Tally

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Fantasy
Tally is R J Dent's short story about a childhood escapade that goes wrong and alters the course of two peoples' lives.

Submitted: April 10, 2016

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Submitted: April 10, 2016

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Tally

by R J Dent


 

When I was thirteen, I saw Tally die.

I had an evening paper round and so did Tally. She did one side of Ditchling Road and I did the other, it being far too long for one person to deliver papers to both sides of the road. I had the odd numbers, she had the evens.

Ditchling Road is a steep hill road in a coastal town. It stretches upwards from the seafront to the farthest inland end of town. It’s about three miles long. The way we liked to deliver our papers was to start at the top of the hill at the far end of town and work our way down it towards the sea. So that’s what we both did.

We’d collect our bags of newspapers at about four, then cycle up Ditchling Road, sometimes racing each other, most often not. When we reached the hilltop, we’d rest for a while, sitting on one of the golf course benches, eating chocolates and talking about anything. We could see the sea from where we sat. Sometimes, if I’d brought my radio, we’d listen to music. At five we’d start our deliveries, Tally on the left side, me on the right. The first one back at the shop bought the other one something – sweets, stickers, cards, bubble gum, whatever. It wasn’t so much what it was, more that it was. It was one of the deals between Tally and I.

Tally was pretty. Her full name was Natalia Brown, but she preferred Tally. She was as tall as me and had long, dark hair – almost black, which she tied up in a ponytail. She was also very adventurous – more than anyone else I knew. She would do the most incredibly dangerous things, just so that she could say she had done them. Most of the time, Tally was the only person to have done a certain thing. She was a natural trailblazer. For example, when the lake in Hollingbury Park froze over, Tally was the only one who dared to walk across the frozen lake at its widest point. I watched her breathlessly, hearing the pinging and cracking of ice beneath her as she fearlessly stepped from one bank to the other. Nothing fazed her.

So, when she mentioned climbing the pylon, I knew she meant it – and I knew she’d do it, no matter what I said.

It was a hot summer’s day. We were sitting on the golf course bench, prior to delivering the papers. We’d eaten chocolate, talked a lot, listened to some radio music and gazed at the sea for a while, watching the tankers and ferries sail from one side of the horizon to the other. Our bikes were nearby, the bags of newspapers slung over the handlebars. A few gaudily dressed golfers strolled over the rolling green.

Tally pointed to a nearby pylon.

‘I’m going to climb that,’ she said matter-of-factly.

‘Aren’t pylons dangerous?’ I asked, knowing my question was a futile way to try and deter Tally’s course of action.

Tally nodded.

‘Of course they are,’ she said. ‘There’d be no point in climbing one if it was perfectly safe. Where’s the thrill in that?’

This was the usual Tally counter-argument – the one she’d always use prior to doing exactly what she said she’d do.

She got up off the bench and strode towards the towering pylon. I got up and followed her, exhorting her not to take such a risk. As I pleaded, I looked carefully at her chosen challenge.

It was imposing. A strut-crossed giant metal spider that carried death in its six web strands. I quickly amended my first impression – not imposing – downright scary.

Tally clambered up the nearest steel leg, reaching out for the first diagonal strut. She grabbed it and hauled herself up. After that, her progress was fast and easy and I watched her ascend into the summer sky, silhouetted against a backdrop of beautiful pale blue air. She climbed to just below the brooding insulators and stopped. She looked down at me and called my name. I waved. She waved back.

A gigantic blue spark that looked like an eel leapt from one of the cables and disappeared into her chest.

Tally shrieked and jerked, then fell backwards from her precarious perch, turning slowly and gracefully in the air. She hit the ground with a muted thud, but her body bounced on the springy grass.

Terrified, I ran over to her crumpled form, calling her name over and over again. I slid to a stop on my knees and looked at her carefully. She was pale and still. The chain link bracelet I’d given her was fused into a solid band around her wrist. It had left burn marks where ever it had touched her skin.

‘Tally!’ I cried desperately. ‘Tally! Wake up!’

Nothing. No movement. No sound.

I reached out a hand and touched her forehead. It was hot. I ran to my bike and grabbed a newspaper. I ran back and started fanning her with it.

She opened her eyes.

‘Stop doing that,’ she said sleepily.

I stopped fanning her and started laughing hysterically. She closed her eyes again and stayed still, resting on the green for a few minutes.

When my laughter had subsided, I said: ‘I thought you were dead.’

Tally opened her eyes again.

‘I think I was,’ she said, as she clambered slowly to her feet, using me for support. She brushed herself down, then stopped abruptly and stared at her wrist.

‘My bracelet.’

She held it out for me to see and looked at me in a strange way – her eyes full of an intense something.

‘It’s welded on now,’ she said. ‘Forever.’

I nodded, but stayed silent, my heart pounding loudly in my ribcage. I got the impression she was asking me something, even though I hadn’t heard a question.

I led her to the bench and made her sit down. I sat next to her. She slipped her hand into mine and squeezed it hard. After a while I asked her if she felt okay. She said she did. Then, after a few moments of silence, she told me what had happened.

‘I remember something blue and bright and crackling hitting me in the chest,’ she said, ‘then nothing. Everything went all black for a while; then got very bright. Suddenly I could see the golf course, the pylon, me – stretched out on the grass, you – kneeling over me, the bikes, the bench, everything, but not from nearby – more like from a few miles away, high up, like I was in a helicopter or aeroplane. Then I couldn’t see anything for a while because my eyes had shut on their own and I couldn’t open them. It wasn’t scary though,’ she said, as though to reassure me.

‘Then I could open them and I did – and you were there, fanning me.’ She paused for a moment. ‘I think I died when the blue thing hit me. I must have fallen but I don’t remember. Hitting the ground must have shocked me back to life again.’

I nodded. It sounded plausible enough.

Tally reached into her pocket and pulled something out.

‘Look,’ she said, holding it out in the palm of her hand.

I looked. Her loose change was fused into a solid metal lump. I thought about that blue eel-like spark disappearing into her chest and wondered what it had done to Tally. I suddenly found I had nothing at all to say.

A few minutes later we began delivering our newspapers. Tally finished first. She raced. I didn’t. When I got back to the shop, she’d gone home.

Things were never the same between Tally and I after that. A few weeks after the pylon incident, she gave up her paper round. We didn’t go to the same school, so I didn’t see her there.

Six years went by fast.

I was one of the few people who actually left my town – now a city – to go to university. After nine more years, I went back. The place was different. Everything had changed. Everyone I knew, including myself, had grown a bit older.

I heard that Tally had married a local electrician and was the mother of two children.

I bumped into her in a supermarket one morning. She was pushing a buggy with a baby in it and shepherding another, slightly older child. She was still as tall as me and still had long, dark hair, although it was not tied up in a ponytail. When she saw me she froze in mid-movement.

‘Hello, Tally,’ I said. ‘How are you?’

‘Fine,’ she answered. ‘You?’

Before I could reply, she said: ‘No one’s called me that for a long time.’

‘Who are you now?’ I asked casually.

‘Usually Nat or mum,’ she answered, before becoming unfocussed for a few moments. There was a short silence that went on for more than it should have. Eventually, Tally remembered who and where she was and collected herself. She smiled wanly.

‘I didn’t give you a chance to answer, did I? How are you?’

‘I’m fine too,’ I said, nodding.

‘I heard you left.’

I nodded again. ‘Yes, to become a student.’

‘Are you back here for good?’

‘I don’t know,’ I answered, shrugging. I looked carefully at her wrist. No bracelet. Very pale scar tissue where the burns had been.

She saw where my gaze was focussed. She blushed.

‘I had it cut off – about a year after it happened.’

I nodded again. I was doing a lot of nodding.

One or two more polite pleasantries were exchanged, after which Tally introduced her children. Then we went our separate ways.

I stayed around for a few more weeks and then left again.

In the place I finally settled in, I met someone who turned out to be that very special person that most people never get to meet. Right place, right time – and the right person. The chances are so slim. But that person exists. And I’m very happy now. She’s not as tall as I am, doesn’t have long dark hair tied up in a ponytail, but she is very beautiful, very lovely, very warm, very gifted.

In other words, she’s not Tally, but neither is Tally any more.

 

*

 

Tally

Copyright © R J Dent (2016)

 

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