Even before she knew what her name meant Jennifer wanted a white world. On her sixth birthday party her mother dressed her in a beautiful snowy organza frock with little cherries embroidered on the bodice. She hadn’t liked the cherries. They seemed to spoil the pristine whiteness of the delicate fabric, the dainty lace edgings and tucking. All through the party, Jennifer kept glancing at those red cherries like blood over her heart, trying to pluck them away. In the end she found a pair of scissors in a kitchen drawer and cut them off. Her mother’s fury and dismay didn’t move her. She stared at her mother impassive and undeterred.
‘I don’t like the blood,’ she said.
‘Why is your bedroom all white, Jen?’ asked her new friend Stella one day, staring at the pale walls and furniture, the coverlets on the bed, the lacy, billowing white curtains over the windows. ‘Even your cuddly toys.’ She picked up a fluffy white polar bear and poked at the array of snowy owls on Jennifer’s neat bed.
Jennifer looked up. She was sorting out her CD’s and put on White Stripes as she considered the question. Why should her room seem odd to her friend? Why did it always seem odd to everyone when it was just the way she wanted it.
‘I like it like this. Don’t you like it?’
Stella shivered a little, ‘I’m not sure. It’s sort of strange and…cold. Don’t you find it boring? Wouldn’t you rather have pink?’
‘Pink!’ Jennifer shuddered. ‘As if! I hate that colour, hate red especially. Hate it!’
‘How can you hate a colour?’ Privately Stella felt Jennifer was a bit weird and scary. ‘You always dress in white, too,’ she remarked, ‘like you were always a bride.’
‘It’s not so strange. Young girls always dressed in white in the old days. I love it, it’s pure and bright. You see, Stella, my Dad told me that my name is the English way of saying Gwenhwyfar or Guinevere. It’s an ancient Welsh name and it means White Enchantress or White Ghost. And when anyone saw her ghost and it looked them in the eye…they died.’
‘That’s a spooky idea, Jen! Seriously.’ Stella was shocked.
Later she recounted her visit to another friend and they both agreed that Jennifer Hatton was freaky and as ghostly looking as her name. The pallid milkiness of her skin, pale cascade of blonde hair and white clothes gained her the nickname of ‘The Ghost Girl’.
‘You’re an albino, you are,’ one boy called out at her as she walked past him at the school gate.’ You’re fuckin’ weird, Jennifer Hatton!’
Emboldened, other boys chorused their own disapproval and the taunts began. Some of the girls began to join in as well.
Jennifer swivelled round and fixed them with her startling blue eyes. She was no albino. Pure and white – but not an albino. She didn’t say a word, just gazed at the boy who had first taunted her. His smile fled and he dropped his eyes. He almost felt afraid and his reaction made the others silent too. They stared at Jennifer and she stared back at them, turned on her heel and walked away. After this she was left alone.
‘Could you take these documents down to the strong room, Jennifer?’
Jennifer was just packing up at the end of a long and tiring day and about to go and fetch her jacket. She sighed a little at this request and looked up at her boss almost beseechingly.
‘Can’t I do that tomorrow, Mr Thomas?’
Andy Thomas had never looked closely into the girl’s eyes till now. They were such a vivid blue, almost unreal, as if she wore blue-tinted lenses. Perhaps she did, perhaps the streaming blonde hair was dyed and unreal like the hair colour of so many modern girls. But somehow he didn’t think so. She was almost colourless and always wore white which made her look even paler. He’d not really noticed this oddity before and wondered about it. An affectation? A strange one. Most young girls seemed to prefer black, the Goth look. It was odd the feelings of tenderness this girl aroused in him. He’d never experienced this before. His first wife, another lawyer, had been more like an Amazon, controlling, seldom at home, unwilling to have children as they might ruin her career and perfect figure. The marriage had soon ended.
‘I’m sorry, my dear, you look tired. I’ll lock them in my safe,’ Andy said gently. There was something about Jennifer that needed protection. His latent romantic nature was stirred by her pale, otherworldly beauty. Andy had always cared about other people and wanted to help them find justice and right their wrongs which is why he had decided to go for the law. In his imagination, he saw himself as Jennifer’s saviour who could protect her from a harsh, unfeeling world. The truth was he was also fascinated by her, wondering what went on in her head. She seemed dreamy, gentle and somehow quixotic as if she came from a by-gone age. Despite her frailty she was a very good receptionist, polite, efficient, careful.
There was something interesting about Andy Thomas too. Although only in his mid-thirties, his thick mop of hair was prematurely white. It was a family thing; his father had gone the same way and his younger brother was already showing signs of grey. If anything, it made Andy more attractive and dignified as suited a man in his position.
Jennifer often glanced at him as he went by and felt that he was just perfect. The man for her. She loved to listen to his voice when he came out of his office, chatting amicably to his clients and personally ushering them to the door. He had such a beautiful voice, rich, cultured, pleasing and his attitude towards others was always courteous and kindly, his bearing confident. When he passed her by he would smile at her and nod. At first, she was too shy to say anything and would half-smile before casting her eyes back to the computer screen. However, as time went on they discovered they had much in common despite an age gap of twelve years; the same values, the same concern for others and a desire to help make the world a better place.
They started dating one another and within a year decided to get married. She wanted a white wedding, of course, what else? Everyone, including the groom was asked to dress in white, the flowers were white, the limousine a white Rolls. Andy hoped that her peculiar addiction to all things white was some sort of youthful affectation that would eventually wear off with time. His parents found it very sinister and told him so.
‘We shall feel quite ridiculous dressed like that,’ said his mother,’you really should put your foot down, Andy, not allow this silly nonsense of Jennifer’s to go on.’
‘It’s harmless enough, Mum; she’ll grow out of it eventually. I don’t mind humouring her a bit. Don’t worry, she’ll forget about it, especially once we have kids. No time to think of being spotless with kids and they’ll rebel against it anyway.’
His mother looked at her son. She knew how much Andy wanted children and, if Jennifer was keen as well, perhaps it was only fair that he in turn would please her odd whims. She relented unwillingly to the nonsense of dressing in white at his wedding.
As the big day drew closer, Jennifer prayed for snow. That would be her perfect wedding. She planned it to the last degree then encountered a drawback in the form of her one close friend, a Chinese girl called Lisa.
Lisa was delighted to be a bridesmaid but not so happy at the idea of being dressed in white herself. ‘Bridesmaids are always in different colours, only the bride wears white,’ she argued, ‘anyway, white is unlucky colour for us Chinese, We wear it at funerals; it’s a symbol of death.’
‘I’ll let you wear a yellow ribbon round your waist, if you must,’ sighed Jennifer, ‘you can carry yellow flowers. Is that enough colour for you?’
‘I’ll wear red and have red flowers,’ said Lisa stubbornly, ‘ Red lucky for us. Red, or I won’t do it.’
Jennifer hesitated. She hated red with passion but she wanted Lisa to be her bridesmaid.
‘All right,’ she agreed, ‘red ribbons and red carnations.’
The stainlessness of the virginal snow, wrapping the church grounds in untrodden stillness, thrilled Jennifer as she walked through the lych gate. She regretted that the scene had been spoilt by shovelling a dark path to the church doorway but needs must. Jennifer looked around her at the lichen covered gravestones with their topping of snow, the heavy bowed down branches of yew and the carpeting of vivid brightness that layered the churchyard. If only everything could remain so unsullied and perfect in this world. She knew full well that life was anything but pure and innocent from her work in the office where she heard enough bickering and shouting between divorcees and read enough horrifying reports of court cases – it made her yearn all the more for her own life to be like her inner vision; the courtly knights of King Arthur and his Round Table, the dream of chivalry, honour and spiritual searching.
Andy was her knight, her Lancelot. She glowed with joy as she walked down the aisle towards him and he turned to greet her with a smile full of love.
When Jennifer began to feel constantly tired and sick she made an appointment with her doctor. She didn’t tell Andy her suspicions; it would be a lovely surprise. However, after the examination was finished the words she expected didn’t come. Instead the doctor looked grave.
‘I think I’ll send you for some tests.’ He looked carefully at some bruising on her arms, but said nothing more.
‘I’m not expecting a baby?’
‘No, my dear. But it’s wise to check all’s well as you’ve complained of constant tiredness. Just a routine blood check, that’s all.’
Jennifer was puzzled but agreed.
‘How long have you felt like this,’ he asked.
She considered,’ Well, I’ve always felt tired really. It’s just me. Never had a lot of energy. But the sickness thing made me think…well…I’ve been married a year now so we were hoping ...’
‘I know.’ His smile was sympathetic.
‘Is it anything bad?’
‘No, no, he assured her, ‘just a routine check.’
When they were given the diagnosis of leukaemia, Andy and Jennifer were stricken with grief. They clutched one another’s hands.
‘I wouldn’t have cared when I was younger,’ she said, ‘life seemed like a dream. It didn’t mean much to me and the world seemed a dangerous place, people so cruel and evil to one another. I felt I came to a dark place the moment I was born.’
He was shocked to hear her say this. ‘You should always care, life’s precious.’
‘Oh, I do care now. Now I’ve met you Andy. We’ve been so happy together. Just as I found happiness…’
She became thinner than ever, her body almost translucent and her skin like alabaster. To the end she persisted in wearing white garments. Andy hated to comply. He felt she was preparing a shroud. He wanted to put her in cheerful yellow, green or pink – but she would have none of it.
‘Andy,’ she whispered at the end, ‘Andy, I’m drowning in white blood cells. I’m drowning in white.’
He wondered again about this strange compulsion, the passion for all that was stainless and pure. Had it in some mysterious manner affected her physically? Turned her blood white? He bowed his head and wept silently as he bade goodbye to his beloved ‘White Lady.’
Whenever it snowed at the church where Jennifer had married, many people swore they saw her floating down the church aisle in her wedding dress, clutching a bouquet of white roses. And if she turned and stared straight into their eyes they knew someone, somewhere was about to die.