4 Testing time
It was time for another wish anyway. Excitedly, she fingered the penny she was going to use. It was warm from her hands.
‘I wish to come top in the spelling test tomorrow,’ she whispered, dropping the coin into the well and watching it fall and fall till it was out of sight and she felt giddy and breathless. She put her face close to the well and felt a rush of cool air. The coin plopped, the mossy sides of the well for an instant reflected gold.
When she stuck her hand in, it returned to normal, except that the penny was heavy and golden. She caught her breath. Thank goodness it had happened again. She’d been frightened it had been a one-off.
But the real test would come the next day. The bike could have been a coincidence but if she won the test she’d know for sure her wishes were coming true. She wasn’t very good at spelling normally. Once words got over six letters long they seemed to get all illogical. And then there were the trick ones, like gnaw and know, knowledge and privilege. It was as if they were only designed to fool people.
The next afternoon the other kids were nervously going through their spelling lists but Elisha felt calm and confident. When the test started it seemed natural to her that she automatically knew how to spell every single word. Even the ones the other kids were asked. And she had no trouble at all with her own words. This was going to be easy.
Soon only she, Veronica and Luke were left in. Veronica was faltering over an attempt at misdemeanour, one of the hardest words. Finally, she got it wrong, missing out the ‘a’ and stomped back to her seat in disgust. Josie leaned across to her and said, ‘That was a really hard one, Ronnie.’
Luke got it right and he nearly smiled, seeming astonished at himself. But Elisha noticed how he was skinny and sickly, trembling with apprehension as they stood at the front of the class. She nearly smirked as she spelled the next word ‘consequential’ perfectly without hesitating in the slightest.
All eyes turned to Luke, who was staring down at his feet. ‘Maneouvre’ was the next word up. His voice was so faint that the teacher, Miss Clements, had to ask him to speak up. ‘M-A-N-E-‘. He broke off to cough into his hand. ‘U-V-R-E,’ he stammered out.
‘No, I’m afraid not, Luke.’ The teacher touched his arm sympathetically, as she turned to Elisha. ‘Elisha?’
Elisha stepped forward, her face glowing in triumph, as she successfully spelled the word. ‘M-A-N-O-E-U-V-R-E’.
There was a round of applause from the class as the teacher congratulated her.
But Elisha couldn’t dwell on the moment for long. She was already thinking about her next wish. The world was her oyster now, as her mother used to say. Elisha didn’t really know what that meant. She thought an oyster was a bit like a crab or a prawn. Why would she want her world to be like a prawn? But she knew it meant she could have anything she wanted, thanks to the magic wishing well.
She couldn’t resist boasting to her friends about it. It was too exciting to keep all to herself. After school she made Jasmine and Stephanie come home with her to see it. They stopped at the newsagent to buy sweet cigarettes and pretended to be smoking these little white red-tipped candy sticks all the way to Elisha’s house. Delicious. And Jasmine bought the latest Bunty comic, promising to let the others read it too.
They were already mystified as to how she’d known how to spell such a long and difficult word. Both were scornful when she told them she had a well that could grant wishes.
‘Oh yeah?’ said Jasmine. ‘Aint no such thing.’
When they got in the house Elisha begged, ‘Mummy, can I take Jas and Steph up to my room to play? We won’t be noisy.’
Mrs Goodman considered a minute, just for show, both arms deep in a basket of laundry. ‘Okay, darling.’
And they were off, bounding up the stairs. ‘Here it is,’ proclaimed Elisha, setting the well before them on the table.
Stephanie immediately grasped it, turned it upside down and shook it. Elisha frowned and her throat made a ‘tsk’ noise without her meaning it, worried that it might get broken. ‘Where’s its batteries?’ her friend demanded.
‘It doesn’t have any. It works by magic.’
‘Yeah, we’ll see,’ said Jasmine, plonking herself down on the bed and raising one eyebrow at Steph.
‘Okay, you will see. I’ll put this 5p piece in,’ said Elisha. ‘It’ll turn to gold, the well will go deep and whatever I wish for will come true.’
The girls were entranced despite themselves and watched avidly as Elisha prepared to drop the coin. She closed her eyes and intoned solemnly, ‘I wish to be the prettiest girl in school,’ letting the coin fall.
There was just an ugly clatter as it hit the bottom, stubbornly remaining silver. Jasmine and Stephanie peered into the well a minute, half-shoving each other to see what had happened, before starting to laugh.
‘Still looks like an ordinary 5p to me,’ sneered Jasmine.
‘Yeah, and you don’t look much prettier either,’ added Stephanie, who’d started fiddling with a View-master that evidently held more appeal. ‘This is one of those 3D things, isn’t it?’ Normally, Elisha would have loved to show this off but now she deliberately pushed the paper packet of ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ View-master reels under the pillow.
‘Come on, let’s go to the park,’ piped up Jasmine. Her friends jumped off the tartan bedspread and scrambled for the door.
‘Are you coming or what?’ Steph asked Elisha, who made no attempt to follow, just shook her head at them, rather dazed and disappointed.
They were still laughing as they left. Why wouldn’t the magic work for her friends? Maybe its powers had run out? She felt deflated, completely flat and empty.
Then she heard a tiny, echoing plop so glanced back into the well. It was momentarily a deep, dark and cold shaft, then the golden coin flipped into view, sprinkling icy water on her face. She blinked and looked back. It spun round and fell on the well’s ceramic bottom. She gasped, annoyed for a moment as well as pleased and relieved. Suddenly she realised that the secret was only for her. No one else was supposed to know. Why hadn’t Aunt Jessie warned her? Then she wouldn’t have looked an idiot in front of her friends. She completely failed to remember that her aunt had told her it was secret.
She ran to look in the mirror. It seemed to her that her face looked prettier than just before, her hair less untidy. Had it worked again? She’d be able to tell the next day at school by seeing if any of the boys noticed.
She could hardly wait to see what impression she made, scrambling into her uniform and racing downstairs for breakfast. Marmite on toast cut into soldiers and lemon squash. Much better than Ready Brek, which her Mum had a habit of making lumpy by overheating the milk. She’d have had Rice Krispies except that her dad had already had the top of the milk in his. He was selfish like that. Her mum would have saved it for her. Cereal was lovely with that specially creamy bit at the top of the bottle. Apparently you could get bottles with gold tops that were all top of the milk, but they cost more.
The milkman, who her mum imaginatively called ‘Milky’, was always cheerful, even when he called to be paid on a Saturday morning and they didn’t have enough money. Her mum always made her answer the door and she hated having to ask him to come back the next week. But he’d smile and cheerfully agree, all smart and dapper in his long white coat and peaked hat. She used to envy Milky’s son, a boy of about twelve or thirteen, who would run out to collect empties and deliver bottles and jump back on the moving milk float like a ballet dancer. He’d run out and pick up the note her mum had stuck in the top of an empty bottle, saying ‘Milky’, (this was always underlined) ‘One extra pint and six eggs, please. Thank you’ or ‘Milky, No milk today. Thank you’ before reporting back and bringing over any extras. It seemed like such a fun job. She never really thought about him also having to go to school.
‘You look nice enough to eat this morning,’ said her father, patting her head and she instantly forgave him for snatching the cream. But in patting her head, he flattened her hair a little so her sunny smile switched to a brief scowl as she ran her fingers through it.
‘Thanks, Daddy.’ Her mother was rushing around and didn’t really have time to look.
At school she noticed a couple of boys nudge each other and point to her. And suddenly Philip Evans, the best-looking boy in her year, was at her side. He smelt like grass mixed with the sandalwood talcum powder her mother got from Boots.
‘Hey, Angelface, how are you?’ he asked.
She stared at him, confused and astonished. He’d never said a word to her before, except to borrow a pencil about a year ago, one that he’d never given back. ‘I’m okay, what about you?’ she blurted out so fast that it was almost rude.
‘Fantastic,’ he looked her up and down admiringly. ‘You look so gorgeous today.’
And he was gone, into the classroom. Her face was aglow as she followed him. It had worked. She was prettier than ever before, the prettiest girl in the whole school. Nothing could sap her confidence.
But it was around this time that things started to go wrong.