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My name is Marnie Miller.

"My name is Marnie Miller." Marnie repeated her name, grinding out sounds with exaggerated slowness as she looked in her dressing table mirror. Her lips clamped tight on the Ms and stretched wide at the Y sound. She said the words faster, taking deep breaths at each interval. Her eyes were serious. A bead of perspiration stood out at the edge of her bangs.

Downstairs a door opened, and Marnie heard a voice talking to her mother. Then cowboy boots made thumping noises on the stairs. Marnie's friend Kendra burst into the room and flopped on the bed. Kendra popped her gum and asked, "Practicing for the drama tryouts?"

"You know I can't be in the play," said Marnie. "I'm doing my daily exercise for speech therapy." She sighed. "As if it does me any good."

"Mmm," said Kendra. "I thought I heard Mrs. Logan asking you to try out. She never asked me."

"I'm not going to," said Marnie. "If I got a part, the whole seventh grade would be laughing at me. Can't you hear me up on the stage stammering every line?"

Kendra popped another bubble and stretched out on the bed. "How come you never stammer when we talk?"

"Because I don't get nervous when we talk." Marnie smiled at her friend. "Sometimes, though, I do start to stammer, and then I think of another word to use. I pick one that doesn't bother me, like one that begins with a vowel instead of a consonant."

Kendra's eyebrows shot up. "Really? You have to think about vowels and consonants?"

"Yes," said Marnie. "Especially Ms. Always Ms. And my name begins with Ms!"

Kendra stopped chewing for a minute. She sat up. "I heard Chip Thatcher is going to get the lead role. Lucky Jencie. If you don't try out, she'll play opposite him for sure."

Marnie was running a comb through her long hair and gave it an extra yank at the sound of Chip's name. Chip! Yes, he would be picked for the lead. Anger and embarrassment burned inside her as she thought about what Chip had said to her in the hall. "Why don't you try out for the play, Marnie?" he had asked, leaning close to her face. "You'd be simply m-m-marvelous." Then he ran off to join his friends. Their laughter echoed down the hall.

"It's not fair!" Marnie burst out, and slammed her comb down on the dressing table.

"Quiet on the set!" said Mrs. Logan, clapping her hands in loud bursts. "Places everyone. Jencie, turn your chair slightly so the audience can hear your words. Chip, walk all the way to the chalked X. You're stopping too close to the table. And for heaven's sake, don't drum your fingers on the tabletop."

Chip grinned. "Just nervous, I guess. It's dress rehearsal, and I still can't get my lines straight. But," he added shyly, "Marnie's going to handle the rough spots for me, aren't you, Marn?"

"You'll have to help yourself in tight moments, Chip. Marnie is a good prompter, but only you can memorize your lines," chided Mrs. Logan.

Marnie rattled her copy of the script and shuffled her feet. She wanted to spit a response at Chip but thought she might stumble over the words. Why had she let Mrs. Logan talk her into being prompter? Chip and Jencie didn't know their lines perfectly, and so far she had prompted them fairly well. By masking her voice in a hoarse stage whisper, she found she didn't stammer as much. But if Chip messed up his lines during the real performance, he would blame her, especially if she couldn't cue him quickly. A tiny splinter of fear stuck in her throat.

By the night of the play, Marnie's splinter of fear had grown into a large wedge lodged in the back of her mouth. It was the same wedge her therapist gave her exercises to dislodge. But breathing deeply and repeating phrases slowly didn't always help her. Her palms stuck to the rumpled script. "You'd better not expect help from me!" she muttered to Chip and Jencie, who were talking and laughing in the wings.

The curtain opened with a grand swoosh as Kendra pulled the ropes. Jencie walked onstage and began her opening lines. Chip observed the chalk marks and kept his fingers off the stage furniture. Marnie sat on her prompter's chair, a small light clipped to a shelf above her script. Her eyes were on the pages, but her ears listened to the actors' voices. One stumble, one hesitation from them, and she must quickly throw out a line. Her throat tightened. Maybe she wouldn't be able to say the words.

Chip stumbled first. Marnie saw his fingers drum on the side of his pants. She looked at the script and found the line. "That's not what I told you. Don't you remember?" she croaked out. Chip's voice took up the line as smooth as silk.

Jencie was next, and her anxious face turned slightly toward Marnie for help. Marnie looked at the line: Many a modern man has failed that test. It began with an M! Her lips trembled and froze. "M-m-m," she began.

Jencie's face grew tense. Please help me, her eyes pleaded.

Marnie's heart was pounding. She could feel everyone staring at her. "M-m-m ... any a m-m ... odern man has failed that test," she whispered, and she heard Jencie pick up the cue.

Marnie's relief did not last long. Jencie was stuck again. Marnie was determined to say the next line without hesitating. She delivered the words slowly and clearly, "I question his motives." Jencie's eyes reflected her thanks.

It was the last scene of the last act, and Marnie realized Chip was in trouble. If he fluffed his lines now, the whole effect of the surprise ending would be ruined. I wish I hadn't agreed to be prompter, Marnie said to herself for the hundredth time that evening. Her throat was tight, and her stomach ached.

Chip stopped. He couldn't remember his next line. Marnie studied the script, and the line popped out at her: Manage that? Most certainly! More Ms! She tried to whisper the sentence, but her lips clamped shut. She clenched her fists. The stage was so quiet she could hear Kendra pop a bubble over in the corner. She had to do something or her stammering would spoil the entire ending. She took a deep breath and forced the words out. "Manage that? Most certainly!" she heard herself say. Chip delivered the line with such smoothness that the audience must have thought his pause was planned.

After several curtain calls, the cast gathered backstage. Mrs. Logan congratulated Marnie. "You did a fine job, Marnie."

"But I--" Marnie started to say.

"In our next play, I want you to have a speaking part."

"Well, I--"

Jencie and Kendra were at her side. "Thanks, Marnie," said Jencie. "I went completely blank. You saved me." Marnie felt warm inside.

Kendra nodded approval. Then she whispered in Marnie's ear, "And so many Ms!"

Chip appeared out of the shadows with one of his friends. He wasn't acting smart now. "What a dummy I was! Without your help I would have blown the ending." He put his hand on Marnie's shoulder. "Thanks, Marn. You were ... were...."

"Simply marvelous?" she suggested. She saw his eyes drop.

Kendra spoke up. "Marnie's going to have a speaking part in our next play."

Chip looked at her appraisingly. "Oh, yeah?"

Marnie squared her shoulders and met his gaze, her hands on her hips. "Manage that?" she said. "Most certainly!" And she knew she could.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Benjamin Franklin Literary & Medical Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Tezer, Phyllis
Publication:Children's Digest
Article Type:Short story
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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