Summary of “Celia Behind Me” by Isabel Huggan

Celia Behind Me Isabel Huggan Summary
“Celia Behind Me” Summary

“Celia Behind Me” is a short story by Canadian writer Isabel Huggan that appeared in her 1984 collection The Elizabeth Stories, an eight story cycle featuring Elizabeth, the protagonist from this story. In it, Elizabeth remembers a significant day when she was nine. Her tenuous social status had been lost after her mother made her be nicer to Celia, the least popular girl in school. Her anger and despair pushed her to her breaking point. Here’s a summary of “Celia Behind Me”.

“Celia Behind Me” Summary

When Elizabeth was in public school at nine-years-old, Celia, a chubby, diabetic girl with thick glasses, lived up the street. She got teased by all her schoolmates. Elizabeth’s mother said she should be nice to Celia because she won’t live forever, but this seemed unfair because everyone dies.

With her short legs, Celia can’t keep up when the group who live on Brubacher street are walking home, and she whines for them to wait. Her mother dresses her in heavy clothes all year round. At recess she isn’t given a turn to skip; she can only hold the rope.

After Christmas, the five others from Brubacher street got meaner to Celia, teasing her and throwing snowballs at her as they walk home. One day, when Elizabeth gets home, her mother is at the kitchen window. She saw how they were behaving. She warns Elizabeth to be nicer to Celia and to tell the others to stop throwing snowballs at her. If she sees that again, she’ll spank Elizabeth in front of everyone.

Elizabeth knows her mother is serious. She cries and is sent to her room after supper to think. She hates Celia and despairs at having to stand up to everyone.

Elizabeth doesn’t do anything to Celia when they’re getting close to her place. She warns the others her mother will spank them all if she sees they’re not being nice to Celia.

Elizabeth is a bit chubby, wears glasses and cries easily. Her nickname is “Sucky” because she sucked her thumb in kindergarten. She knows that if it wasn’t for Celia, she would be the target of everyone’s abuse.

During a cold snap in March, everyone is bundled up as much as Celia. One day during afternoon recess, a bigger girl from Grade 4 takes out a chocolate bar and breaks it into bits. She hands out pieces, and Elizabeth approaches the fringe of the excitement cautiously. The girl gives the last bit in the foil to Celia, but she can’t eat it because of her diabetes. Elizabeth asks for it with a tear in her eye. The older girl takes the chocolate back and taunts both of them. The other kids join in. Elizabeth prays not to cry.

After school, the usual group is walking home with Celia trailing behind. They take the long way home, which includes a large pipe they slide down in leading to a field. They scrape a stick along the corrugated sides and yell bad words, which makes a nice echo.

Elizabeth is the second last to slide down the snowy slope. As she tries to catch up to the others, Celia calls out for her to wait and walk with her. She goes faster, not wanting to come out with Celia. When she emerges, the others chant for her to wait for Celia and call her “Sucky”.

Elizabeth knows what she has to do. She runs back to where Celia is and berates her, saying she could bash her head in, and that she’s going to die. She shakes Celia and bangs her head against the pipe. The other kids pull Elizabeth away, reprimanding her and threatening to tell.

Celia is on the ground hiccupping with fear. Elizabeth thinks Celia might be dying. She runs off, back toward the school. She sneaks inside and hides in a washroom cubicle. She’s horrified and thinks she might die. She soon hears her father and the janitor in the hallway. Her father takes her arm roughly and takes her home.

Both her parents spank her that night. Defending herself makes them more angry. They seem to spank her out of revenge for their shame rather than to change her behavior.

Celia doesn’t die, of course. The others helped her home. She got lots of attention. Her hat was dirty but her head wasn’t even bruised.

Celia readily forgives Elizabeth. Her mother lets her walk with Elizabeth again within weeks. Until Celia died at seventeen, Elizabeth never forgave her for making her discover her darkness.

I hope this summary of “Celia Behind Me” by Isabel Huggan.