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Celeste's Story

WARNING: Adult Themes Lifeline Beyond Blue

(c) Linda Hutchison July 2016

Celeste looked directly at herself in the mirror. She took in the shining hair, parted in the middle and braided carefully into two long, neat plaits. She saw her eyes, wide open, but devoid of emotion, looking back at her, and her heart-shaped face. Reflected in the mirror was a long row of evenly-spaced trophies on the shelf behind her – each a reminder of some past accolade. She straightened her school uniform, then turned away from her reflection. She stared at her orderly desk with its precise piles of papers, then reached for her bulging school bag and heaved it onto her back. The weight was reflected in the now resigned expression on her face, the burden representative of heavy family expectations. Her shoulders drooped visibly.

“Celeste, don’t forget your violin. You have your assessment today, remember?” called a voice from outside her bedroom.

“No mum.” Celeste sighed and picked up her black instrument case. “When can I start my driving lessons?”

“When your exams are over. You have far too much to think about for now. You need to work hard for those selection exams next month.”

Celeste stepped over to her bedside table and looked at a photograph. It was of her with her best friends, Helen and Fiona. It has been taken on Fiona’s birthday – a horse-riding adventure. The helmets, boots and happy faces made her smile momentarily, until she remembered that she would probably have to move schools at the end of the year, if her parents had their way.

“Why can’t I stay where I am?” she called out, her voice betraying her emotion.

“Because you’ll have more opportunities and get to work with the best students. Stop complaining. You’ll never get anywhere with that attitude.”

Celeste sighed and went back to her desk. She pushed the piles of paperwork towards the waste paper basket in an act of defiance, as if threatening to get rid of them all, but stopped at the last moment. She didn’t want to repeat all of the hours she’d put into them. She picked up a precisely folded piece of paper which lay at the back of her desk. She glanced at what she’d written, then hurriedly tucked it into the back of her desk drawer so that her parents wouldn’t see it. She left the room.

In the music room at school, she stood playing the violin for her examiner. As her bow moved over the strings of her violin, and the fingers on her left hand deftly marked out the notes, Celeste watched the girls in the next room practising their dance. She looked longingly at them twirling and stretching, floating like fairies. Her foot started to tap in time with the rhythm of the dance, rather than her own music, until she suddenly realised that she’d been daydreaming. Her mind switched rapidly back to her performance, but there was no need to be concerned. She hadn’t missed a note – hours and hours of practice had made sure of that. She finished and bowed to her examiner then packed her violin away. Another job completed.

“How did your violin exam go today, Celeste?” Her mother was shouting from the kitchen again.

“Okay,” she replied, sitting down to the computer in her room.

“Just okay? What grade did you get? What did you get wrong? Haven’t we told you that you need to stay focused if you want to make something of yourself? Not good enough, Celeste!”

“It was fine, Mum. Don’t stress about it.”

“Don’t you talk to me like that, young lady. We don’t need your attitude.”

Celeste looked towards her door, and tilted her head back wearily in defeat. She picked up her headphones and plugged them into her computer. She clicked into her Internet browser and Googled her secret project, following some of the links and watching some YouTube videos. Her extra work in Maths and Science had come in handy.  Then she opened her desk drawer and drew out the piece of paper that she’d hidden earlier. She made some calculations and then more notes on the page, before refolding it and placing it carefully back in her drawer.

“Celeste, come and get dinner ready, will you? I have a very important meeting to get to.”

Initially Celeste didn’t hear because of her headphones, but instead kept working on her computer.

“Celeste! Get here this minute! You need to contribute to this family, and I will not tolerate your laziness.”

Celeste felt the emotion and rumble of the message, rather than the words, but she knew what it meant. She reluctantly took off her headphones, and placed them on the desk before heading to the kitchen.

The letter arrived one morning several months later. One of the envelopes looked very official and bore the mark of the school she had applied to. She gave it to her mother, who opened it hurriedly then turned to her.

“Of course you got in, Celeste. We will organise a get-together so that we can tell everyone. You will play your violin and quote some suitable poetry – Byron, or Shakespeare.” Her mother started texting all of her friends to invite them.

“I’m not feeling well, Mum.” Celeste was on edge. She had been working on her secret project, and hadn’t been sleeping well, but she couldn’t tell her mother what was going on.

“Nonsense. You will play tonight and that is an order. You look perfectly fine to me.”

The party came and went and Celeste was lying in bed, trying to get to sleep. She reached her hand out to the desk drawer, but her mother walked in and turned on the light. Celeste quickly pulled her hand back under the covers.

“How dare you mess up that poetry! It was appalling. I have no idea what I’m going to tell them next time I see them. Hundreds of thousands of dollars we’ve invested in you, not to mention coming to this God-forsaken outpost. And how do you repay us? Sloppy playing and botched up readings. I’ve never been so embarrassed. I hope you are absolutely ashamed.” Her mother turned and stormed out, turning off the light with venom. Celeste rolled onto her side and hot tears began to roll down her cheeks. From what she could remember, she’d paused at slightly the wrong time in the poem, and hadn’t missed a note in her violin recital. It was time.

The next morning her mother was on the warpath. “Celeste, get up! What on earth has got into you? We have to leave in ten minutes and you are going to school, irrespective of what you are wearing.” Celeste’s mother walked into Celeste’s room and found her missing.

The police called around several hours later. They gently explained that they had found Celeste’s body in the river. A note had been found in her pocket in a plastic ziplock bag, with her Student ID card. It read “I’m sorry Mum. Now you can go home.” Celeste’s mother stared at the police bewildered. Going through Celeste’s desk in the days that followed, she found the secret project notes in the back of the drawer. It had a list of suicide methods that Celeste had compiled over several months, each entry dated and rated. She sank to her knees and sobbed, face-first on the expensive rug.


As the lights dimmed, and the audience rose in applause, Celeste returned to the stage and bowed. It was the first of many curtain calls.

Celeste stepped down from the stage door and ran to her mother, her long, shiny hair flowing loosely around her shoulders. “Mum! What did you think?”

“Amazing, my wonderful, clever daughter. I am so, so proud of you. It must have taken you ages to learn those lines.”

“I’ve put a bit of time into it.” She laughed, noticing the elation in her mother’s glistening eyes. She pointed to a poster for the play which read Now Showing: ‘Underneath it All’. A play by Helen Lee. A Fundraising Event for Beyond Blue. “I feel like I’ve made it.”

“And your violin playing! Have you had lessons?”

“Just enough to make it look realistic. I didn’t dare put pressure on the bow,” chuckled Celeste, as she linked her arm through her mother’s. “Where to now?”

“Well, I think we should celebrate your stage debut with some indulgent chocolate cake and coffee. Perhaps from the 42nd floor overlooking the city. What do you think?”

“Done. Thanks Mum, I couldn’t have done this without you. You’re the best.”

“The feeling is mutual. I’m so glad I let you explore your passions. We had to think hard about those acting lessons, but they were the right decision.” They walked arm in arm down the bluestone-paved street, momentarily lost in the joy of each other’s company.

“Celeste!” shouted a voice behind them.

“Auntie Helen! I didn’t realise you were here!”

“What? Miss my best friend’s debut as a stage parent? Never,” she chuckled. They linked arms.

Later at the café, Celeste shuddered as she thought of the role she’d played. “She must have been desperately unhappy.” Fiona thought of the faded photograph, tucked securely in her handbag, of Celeste's namesake smiling as she galloped along the horse trail.  She and Helen exchanged a look that spoke a thousand words.

“Hopefully, you’ll never know. Now shake it off. Underneath it all, you need to stay positive. You have much to live for.”

Celeste's Story: Work
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