A Kind Of Magic

So, Chuck Wendig of terribleminds wants us to write a story from our own life for this week’s flash fiction challenge. I rarely do these challenges because what little writing time I have is usually for Lily’s story (!) rather than other things. But since it’s different I’ll give it a shot. It’s supposed to be around 1000 words. The title comes from the Queen song and it’s a very good fit.

It was a cool August day. … Oh, who am I kidding? It was bloody freezing. August usually is around here. At least it wasn’t raining. (I like rain – but not the sort we get around here which is just drizzle and nuisance. I prefer thunderstorms.) The wind was blowing strongly, gusting in off the lake. Meanwhile, the girls of Green House were inside, practicing a final time.

Today, after weeks of preparation, was the Senior House Choir Competition. I was looking forward to it, though nervous. Surely this year we might win? We’d come very close last year. I really hoped so, having a good feeling about our practices. The winners of House Choir go into the Arts Festival. The Arts Fest is my favourite of the three comps/ displays…after all, I’m not very good at Aths or Swimming. I’m not alone. While each house has its own collection of swimmers, aths girls and artists, Green House usually won the most points in the Arts Participation Cup. However, due to bad luck or whatever you’d like to call it, I hadn’t been a part of a winning House Choir yet (though other years our house had won) – and this would be my last chance to do so. There were thirty-four other girls in the same boat as me, though naturally there were different levels of caring about it.

I was quietly confident, though trying to keep expectations in check. We were third in a line-up of four, I think. When it was our turn, our Arts Captain, M, stood out the front as had been practiced. Then she introduced the song…with a surprise for both us and the audience. “We dedicate this song to Mrs A.” she said, “In the hope that she always has someone to lean on.”

My eyes widened as she spoke. Of course! That was a perfect reason. We’d all been aware, to some degree, of her stress this year due to things she couldn’t control. She was a popular House Group teacher. The song gained a sudden, sharp clarity. M cued the music and we were off.

“Hum, hum hum hum hum….”

All the hard work paid off, as we sang our hearts out. I remember feeling energised as I sang; everything was going well.
If this was a humorous anecdote about an embarrassing memory, this would be the point where something went wrong. But it didn’t.

No-one flubbed their lines or sang a wrong note or forgot their movements. Full credit to M, she’d spent the weeks of practice well. She shaped us into a choir that sang that song pitch-perfect, with pride and passion. (Even now, a few years after the event, I can still pick out the particular four-set of notes in the ‘hum hum hum hum’ – we spent a lot of time working on that bit to get it right 😛 .)

It was fun – but nervous – watching the other choirs. All the other choirs were good too. Especially Blue House. I know a few of us, when they came on, got the distinct feeling that they were our toughest competition. Their song choice, movements and singing were very well done – watching them, it showed what a good choir should be.

At the end we sat in the spots we’d been given and waited for the verdict. It was tense. I was still feeling good about it all, but again, nervous. I tried to remind myself that it was just a little thing – it shouldn’t matter if we came first or second (or another placing). I sat and hoped. The judge/ adjudicator then read out the placings. Heightening the tension, she unfortunately stuffed up the order of fourth and third. I think a few Green hearts skipped a beat when she realised that, because of course the way she phrased it made it sound like she’d read out ours in one of those spots!

But that wasn’t the case – we were in the top two. Now, the judge/adjudicator spent a bit of time talking about how each choir was good, that it was very hard to pick, that we’d all risen to the occasion well, etc. etc.
Then she finally said, “But in the end, I think I’m going to have to give second place to Bl-”

That was as much as I heard – the first syllable.
I ought to mention that I’d previously always wondered why when winners were announced, the winners always started cheering when the second-placers were announced. I always wondered if it wasn’t disrespectful to the second-placers?

You can tell from those statements that I hadn’t been in many winning things which I cared about much. After all, I’m not into playing competitive sports. When School Choir performed in the South Street Comps, due to circumstances we usually either found out the results later or got pipped at the post. Green House’s scant, occasional win(s) in the other school comps weren’t as important to me it seems, because I can’t remember them as easily. My memory tells me the last time I got that excited (rather than disappointed) over a group competition (and can still remember getting excited) might have been six years before this, when my house in primary school won the School Sports for the first time in ten years. Though I might just be forgetting other things.

Hmm. I’m beginning to see why I support the underdog so much. 😉

Anyway. The judge spoke the first syllable of Blue House for second place and I found why first-placers always start celebrating a place early: we couldn’t help it. I’d even said to myself beforehand, “Now, don’t make a fool of yourself by screaming and doing something that annoys you at other times” but did that matter? Not a whit. It’s the shock delight, I realised later. The split-second realisation that occurs when you hear that first syllable and process the fact that it’s not you, that you’ve finally made it to the top, you react. There’s no stopping it.

That feeling is why, despite what we tell ourselves about competitions – e.g. a sport’s match being “just a game” – we get so involved and keep coming back for more. We chase that elusive feeling. Another case in point: my support of the Richmond Tigers. We just can’t help ourselves!

As for Green House, we were through to the Arts Festival. Comparing the two performances, the one I can remember most is the first one. The Arts Festival was much more formal than the actual Competition itself and had less emotional attachments tied to it. Still enjoyable – just not quite as satisfying.

It’s a treasured memory from a school year full of “lasts”. This was a first.

Oh and the song? If you haven’t guessed already, it was Lean On Me. Yes, that’s why it’s on my Soundtrack that year.

Have you experienced the satisfying feeling of finally winning after a long wait? What in?