bones… 

Thankfully I’ve never had any broken bones. I had a friend once who broke her leg and told me it was not only sore but itchy, as the plaster made it impossible to scratch. I often wonder where she is now. I remember her telling me that her family was moving to Canada, a place full of snow and bears. We wrote for a while, but then she just stopped. I still write her letters. I just don’t post them.

but scars will always hurt me

I’ve got used to the long sleeves now. It can be annoying in summer when it’s hot. Goth’s my name at the moment, one I don’t mind so much. I prefer black anyway as it makes the lines harder to see. One arm looks like a crossword puzzle, with blood instead of ink. That’s alright though. One day when I‘ve enough boxes I can start to fill them with words.