Year 2000 Award Winner
In the Margins

Valerie Ryan Gillis 


Copyright 2000 by Valerie Ryan Gillis

Photo of a red and white flower blossom (c) 2004 by Richard Loller.
Photo (c) 2004 by Richard Loller

Lucy had always found it difficult to pay attention in class. The fact that it was June 1st, with just one week left of junior year, was not helping her cause. Neither was the fact that her pencil seemed to be caught in some sort of a tractor beam, dragging it outside the perfectly straight pink ink and into the margins of her paper. At first, she tried to resist this pull, knowing how much Ms. Carne despised marks in the margins, but the incessant, monotone lecture on the Elizabethan Era soon wore down her will-power, and her pencil leapt joyfully outside the pink edged box.

Despite Ms. Carne's distaste for it, most students in Lucy's class drew in the margins of their papers. Little smiley faces, peace signs, and spiraling tornadoes decorated a good many of the notebooks within Lucy's range of sight. However, when Lucy's pencil strayed out of its set parameters, she forced it to write.

Since she was supposed to be listening to a lecture on Elizabethan times, Lucy decided to write a little about the era. With meticulously neat handwriting, she printed "Queen Elizabeth" in the upper left margin. She looked at the words, loving their classical appearance and the soft odor of pencil dust emanting from them. She looked up only once to make sure Ms. Carne hadn't noticed her deviation from the center of the page, then bent studiously over her words, and waited.

It was not long before the little lead marks began to shift. Soon enough they formed themselves into squiggles which then metamorphosed into the shape of a beautiful young woman sitting regally on a throne. Lucy watched anxiously as the woman raised one slate grey hand in the air. A little leaden man appeared carrying a little leaden book. He showed the book to the pencil dust queen who carefully opened it. She read the book quickly, occasionally marking in it (probably in the margins, Lucy thought) before handing it back, a slate smile appearing on her face.

Lucy knew that Thomas Cranmer had not presented the revised Book of Common Prayer to Queen Elizabeth in such a way. She knew that Queen Elizabeth had not been a stunning young beauty. She knew that doodles were not historians. By watching her pencil powder figures, however, she remembered. As far as she could tell, the margins brought to life what she had already known, reminding and reteaching her, adding on to what already lay in her memory.

Lucy remembered vividly the day she had discovered this remarkable feature of the margins. It had happened when she was seven, writing in her very first journal, a Lisa Frank model covered with purple kittens playing with psychedelic balls of yarn. She was writing about a trip to the pool she had taken with her best friend, Annie Rhodes. On the vague whims which sometimes sweep up seven-year-olds, she decided to write today's entry in the margins of her miniature notebook. She started by writing, "Me and Annie went swimming." She paused, deciding which choice anecdote to include first, but before her Lisa Frank pencil could return to the page, the words continued for her.

With a start she saw she was looking at Annie, complete with Minnie Mouse swimsuit and dripping wet pony tail, dangling her feet in the side of the pool. She saw herself leap from the water below, splashing the already soaked Annie full on the face. Annie dove into the water, little silver grey droplets of water spraying behind her as she proceeded to chase Lucy through the throngs of summer swimmers crowding the public pool.

Lucy herself was stunned and fascinated by her discovery. From then on every entry she made was written in the margins, her dusky colored creations coming to life for her each time she read them. Of course, when she began second grade that fall, this caused her one rather uncomfortable incident.

Miss Cassington had not taken well to Lucy's first project, a smattering of sentences spread in a rectangular shape in the margins of three sheets of loose leaf. Lucy had meant well. She had thought Miss Cassington would be able to see her pencil dust people. After all, she was a teacher and therefore much smarter than Lucy's parents, who only pretended to believe in Lucy's margin words. Miss Cassington, however, had proven to be no better and forced Lucy to redo the entire project inside the lines.

Since then, Lucy had learned to keep her margins to herself, not even telling Annie Rhodes. Still, this hardly stopped her from using them. She had continued to keep her journal (the purple kittens having been replaced by a more sophisticated print of Van Gogh's "Starry Night") and had not returned inside the blue and pink lines since her swimming adventure. During school, she cautiously livened up lectures by taking notes in the margins, watching as Macbeth cried out over the terrible grey ghost of Banquo while Mr. Cheffson vainly tried to explain Shakespeare's language to a dozing class of juniors.

Sitting in history, watching Queen Elizabeth mend England's religious turmoil, Lucy wondered for the thousandth time why none of her classmates had discovered the margins. Why had none of her teachers learned this feat when they were children? Why couldn't her parents, her grandparents, her neighbors and friends fathom that little Lucy saw things in her journal?

Maybe they did, she thought, maybe they did and didn't believe it. Maybe they had had one too many encounters with the Miss Cassingtons of the world. Maybe they just never thought to venture into the outer reaches of their paper.

Lucy would have continued on thinking melancholy thoughts about the rest of the margin deprived world when something wonderful happened. The boy in front of her reached into his back pack and pulled out a battered box of colored pencils. While he set them aside, evidently looking for some other item in the dark recesses of the bag's front pocket, Lucy found she could not take her eyes off of them.

Color! How could she have been so blind as to forget the remarkable invention of the colored pencil! In an instant, her mind was a blur with thoughts of what dear Queen Elizabeth would look like if Lucy wrote the letters in reds and purples and cyans and goldenrods and. . .

"Lucy," it was Ms. Carne's voice. She never failed to interrupt the most pleasant of thought patterns with rapid fire questioning, "How did the efforts of Queen Elizabeth and Thomas Cranmer serve to unite the Church of England with other religions?"

Lucy sighed, annoyed by the distraction, but began speaking of the Book of Common Prayer, Elizabeth's Thirty-Nine Articles on Religion, and other bits of historical knowledge, newly refreshed by her marginal forays. Colored pencils could wait till tonight's journal entry, she thought. Even as she spoke she could see her margin people turning brilliant hues, leaving the dull greys behind them forever. Tonight, she thought, she would begin an entirely new adventure in the margins.

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