“In Manchester Square” – Instagrammable Wall-Inspired Story by Marcus Kostelecky

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I’ve been cataloguing Instagrammable Walls and curating Instagrammable Wall Walks / tours since 2017. 

It’s something I truly love—exploring neighbourhoods, discovering art and artists, and sharing about it to encourage others to do the same. 

It’s always delightful turning a corner and finding a new wall, or having a colourful wall catch the corner of your eye as you drive by. It’s really fun when you start to recognize artist styles and can tell which artist a certain mural wall was done by. And it’s really cool learning the artist’s title and story/meaning of their walls. 

In January 2021 I was asked if I could curate an Instagrammable Wall-inspired Creative Writing Tour for a local youth writing conference (YouthWrite). Teens ended up using my curated list to visit the walls with their parents and were given background about walls and writing prompts through audio recordings from me. 

I knew a wall I had to include in this Instagrammable Wall-inspired Writing tour was The Lady of Manchester Square, by Edmonton artist Alixandra Jade (@alixandrajade)

The Lady of Manchester Square - Alexandra Jade Art - Explore Edmonton - Instagrammable Wall - Walk Tour Short Story - Creative Writing
The Lady of Manchester Square, by Alixandra Jade Art.

I’m really excited to share an Instagrammable Wall-inspired story by one of the teenagers who participated in the wall tour. I loved creative writing growing up, and I wondered what direction the teens would take with ‘The Lady of Manchester Square.’ Honestly was blown away by the quality of writing and creativity. 

Marcus Kostelecky is the 13-year-old Grade 8 author of the Instagrammable Wall-inspired story featured in this post. His story is shared with permission by Marcus and his mother, and has also been shared with the wall’s artist Alixandra, who said she was “so happy to see my murals are sparking other forms of creativity, especially for youth… so interesting to see how he was able to create a whole story from the visual I created, such imagination!”

Marcus also shared that his story In Manchester Square, is an allegory about mental health.

There’s an explanation from Marcus about his story at the bottom of this post.

In Manchester Square by Marcus Kostelecky

Written January 2021 as part of a self-guided Instagrammable Wall-inspired Writing Tour (YouthWrite)

In Manchester Square lived a woman with flowers for hair.

The flowers were peonies, and there were seven of them, all in the front. Anybody who has ever seen a peony will know that it is something like a pink rose (there are also blue peonies, but all of hers were pink) with a long, snake-like stem and many leaves; and indeed, the back of the woman’s head was essentially a small bush, and it often looked as though she were wearing a windowsill garden on her head.

Except for the peonies, she actually looked rather normal. Well, scratch that, not quite normal per se, she was quite beautiful, and it was rather unfortunate that the snaky flowers bloomed in front of her face to hide her beauty. Although, she would suppose, where else might they grow, if they needed her moist tears and wet spit to bloom?

She had soft olive skin as silver as mercury, and piercingly dark eyes as brown as a bear’s fur. Her thin lips, hidden behind peony No. 4, were brittle, dry, and blackened. She even had actual hair—darker than a thief’s shadow—concealed beneath the garden on her head.

The woman’s name was Medusa.

For the first few days of Medusa’s odd life, she had looked like any other newborn: small, bald, and bawling, if a little pale. The doctors sent two young lovers home with a fine, healthy child. Her parents treated her well enough, though they could be a little uncaring and once forgot Medusa at home to visit the local pub.

By the second week, Medusa had a full head of deathly black hair, which went down to her chest. Medusa’s mother took her back to the doctor’s:

“I dunno whadda tell ya, ma’am,” drawled the pediatrician. “Some babies jus’ have faster growin’ hair. Wun’o mine had it to his elbows after six months.”

“Yes, but half her length in two weeks? That don’t seem fast to you?”

The doc winced. “I’dmit, it is a bit odd, but only a bit, and, well, it ain’t harming her.” Upon the mother’s departure, some of Medusa’s hair got snagged on the pediatrician’s hangnail. The long strand snapped, and Medusa started crying. There was an odd popping sound from the doc’s hand, who quickly shooed them away.

Funnily enough, Medusa’s hair didn’t grow at all for a long time after that, seven months. Her mother was prepping Medusa for daycare (“Good to get a break from the brat,” she wanted to say) and found an odd green growth while combing her hair. It had hidden there for seven months.

Medusa’s mother took her back to the hospital, only to find that Medusa’s pediatrician had had to quit due to injury. At this point, a responsible, intelligent parent would have found somebody else, but Medusa’s mother was neither and already had worries about what others might think if her child was some kind of freak. Besides, it was probably only a blister.

On Medusa’s first day of preschool, she was pushed to the ground by a particularly competitive girl during the recess soccer game again. Medusa came home at the end of the day with an unbloomed flower growing from the back of her head. Both of her parents were freaked. What could they do? What had happened? To make matters worse, they got a call from the school reporting that the other girl had tripped on her way home and would be out for months recovering from the injury.

“Shame,” said the principal, “You spot the athletes early on. Would’a done great in high school sports, now all she’ll have is chess and things.”

Medusa’s father, deciding to avoid rumors by keeping everything strictly within the house, decided to grab a pair of scissors and cut it away. As he was about to, his hand slipped and he gave himself a nasty cut, swearing loudly. Medusa’s mother flicked her for this, and by the next morning, a fully grown peony had bloomed. The best they could do was to give her a hat and a ponytail. They decided never to let her out of the house except for school and for a nightly cigarette run and that was it; she couldn’t even mow the lawn.

In first grade, a peony grew after a boy tried to pull at her hair. It bloomed when Medusa’s mother took her discreetly to a salon and bribed the stylist not to say anything. The boy hit his head and the salonist cut off her finger.

The third peony grew in fourth grade, when some teachers tried to ask what exactly Medusa had done to get hair like that. By this point, Medusa’s parents had moved schools and made the new policy “People can know about the hair, but don’t tell them who your parents are and take an odd route home.” The peony grew and bloomed all in one go this time, and one of the teachers broke her nose a few days after.

The fourth peony was odd. It grew slowly and over time, beginning when Medusa’s parents decided to start ignoring her except to give her meals. It finally bloomed when Medusa’s mother cleaned her mouth out with soap for “making another one.” Nothing too drastic happened this time, but Medusa’s mother started leeching off of Medusa’s father’s cigarettes.

By the time Medusa got to middle school, her face half hidden, the mysterious, hairless, parentless Medusa had a reputation for mayhem. People avoided her in hallways.

“Don’ go near that one, even if she do got weird hair. My cous’ from the north side said she’s cursed. Gives people bad luck. Talk to her today, you’ll be face-down with your own hand up your rear end by Friday.”

“I heard she does it, you know? Catches people walking home, plans out an attack, jumps ‘em?”

“How come nobody said anything like that, then?”

“She has flowers on her head. Who knows what she could do with ours?”

Medusa’s report card came back with 70s. She peeked at other people’s quizzes; they had all the same stuff, she thought, but a higher score. She figured there must be some reason. How couldn’t there be?

Seventh grade gave her the fifth flower.

Noticing the pattern, her parents soon began blaming anything unlucky that happened to them on Medusa. If they lost a client, it was the peonies. If they got lost, it was the peonies. If the lighter didn’t work, Medusa was shouted at until she could make it work.

One day, a fifteen-year-old Medusa, whose jaw-dropping beauty was now starting to bloom and who now had a full, huge head of leafy hair, entered the living room.

She coughed. She coughed again. She stomped her foot.

“What is it??” shouted her father, not looking up from his paper.

“I needa go outside.”

“Why, so you can snitch about us to everyone?”

“Mm-mm. I need sunlight.”

“What kind of girl needs sunlight if she ain’t pretty?”

“I don’t need it. The flowers do. And water, too. They’re turnin’ a swampy colour at the stems.” Her father finally looked up.

“You think I’m gonna help those… those things on your head? And do you see any other kids beggin’ for sunlight for their hair?”

Medusa stomped. “Well, they don’ have flowers for hair, do they!?!”

Her father sighed and looked back at his paper. “You’re the one with the hair. If you really want the peonies to stop dying, then just… havem get better.”

That night, Medusa bought extras on the cigarette run. When she got home, she smoked for the first time. She didn’t get water or sunlight. Maybe something else – anything else – would help. She burned through her first pack in a month, the second in half that time; she didn’t even notice the sixth flower until someone pointed it out to her.

The seventh flower was unexpected. She was in 11th grade; she’d had no new flowers for a while, though the six existing ones had grown fatter and prettier and the wilted stems swampier and the bushy leaves bushier and her face and body more beautiful.

She didn’t remember much of it. Her father had just gotten a new sports car. He’d crashed it in the morning and had spent until late at night at the insurance agency and the mechanic. He came home with a drunk look in one eye and an evil look the other. It was raining fiercely outside, the wind howling in anguish. The man lifted a dripping hand and pointed down the hall.

“You. Girl. You did this. You and your flow’rs.”

And then he punched her. He grabbed her by the thin, unfed arm and pulled her into the bathroom. The bright white light burned into Medusa’s tired brain.

“Well, guess what girl? It’s all goin’! The flow’rs, the leaves, even the real hair that doesn’t grow! I’m sick of this!”

How somebody could chop off their own hand with just a pair of scissors, none of them knew, but clearly it was possible. Once Medusa’s father got out of the hospital, he went home, got his things, and stormed away, never to set foot in the town again.

Whether the seventh flower grew before or after the hospital, Medusa didn’t know, but either would have worked. 
The Lady of Manchester square - Alixandra Jade Artist - Instagrammable Walls of Edmonton
Artist Alixandra Jade in front of The Lady of Manchester Square. (@alixandrajade)

Marcus’ explanation of allegory in his story:

My story is a metaphor for how we deal with mental health “issues” within our society, though obviously in an extreme way (though not too long ago, it unfortunately would have been pretty accurate). It shows how when people ignore or mistreat or try to “correct” people with extreme mental health “issues,” especially when that person is still developing, all it does is reinforce those “issues” and they become more powerful in the person’s mind (e.g. when Medusa’s parents ignore her to try and get rid of the flowers, it just makes them grow), and can cause that person to accidentally hurt those around them, and/or become a scapegoat. In reality, the best thing to do is to emotionally support these people and to make available the proper medical help (the water and sunlight) rather than just trying to get rid of the “problem.”

For a long time, mental health “issues” weren’t seen as serious as physical disabilities because the idea was that, ‘it’s in their mind! They can fix it, just will it away!”’This misconception is shown in the story.

The point of the story is that, while the flowers are something Medusa has to struggle with, and which do make things harder for her, they don’t subtract anything from her inherent value; she’s as much a person as anyone, and the flowers don’t make her worth less than the people around her. It’s simply a neutral quality of her that she can’t avoid, like having a physical disability or being born ugly; it makes it harder for her, sure, but not impossible; she should still try. The problem is no one even lets her try. The problem is she’s treated as less than equal by everyone around her, which reinforces the idea in her own mind that she is beneath everyone else and it’s better for everyone if she just stays away. Note that the bad luck curses given by the flowers only occur when Medusa or the flowers are threatened; it’s not Medusa’s fault, it’s the fault of the aggressors themselves.

I was going to have a part at the end where, as an adult, Medusa is walking along the street and a stranger does something nice for her. Just a small thing, just treats her like the normal person that she truly is, but doesn’t think she is. Then, a blue flower was going to grow, more beautiful than all the others. Maybe the nice person would’ve had some good luck. I ran out of time, though. And I’m pretty sure I like the story how it is. 

– Marcus Kostelecky

The Lady of Manchester Square - Alexandra Jade Art - Explore Edmonton - Instagrammable Wall - Walk Tour Short Story - Creative Writing
The Lady of Manchester Square, by Alixandra Jade Art.

I was SO impressed with Marcus’ story! Can you believe he’s only 13-years-old? Wow. 

If you’re curious, the writing prompts given for The Lady of Manchester Square Wall were:

  • Write about The Lady of Manchester Square.
  • Who was she? What’s her personality?
  • Does she love peonies? What is her relationship with flowers and butterflies
  • With the Square itself? Is this her home?
  • Does she work here? Does she walk by on her way home?
  • Is she trapped? Is she free?
  • Is she loved? Is she lonely?
  • What do you feel when you look into her eyes?
  • How does she make others feel?

Thank you to Marcus for writing this amazing Instagrammable Wall-inspired story, and giving me permission to share it with others. He is clearly a talented writer and I can’t wait to see what else he creates! 

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