It was towards the end of October when they found the meteorite. It was lying on the ground beside the birdbath, a small grey melon-sized rock. Bambi and her grandma were in the garden collecting horse-chestnuts which Bambi wanted to take to school for a competition.
‘What’s this?’ she asked her grandma. The old woman strained to bend down to look at it; unable to bend at the waist any more she peered keenly at the blurred shape.
‘Is it a rock?’ Bambi bent down and picked up the meteorite. She passed it to her grandma who turned it over in her large hands. ‘Too jagged for a rock,’ said the woman. ‘It wasn’t here last night,’ said the girl. Something clicked for the old woman and she said, ‘I know what it is. It’s a stone from heaven.’ ‘A stone from heaven?’ said the girl, puzzled, ‘Where’s heaven?’
‘It’s fell to earth,’ said her grandma, ‘Part of a star. Part of your star.’ She tried to pat Bambi on the head but she darted out of the way and, collecting up her small bag of chestnuts, dashed into the house.
Later that evening they were both listening to the radio. Bambi was half lying on a rug in front of the open fire. She had a doll in one hand. With her other she was selecting chestnuts from a pile and arranging them according to potential success. ‘We’ve all got stars, Bambi,’ said her grandma without warning. ‘I’s got one. You ‘as. We all’s got them.’
‘Where have I got one, grandma?’
‘In heaven. In heaven you’s got one.’ Bambi continued her selection game. She would have about eight good ones to take to school in the morning. She sighed when she remembered that her dress and blouse needed ironing. She got up and went out to the kitchen. She had been at the new school since September. Coming from Nottingham had seemed to be a problem for some of the other girls at the new school, although it wasn’t a problem for Bambi. Being called Bambi seemed to be another problem for some of the same girls. Bambi tried to ignore them. At least tomorrow she could make a sort of peace offering with her better conkers.
She set up the ironing board next to the chair where her grandma was half-sleeping. The radio was talking about something political. Her grandma noticed her as she began to iron and shifted back in her chair. She picked up the remote control for the tv. ‘Grandma the tv isn’t on,’ said Bambi. Grandma placed the remote down on the arm of the chair. She huffed and sniffed loudly. ‘In heaven you’s has a star.’
‘Have I grandma?’ Bambi looked out of the window. The curtains were still open. ‘What does it look like?’
‘Oh is beautiful!’ said her grandma, eyes creasing with the pleasant thought of it, ‘Is beautiful - your star!’ Her eyes fixed on the piece of rock that they had elected to put in pride of place on the mantelpiece.
‘You said that this rock was part of a star. Was it?’ asked Bambi, her hand moving the iron quickly and skilfully.
‘Part of your star,’ said the old woman, sucking in air through her teeth, ‘It landed in our garden.’
‘Why did a part of my star land in our garden though?’ asked Bambi.
‘You must be say something bad.’ Her grandma pushed herself back into the chair. She folded her arms. Outside Bambi could hear children still playing in the road, in the dark. In the lounge all was still apart from the gentle swaying of the water in the iron and the hush of the steam.
‘Every time you say someting bad to someone part of your star do die,’ said her grandma. ‘This part of your star. This part is dead.’
That night Bambi went to bed troubled by the thought of having a star that was slowly fragmenting away. Her grandma couldn’t have known that the night before, the night when the meteorite had fallen she had said something bad. She had been really rude to one of her friends. Well to a girl who wasn’t one of her friends, but she was someone who could have been, before this happened, a potential friend. She was in her homework club. Patsy Nicholas was a stumpy, chubby, child with freckled skin. A ringleader amongst children she had a lot of friends but her particular friends who she was always hanging around with were Debbie and Martina. It had taken Patsy four days to take a dislike to Bambi. Bambi didn’t know anyone at school. She had only moved to Derbyshire recently. She didn’t have any parents that Patsy knew of, and lived with an old lady - a blind old lady who fell over in shops and who said some silly things. Patsy’s mum told Patsy that Bambi was unwanted by her parents, that they had abandoned her to her grandma, but this wasn’t really true because Bambi was loved by her parents, who had moved abroad.
Bambi had phoned Patsy to talk about the science homework project. Patsy had been reluctant to come to the phone and talk.
‘We’re just going out,’ she said, ‘What do you want?’ Bambi asked her about the homework, but then she heard Debbie’s voice in the background and grew curious. ‘Where are you going?’
‘Duh! Our mums are taking us for a pizza and to the cinema,’ said Patsy. She was drinking lemonade and the bubbles went the wrong way down her throat. This annoyed her, and she blamed Bambi. ‘I can’t talk now. Must fly,’ she said, intimating the end of the call.
‘Can I come?’ asked Bambi quietly. There was a moment of silence, then some laughter from Patsy’s house, then quiet.
‘Duh - no!’ said Patsy, ‘It’s already been sorted. Anyway you haven’t got a mum.’ Bambi felt tears form. ‘I have!’ she cried, ‘Shut up you cow.’ There was an uncertain pause. ‘I hate you!’ shouted Bambi into the phone. She slammed it down, feeling suddenly like she’d crossed a bridge and there was no turning back; that she was standing on the other side on her own.
Bambi and Patsy didn’t speak to each other again that weekend, and on Monday morning the science teacher, who had heard about the quarrel, told Bambi to join another homework club. As Bambi was shy about asking to join groups which seemed to be well established she didn’t ask and resolved to do her homework on her own. On Tuesday, the day of the conker championship she was standing away from the other girls, the bag of chestnuts dangling from her hand. Debbie and Martina were standing near some boys. Bambi was about to go up to them when she saw Patsy come and take her place with her friends. Wanting to make amends for their argument on Saturday night and half-thinking whether it could be possibly true that somewhere up there in the outer darkness of space her very own star shimmered, and - worryingly - was getting smaller with every cross word she harboured and unleashed, she screwed up her courage and walked up to the girls.
‘What you got there, Bambi’ said Patsy.
‘Conkers,’ said Bambi, ‘Do you want one? They’re good. They’re from a tree in our garden. Me and my grandma collected them.’
‘You and your grandma,’ sneered Patsy. The other girls looked at her bag disdainfully. ‘We’ve got our own conkers.’ said Martina, ‘And they’ve been baked in the oven for three days, and we’ve nail varnished them four times.’ The call came from the teacher for the challenge to begin.
‘See yer, Bambi.’ Patsy smiled as she walked off with her friends to where the other children were waiting. Bambi looked on.
Things got harder at school for Bambi as the term wore on. She asked her teacher, Mrs. French about what her grandma had said about her star. The teacher laughed and bent down over Bambi and touched her on the cheek, rubbing away a tear. ‘It’s just nonsense. You shouldn’t believe a word of it. You stand up for yourself.’ But Bambi loved her grandma and at night, when they had cooked and washed up and put everything away together, she spent hours lying on her bed, listening to the rooks playing and wheeling above the house, dreaming about her own star, her own special place in the thunderous darkness. Some nights she would peer out of the lounge window, hoping to see it, the one her grandma had pointed out as being hers.
At school she seemed lonely. It was noticed and brought up as a topic in the staff room and some of the teachers made an effort to ask Bambi to join extra-curricular activities. She joined the hockey team but Patsy was the leading light in that team and as long as she continued to be unkind to Bambi, for no real reason it seemed, calling her names like ‘orphan Annie’ and making fun of her name, so Bambi felt unable to respond, strangely afraid that if she did her star might carry on chipping away, piece by piece. On her twelfth birthday in November, her mum sent her a beautiful card all the way from the West Indies, with an embroidered panel on it that she had stitched. She also sent a package, a box with some fine writing paper and envelopes and a fountain pen. She told Bambi to write to her and her dad, to let them know how things were going. Bambi left the pen and paper in the box. She couldn’t write well, another reason why she was finding it difficult at school.
Her grandma had helped her to plan a birthday party and together they had written invitations to every member of her form. Her grandma promised to make a large fruit cake, and decorate it, and Bambi had helped to stir the mixture. Some of her friends told her that they couldn’t come. Patsy and Debbie were invited (Martina was away on holiday with her mum and dad and brother in Spain). The day before the party Patsy had told Bambi, ‘I’m not coming to your party.’ Bambi had asked why, and Patsy told her, ‘I’m having my own party tomorrow, and only my best friends can come to it.’
On the night of her birthday Bambi had only six friends round to her party - four boys and two girls. They had a nice time playing party games, organised by Bambi’s grandma, and for the first time since moving to Wirksworth back in August, Bambi felt like she had made some friends. As the children trooped out with their party bags and cake at about nine o’clock, one of the boys said, ‘Thanks for the party Bambi. See you at school tomorrow.’ Bambi smiled at him, then noticed that all of the friends were being collected by the same parent who was waiting patiently behind the wheel of a turquoise people-carrier. ‘Where are you going?’ she asked, anxiety rising in her voice.
‘We’ve been invited out’, said the boy, whose name was Phil. ‘To Patsy’s house. Her mum said to come after we’d been to yours.’ Bambi stood on the doorstep watching her friends leave. She waved at them, but didn’t say anything. Looking up at the sky she saw that the star she had commandeered as her own was quietly glinting.
The next day, Bambi decided to be horrible at school. She wasn’t a horrible girl; it took a lot of thought and effort for her to be bad, but at the first moment she saw Patsy, or any of her coterie, she decided she would let them have it. She had cried to her grandma after the party, who rocked her in her arms and stroked her tangled brown hair with cake crumbed hands. First period was PE, and Bambi laid into Patsy, who was on the same team as her, with a hard tackle, hitting her with her hockey stick, gashing the girl’s pale ankle and causing it to bleed. Star be damned, Bambi thought; her head was foggy with bitter thoughts. Later, a teacher talked to her about her behaviour. ‘Today,’ the teacher began, ‘You’ve not really been yourself.’ Bambi swore when she talked about Patsy and some of the others, and was crying hard when she was sent home ‘to think about the hurt you’ve caused Patsy.‘ When the stars came out that night she was standing in the garden waiting and ready for them. Her star, where was it? Clouds passed and the sky cleared. She saw it. ‘Bambi!’ her grandma called out of the kitchen window. The girl looked at her and saw her anxious face through the glass. Her grandma looked old and pale.
‘I’m coming in, grandma,’ shouted Bambi. She didn’t understand. Today she had been bad. Really bad, and it did not seem to affect her star. ‘Bambi!’ her grandma shouted at her. When she went in the old lady scolded her and told her to go upstairs, and stop causing her worry. Bambi wanted to ask her about her star, and the meteorite, the bit from it that was now placed proudly on the kitchen table, the place where in a normal household a fruit bowl would probably be.
‘It was just one of her stories, I think.’ Bambi was writing to her mum and dad. They were in Jamaica, working out there. Her dad was in business doing something. They would be coming back for Christmas. She told them all about her day of being bad. ‘And I don’t think it makes any difference how bad or good you are,’ the young hand wrote carefully. Before she went to bed she placed the letter, which would end up not getting sent, in her school bag. As she brushed her teeth she heard her grandma sleeping in what would have been her parents’ room. She was snorting and snuffling, her breath coming unevenly.
After her birthday Bambi kept more to herself at school. She did get to know one or two of the students in her English lesson, and would sometimes sit with them at dinner time, but she sat on her own in her form room and became sullen and mysterious. Just before the Christmas holidays, when the temperature both outside and inside her house dropped quite a lot, she made friends with a girl at school called Cara. They discovered they had something in common because Cara’s dad worked abroad too. As thoughts at school turned towards unwrapping Christmas presents and what everybody would do in the winter holidays, Bambi received a letter from her dad saying that they would be delayed in coming home and would hope to be with Bambi and her grandma on January 3rd. Bambi was devastated when she read it and wept on her bed for a whole day. Her grandma phoned Cara and she came round to spend some time with Bambi. Bambi told her how much she missed her parents, and how she hated them for leaving her, and how she hated herself for hating them - and that she was so afraid that she was turning into some sort of monster. She never thought of the star. It was still up there.
A few weeks before Christmas Bambi’s grandma went into hospital with a chest infection. The doctors kept her in overnight but she was released the next day and the infection started to improve once she began taking the medicine she was given. At school some of the children made a card wishing her a swift recovery - Bambi scarcely registered that they were supporting her. One of the teachers wanted to contact her mother but Bambi told her that she had already phoned them with the latest developments - which wasn’t true. Cara’s mum looked in on Bambi every few days to check that she was OK, and offered to come and stay with them, bringing Cara too until her mum and dad flew back, but Bambi refused all help, claiming that she could cope and was managing everything herself just fine. After inspecting the airing cupboard for clean and ironed clothes, and checking the cupboards for food and vegetables Cara’s mum had to concede that Bambi did indeed seem to be managing. Her grandma slept a lot now, and Bambi spent most of her time in her bedroom when she got home from school, lying on her bed looking up at posters on her ceiling of horses and the seashore.
One night she lay there in the dark in her school uniform until ten o‘clock. She heard the news starting on the tv downstairs. She could hear her grandma snoring in her parents’ bedroom. She sighed and, levering herself off the bed, fumbled among the piles of clothes on the floor, trying to locate her slippers. After creeping downstairs she ran out into the garden. She kicked the football she’d been given by Phil for her birthday. She wondered if he liked her. Could he? She looked up and saw the stars arrayed in their unusual arrangement. Her star was nowhere to be seen. She wondered if it had been banished from its faraway galaxy. She wandered up the garden, leaving wet prints on the cold lawn. ‘Where is it?’ she wondered. ’Where are you?’
As she got to the end of the garden she tripped on something solid. A branch broken and fallen off? She bent down to pick it up. It was another meteorite. ‘Another part of my star!’ she thought, her mind racing. She looked up. Her star wasn’t there. It had gone, that was beyond doubt. ‘Maybe if I’d been a bit nicer? It might come back.’ She took the rock into the kitchen, and sat down, shivering with the conclusions the piece of star before her drew her to. She put it on the table next to the other piece, and surveyed them together. Upstairs she heard her grandma moan and then start coughing again. Pondering the two chunky, shiny stones that had flung themselves so wilfully to earth and into her garden, Bambi murmured, ‘That’s another bit gone.’
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