A Bath of Beans by Sian Chaney-Price

Priscilla Masters is good at everything; it is really annoying. If we have to draw each other’s portraits in class then hers is the best. If we have to write a story then hers will get read out. If we are set a spelling test then she will get full marks and worst of all she boasts about it. She will point out all of her stars on the wall and she does this thing where she blows on her fist and polishes it on her chest, which really makes me mad. Sometimes I dream about tripping Priscilla Masters in the playground or accidentally on purpose dipping her ponytail into one of the paint pots on the table and waiting to see how long she takes to notice she has blue hair.
     I’m not good at school, but I’m not bad either. I have this thing called dyslexia which makes the letters wiggle around on the page and sometimes they will not sit still or go back in the right place. When it takes me longer to read my worksheet, Priscilla will say loudly, ‘Haven’t you finished yet?’ or ‘I’m on extra tasks,’ and I have to grip my pencil tightly and try and drown her out. 
     There is one thing that I can beat Priscilla at and that is running; I’m really fast and she can’t keep up. It’s going to be sports day in two weeks and we are both entered in the sprint. I’ve been training in the evenings when I take Archie, our dog, for a walk to the local park. He likes to run with his mouth open and tongue hanging out. When I tried that technique I swallowed a fly, but we have both become faster. I’m going to run past the finish line and then I’m going to turn and polish my fist on my chest and see how Priscilla likes losing for a change. I keep this knowledge as a delicious secret when she is pointing out which spellings I have got wrong.
     Finally, race day arrives and I make sure I eat a good breakfast and I even do some stretches. My parents are coming to watch, unfortunately Archie isn’t allowed, but he gives my hand a lick for luck.
     Priscilla is wearing a ridiculous purple outfit and even has purple laces and purple bobbles in her hair. ‘Purple is the colour of royalty and winners,’ she says jogging on the spot. I want to tell her that she looks like a giant plum, but I save the insults for when I win.
     The hundred metre sprint is the last but one race of the day and there are a lot of things we have to compete in first. I come second in the egg and spoon race and third in the sack race, but I’ve not been training for those so it doesn’t matter. It all comes down to the sprint.
     We are on the starter line and I can hear people from class calling my name. This is my big chance, my whole body is tensed, waiting for the whistle and then it blows and I am gone. My legs are going faster than they have ever gone, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was smoke coming out of them and then it is all over and I have won and I jump up and punch the air. 
     Priscilla Masters is still on the race track, she is on the floor and she slowly gets up and starts running again, but she is limping, she must have fallen over, but even if she hadn’t I would have beaten her by miles. I wait until she finishes before I do the fist polish thing. Priscilla Masters looks at me and then her eyes go big and wide and she starts to cry. It is not a little cry, it is proper full-grown wailing and I get a bit embarrassed. I wanted her to be upset, but I didn’t want her to cry.           
     Typical, even in my victory Priscilla is spoiling everything.
     One of the teachers comes over and pats Priscilla’s shoulders. ‘Priscilla, it doesn’t matter, you picked yourself up and completed the race, it’s the taking part that counts.’ This just makes Priscilla cry harder and I have to turn away and pretend to do up my trainer; she is being such a bad loser, why does she have to spoil everything.
     I get my winners medal and hold it up to the crowd, but all I can see is stupid Priscilla Masters, in her stupid purple outfit and her stupid sulky face and then I see who is next to her. There is a girl in a wheelchair and she is wearing a bright headscarf, but her face is all puffed up and white and I realise it’s Priscilla’s big sister.
     After the relay team run, which again I help lead to victory, despite Priscilla pulling out, we head home. I see Priscilla pushing her sister across the car park, she is talking a lot, as per usual, but her sister shuts her eyes and looks tired.
     The next day when we are in school and I’m wearing my first place medal and people keep patting me on the shoulder and telling me well done, I find myself remembering Priscilla’s sister. ‘Why is your sister in a wheelchair?’ I ask, even though we don’t really talk to one another or I don’t talk to her. 
     ‘She’s sick,’ says Priscilla, looking up from her exercise book, but then she turns her body slightly away from me as if to say, don’t ask me anything else. 
     I don’t want to but I find my mouth moving anyway. ‘Sick from what?’
     ‘Cancer.’ The way Priscilla says that one word really quietly I know that it is bad.
     ‘Is that why she’s in a wheelchair?’
     Priscilla nods.
     ‘And why she has no hair?’
     She nods again. ‘She lost her eyebrows too.’
     ‘I’m sorry,’ I say and for once I genuinely mean it. To not be able to run or take Archie out for walks in the park because I was stuck in a wheelchair would be awful. I think I could handle the no hair bit, maybe Mum would make me have less baths and that would be a good thing. It would be hard to wiggle my eyebrows with no eyebrows though and I quite enjoy doing that. I wiggle them now as if to test that they are still there.
     ‘What are you doing?’ asks Priscilla frowning. ‘Are you making fun of my sister?’ Her eyes go big and wide again and I panic when they start to fill with tears.
     ‘No, I was thinking how horrible it would be to not have eyebrows or be able to walk,’ I say.
     Priscilla looks down at her book again, ‘I’m going to raise some money for her to get a new bed because her medication makes her skin hurt and you can get special beds that help. I am going to sit in a bath of beans.’
     ‘A bath of beans?’ Priscilla hates mess. She goes mad if I rub something out and the little bits of eraser are left on the desk. How on earth is she going to sit in a bath of beans?
     ‘With your clothes on?’		
     ‘In my swimming costume, it’s at the shopping centre, I’m not going to sit in a bath of beans naked!’ Priscilla looks at me as if I’m the one who is crazy, when she is the one planning to sit in a bath of beans.
     ‘I told my sister I would win sports day for her to cheer her up, but then I fell.’
     So that was why she was crying, I thought it was weird, but then Priscilla is weird. I won that race fair and square though, I trained so I’m not going to feel bad, even though I want Priscilla’s sister to feel better.
     On Friday afternoon our teacher makes a special announcement and tells the class that Priscilla will be at the shopping centre tomorrow, raising money for her sister, if any of us want to go and cheer her on.
     On Saturday I get a funny feeling in my tummy, I hate the shopping centre, but I find myself asking Mum if we can go. When she asks why, I can’t quite explain it so I say Archie needs a new collar, which isn’t true.
     When we get to the shopping centre, I see Priscilla straight away, she is standing watching two people fill a bath with giant tins of beans. Even though the tins are massive it is going to take a lot of them to fill the bath. You can smell the sauce the beans come in. Priscilla is standing in her swimming costume, but her arms are crossed and her mouth is tight, she does this when she is annoyed or scared.
     The people from the supermarket finish filling the bath and tell Priscilla to get in. She stops and looks at her sister; I know that she doesn’t want to but she goes over to the bath and puts her big toe in before letting out a scream and running off.
     Before I know what I’m doing, I am chasing after Priscilla and her orange toe. 
     ‘Priscilla stop!’ I say, catching her by the shoulder. ‘Why are you running away, it’s only beans.’
     ‘They were so cold and smelly, I didn’t realise it would feel like that. I can’t do it.’ Priscilla is good at everything, I have never heard her say she can’t do something.
     I hold out my hand and say in my sternest voice, ‘Give me your goggles.’
Priscilla hesitates, but then pulls her goggles off her head. 
     I think about having to lose my hair and my eyebrows and not being able to run as I march back through the shopping centre towards the bath of beans.
     ‘Matthew what are you doing?’ asks my mum, as I pull off my shoes and my shirt and start to climb into the bath. 
     ‘Priscilla’s sister needs a new bed,’ I say loudly and then I’m in the bath of beans and it is cold and squelchy and there are beans in places they should not be, but the crowd at the shopping centre all clap, including my mum and people start to put money in the bucket and soon it’s half full.
     Priscilla pushes through the crowd and I can tell that she is shocked that I’m helping her and then she gets that determined look on her face, that I know so well, and the next I know she is climbing into the bath of beans with me. The crowd claps again and more people put money in the bucket.
     Priscilla and I look at each other, we are never going to be best friends, she is too annoying, but for this one day we call a truce, to help her sister who is sick. I hold out my hand and Priscilla shakes it, she even smiles and you know what, it feels even better than winning the sprint. I pop a bean in my mouth and Priscilla screams and everything goes back to normal.

Sian Chaney-Price – ran away from teaching to do a Masters in Writing for Young People, is now a librarian, but more than anything wants to be a writer when she grows up. She has had a short story published by Scholastic, won a place on The London Library Emerging Writer’s programme 2019 for her ‘hamster noir’ novel and her YA novel was long-listed by Guppy Books 2020. Her favourite thing to do is make children laugh with her writing and she attributes all of her best work to her cat, who is also her editor.

Twitter: @SianChaneyPrice

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