In the first installment of Otwo’s new fiction section, we are delighted to present Sarah Burke Vaughan’s ‘You took me to Neverland’.
You took me to Neverland and you left me here. I did not ask for this. I never could fly in the first place, so you bundled me in your arms and flew me here. You wanted me to see these wonders of yours. I was amazed, I was astounded, I saw every beauty you told me about and loved them all. Then you left for five minutes and never came back. I don’t know what you found that made you want to grow up, but I wish you hadn’t forgotten I was here. I wanted to grow up. I wanted to become a woman. I wanted lipstick and curls. I wanted gunpowder and kisses. I never planned to stay in Neverland, but you found something to be a man for, and forgot there was a girl waiting. I would fly home if I knew how. The Lost Boys have tried to show me but my feet will never leave the ground. They would fly me home but they do not know the way.
They are stuck here too, but everyday they look to the sky expecting you. I know you will not come, I can still feel how time passes at home, and it has been too long for you to come back. The Boys do not know this. Years pass and to them it’s only moments. They never wanted to grow up, this limbo is what they wished for. I feel every year. You must be old now. You must have grandchildren. How would you feel if I stole your granddaughter and forgot about her? I want to hate you, so I do. I do not tell the boys this as they gaze up expectantly, knowing you are on your way home to them. They know it with such conviction that it breaks my heart that they are wrong. My heart which does not belong to Neverland, not to fairies, or mermaids or pirates, but to dark haired girls in white dresses who were expecting me for tea the next day. I never gave you my heart, never let you enchant me with promises of magic beyond my wildest dreams, I just wanted to see what I had already decided I didn’t want, to make sure I didn’t want it.
Every day my mind grows older on this island where I am always a girl. I never wanted Neverland, so its magic does not work on me as it should. I explore every inch of it, searching for a way home. I befriend the remaining pirates, thinking they might be like me, old souls trapped in this childhood dream, but they love the dream. They are as afraid of aging as the boys, and do not understand my wish to look my age. I long to look in a mirror and see sagging wrinkled skin, to be allowed to wear the badges of my life, but I remain a girl, trapped in childhood with nothing but my mother’s old tube of lipstick and a tattered nightgown. You thought my parents would steal my childhood, so you stole away my adulthood. Years pass. Even I lose count of how many. Eventually I start to hate the boys too. I hate every moment they spend glancing up at the sky, eyes full of hope. I hate their hope. I hate that they won’t just give up and see the truth. I hate that they can’t. I hate that I am so old and brittle inside my young body but they will never stop being children in every way.
One day I cannot take it anymore. I steal a dinghy from the pirates and load it full of the sickeningly sweet fruit that grows here. I do not say goodbye to anyone except the mermaids. They are not as vicious as they seem once you learn their language. They are soft and beautiful to look at, but like me, their souls are darker. We understand each other, they give me some fish for the journey. I sit into my dinghy and set off. I do not know if it is even possible to sail away from Neverland, but I don’t care. Maybe I will die on the way. The thought makes me smile.
I sail away into an unknown ocean, and don’t meet land for weeks. The day I realise my skin is sunburnt and rough, I almost cry with happiness. I am wearing, I am growing. I run out of food and water, cover myself over with a tarp and lay down, waiting for that wonderful end I have dreamed of, but I wake up to shouts and bright lights. My dinghy has washed ashore. I am bundled up and carried to a hospital. I look around at the adult faces as they rush around me, talking of dehydration and sunstroke. I laugh hoarsely. I cannot stop laughing. They are grownups, and one day I will be one too.
I have been gone for seventy four years. My parents are long since dead, never having learned what became of their missing child. The world has changed in my absence and I love it. I am placed in an orphanage, but they call it a foster home. The adults laugh at me and say I am very mature for my age. A dark haired young woman invites me to join her family. She is oddly familiar and I take comfort in her presence. When she takes me to visit her grandmother, the old woman is wearing a long white dress and cries when she sees me. It takes me a few minutes to realise, but eventually I take her hands and tell her how sorry I am for missing our tea party. She cradles me in her frail arms and tells me I have not aged a day, this makes my stomach turn in a terrible way. Her husband comes in and smiles and takes my hand. You do not recognise me. You do not even remember me. You don’t remember any of it, and I want to hate you for it, but you are not the boy who left me behind anymore. You do not even recall ever being that boy. I hate that boy, but you are not him anymore. She was worth growing up for, this much I know. How can I blame you for loving her?
Your granddaughter takes me home again, and I do not tell her about what happened with us. She would not believe me, and I would very much like to forget it. She is a kind mother. She marks my height on a doorway and when she tells me I am growing fast I burst into tears and hug her as tightly as I can. You are a funny old man, you spoil me and love to play games. One day when we are at the beach I make a joke about mermaids and the fog of years gone by parts in your eyes for a moment. You stare at me in wonder and take my hand, mumbling about pixie dust. It passes quickly. I do not mention anything from there around you again. You are better off not knowing what you did to me. So long as you don’t remember, I cannot blame you for it.
Our love dies a little after I turn sixteen. At the funeral, your children and grandchildren surround you and I am reminded of how the lost boys flocked around you. They are still waiting. Still glancing at the sky with a certainty that you will be back any moment. I would be sad for them, but I know they will never miss you, or me, or anyone, they do not know how. Your family has become mine, they remark on how much I’ve grown and tease me about boys at school. On my eighteenth birthday they throw me a party and tell me that I’m an adult now. You take me aside and hand me a tiny porcelain tea cup, from a children’s tea set.
“She waited for you as long as she could.” You say, your hands shaking. “I’m so sorry, I never meant to…” I take your hands in mine and kiss your wrinkled cheek silently. You are crying. “Do you think- could you remind me- I’ve forgotten how to fly…”
I shake my head. “I never knew how, don’t you remember?”
“Of course… that wasn’t you, that was… I’m sorry dear are you alright? You look upset.”
I tell you I’m fine, wipe away your tears and re-join the others. You are around the age that I should be, and as I watch you struggle to cut your food by yourself, for the first time in a long time I am grateful to be young and healthy, even if my soul is as old as yours. My friends take me out for drinks after the party and when they drop me home again, I stagger to the front door in a fit of giggles. You are sleeping soundly in our spare room and my mother is asleep on the couch, waiting for me to come home. I get a blanket and curl up on the armchair across from her. We do not realise you are dead until the next morning.
I suppose I should think something deep and philosophical about the boy who trapped me in childhood dying on the day I officially become an adult, but all I think is that I will miss you.
Finally, day by day, I grow up. I go to university. I get a job. I lose that job. I get several more jobs. I meet people who tell me I have an old soul. I fall in love. I fall out of love. I fall in love again, with people, places, books, music. I get married after a three year engagement, and we are divorced sixteen months later. Two years later I re-marry, on a whim, with someone I barely know, and we stay together for the remainder of my life. I have children and grandchildren.
I do not tell them stories of Neverland, as I’m sure many would have. Those memories are still not good to me. I am happy with how my life turned out, but that doesn’t mean I will embrace my tragedies as something I should be glad of. I do tell them stories of you. You, the man, not you the boy. I tell them about being rescued from what seemed like an eternity in a children’s home and welcomed into your family. I tell them about days at the beach and tea parties with you and me and our dark haired beauty. My children are beautiful and adventurous in a way I never was. In a sad way I am glad you are no longer around. The thought of you stealing them away fills me with dread. I have nightmares of my babies wandering Neverland as lost and lonely as I was, or of them sitting in a tree, eyes on the sky, patiently awaiting your return. I have these same nightmares when my grandchildren are born.
My life is long, even without those added years, and it is happy too, for the most part. I never forgive that boy who forgot about me, but I forgive the man who chose love over flying and pressed a tiny porcelain teacup into my hand.
Otwo will be publishing fiction and poetry in each issue for the remainder of the semester. If you’d like to get involved, check out universityobserver.ie/creative-writing.