Only Rose in the whole family knew what going back to school must mean to Indigo. Saffron guessed a little, but Rose knew it all, or thought she did. There was a boy in her class who had a brother in Indigo's school. A long time ago this boy had told Rose what it was like for Indigo at school.
Just before he became ill, Rose had confronted Indigo with her information. Indigo had said angrily, "None of that is true! You shouldn't go listening to such lies!"
Rose was very hurt. Indigo had never been angry with her before. He had never lied to her either, and she knew he was lying now. She never mentioned it again, but she thought about it often.
Now she said remorsefully to Indigo, "You wouldn't have to go back if I hadn't told Daddy about you jumping down the stairs."
Indigo laughed and said, "Try your glasses on, Rose!" to make her think of something else. It was Sunday evening, and Rose's family had been attempting to get her to try her glasses on all weekend. Now, because she felt so guilty about Indigo going back to school, she went and fetched them. She put them on in front of everyone: Caddy, who was home for a weekend visit; Indigo; Saffron; and Sarah, Saffron's best friend, who spent so much time at the Casson house she was really one of the family.
"What do I look like, then?" asked Rose.
"You look fine," said Indigo.
"I only asked. I don't care."
"You look really cool," Caddy told her.
"And older," said Saffron.
"You look just right," added Sarah, doing her bit to help. "Cute!"
"Cute!" repeated Rose in disgust. "Me!"
Rose was wearing glasses for the first time ever, and because she was not used to them they began to do terrible things to her. She took a step forward and fell over a chunk of air. She stood still and the whole world came rushing toward her. When she put up her arms to protect herself, she hit Sarah in the face.
"All right! I'm sorry I said you looked cute!" exclaimed Sarah, reversing her wheelchair as Rose began to grope her way across the kitchen. "I meant gorgeous! Amazing! Clever! Bright...Open your eyes, Rose!"
"It's awful with my eyes open!"
"You don't need glasses," said Saffron. "You need radar!"
"It's Daddy's fault!" said Rose crossly. It was Rose's father who had discovered that Rose needed glasses, and on his last visit home he had taken her to the optician's and ordered them himself. He had chosen them, too, with no help from Rose, who had been sulking at the time.
"I can see too much!" she complained, pulling the glasses off. "They must have gone wrong! That's better!"
"They just need getting accustomed to," said Sarah. "Like when I got my new wheelchair. I used to crash into people all the time."
"You still do," said Saffron, Caddy, and Indigo all together.
"Hardly ever. Only when I have to."
"Come over here," said Caddy to Rose, and steered her across the room. "Put them on again! There! Look!"
Rose looked and found she could see a very plain child watching her through a small bright window that had suddenly appeared in the kitchen wall.
"See," said Caddy. "I told you they looked cool!"
Then Rose's mind did a somersault, like a slow loop-the-loop in the sky, and the child in the window resolved itself into her own face reflected in the kitchen mirror.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, outraged. "Horrible, horrible Daddy!"
Indigo said quickly, "You don't look like that in real life!"
"You don't. No one looks like they really are, in mirrors. I'll show you...." Indigo came and stood beside her so that he, too, was reflected. "There! Does that look like me?"
Copyright © 2003 by Hilary McKay
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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