Branksome Hall News

Student’s lament for a deceased friend earns second place in well-known anthology

Her inspiration was a close friend, who died suddenly from meningitis at age 14. By describing how she coped, so vividly, Grade 10 student Sophie has earned second place in her grade category and will be published in INCITE, the annual anthology produced by the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario (CIS).
“She was an absolute angel,” says Sophie, “and I know she would have changed the world. I was expressing my frustration that slowly, my memories of her are going to fade, even though I’m sure her joyous legacy survives in everyone she knew.”

English teacher Jill Strimas says that Sophie has certainly succeeded in conveying the sense of loss and raw emotion to the reader.

“The story has a vivid and shattering beauty,” says Strimas. “INCITE is a very special anthology. Students from every CIS school submit entries, and the writing selected for the top prizes represent the strongest young literary voices in our wider community.”

Sophie has always loved writing, and won a few awards at her previous school in London, U.K., and of course, like all good writers, she is a voracious reader. 

“I’ve had a book on my night table since I was five,” she says. “I find it incredible how writers can stitch words together to make me laugh until my stomach hurts or cry for hours on end.” She also has a writing process, writing every week in a journal or working on a piece of writing.

Is she planning a writing career? Surprisingly, no. 

“If we weren’t in the middle of a climate emergency, I’d definitely be an author,” she says. “At the moment my goal is to go into engineering or business so I can lead the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I love writing too much to stop completely, so I’ll definitely continue while I'm trying to save the world.”

Valentina 

I remember a hot summer evening, the fan sputtering while twenty-one sweaty girls thumped a grand allegro. Flying, you seized death’s eye, and Rebecca’s; 
 
“There was only one person in this room who was dancing, and that was Valentina.” 
 
Jaws dropped. This was the teacher who glided through rows of pink tights, suffocating each girl she passed with a casual glance. Francesca smiled painfully—the class crown had such an obviously inferior owner again.  
 
You sparkled until révérence. Even in the fading light, you stepped off the bus home glowing red hot as the sun was devoured by concrete. 
 
The train we all ride wants to destroy you. I tumble backwards through time as you dangle from the last carriage. For you, Vale, my memories run like a spool of burgundy thread. I hammer the empty spindle with the tip of my pen until the ends explode, wishing for time to braid a rope and drag you back to life
 
Only plastic shards litter my thoughts. 
 
I took your wit and talent and light and laughter for granted, knowing I’d read about you one day, an up-and-coming Italian ballerina. We’d meet on my trips to London, ride a double-decker to Farringdon again as golden wool intertwined with the dusty glass, bathing each seat in warmth. 
 
Instead; ‘Death rates of children from meningitis vary from 3-20%.’ 
 
A statistic. Valentina Sanna, a gridlocked number. Roll of the die, they say. Luck of the draw. But the card you picked was black.  
 
A thousand worlds away— 
The train trundles on. I stumble to the open End through each carriage, screaming your name. Clumps of my mascara run faster than I can, but I stagger ahead. You won’t go this way, not yet. Thrown from seat to seat in a twisted game of catch, each purple, swelling bruise of mine is worth five points. Finally, I clutch a ceiling strap, my knuckles white. And I see you! Wild eyes, bun greasy, sweaty palms weakening as you swing from the train edge. I inch through the last carriage. 
 
Stone-cold London could never compare to your quaint little Italy. You counted down the minutes until your escape to a dance school cushioned by winding streets and vibrant storefronts, framed by glittering water and stitched together by a red patchwork of rooftops. At fourteen, you learnt those minutes might be your last.  
Game over? 
 
“Not yet,” you cry, your fingers edging closer to certain death.  
“We can win,” I say. “Beginner’s luck, remember?” 
 
A fleeting stillness helps me heave you by your wrists to an empty seat.  Your bodysuit is stained red, your tights scarred, your shoes unravelling. I hug you, inhaling the malted scent of Tesco’s sushi.  
 
“Why me?” you manage between bloody coughs.  
 
The wind presses us against the cool glass as I shake my head, determined to never let you go. 
I can’t comfort you as I suppress the lump surfacing in my throat. We need to run.  
 
“Can you make it?” 
 
You have to try. Glued to the carriage walls, I prop you up and we slide through each thundering compartment, battered by violent gusts. There are two of us this time, so in a couple short minutes we’re nearing my carriage. Squeezing your hand, my eyes widen as your scarred fingers do the same; your strength is returning. As we near the border, our glassy eyes meet and my heart soars.  
 
“I missed you,” we both say. I snort at our perfect timing, slicing the rigid tension in a second. Before we know it we’re weak with laughter. One foot over the threshold... 
 
NO! Your hand is wrenched from my loosened grip and you’re howling, scrabbling at the train floor as you’re dragged towards the End. My face crumples for a second, then I’m sprinting after your ragdoll body now thrown from wall to wall until you’re hanging by a single hand again. I race towards you, one second too late as your hand slips away and my tears fall on your upturned face now plummeting into a white, white nothingness while the train whistles away, sending an avalanche of broken tracks to bludgeon your lifeless body. Collapsing, I rock back and forth, breathing frantically through heaving sobs as my nails etch red railroads into my skin. 
 
A year after and your face is a little blurrier each time I recall photos missed and moments unrelished.  
 
That day in class, you were marked for destruction, a time bomb slipped under the elastic of your ballet shoe. Now, silence. 
 
Francesca cried 
 
When you died in Italy. 
 
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