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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes

Poppy’s lesson
Chris Castle
Eddie saw her coming, red and white jumper like an old fashioned sweet. Big red hoops earrings, jeans, hair tied back in a pony tail. What she always wore for her lesson.


She waved her hand. As she got closer. He lifted his. He opened the door, said good morning.
“Morning Mr. Marsden.” She said, her voice bubbling with her footsteps. She said, the way other people said first name. He nodded said her name as she climbed in.

They’d been practising for a couple of months now. Bad then as she was good now how he saw it. He waited until they were both strapped in before he told her.
“I think, I’ve decided, to put you in for your test, Poppy. After this lessons out the way.”
He was about to continue with the details, but she’d already began hollering. She made to kiss him on the cheek, snapped back with the belt.
“Ooof! Thank you Mr. Marsden. Eddie! Thanks so much!” She shook loose of the belt, straightened up.
“You’re welcome, Poppy. I have to say you’re the most improved student I think I’ve ever had.” It was true, too. He’d come back from work sometimes, explained to his bemused wife.
“I know! I was shit when I started, wasn’t I?” She said, put her hand to mouth, then started giggling, the noise spilling between her fingers. He started to smile, even as he tried to calm her down.
“Okay let’s get this out the way, then. Then we’ll run through it all after.” He managed to say, settling her. She nodded and they ran through the gentle set of procedures, climbing back into routine.

They turned left and immediately hit a traffic jam; the first time they’d hit one together. After a minute or two no one spoke and he turned the radio on, tried to get a report.
“Sounds like a bad one, Poppy. We should probably turn it round, reschedule.” He said, flicking the button off. He looked over, seeing the fizz run out of her expression.
“No, Mr. Marsden. It’s all right if we keep going. I’ll pay for it.” Her voice was quiet. “I mean, I’ll have to get my head round traffic jams soon enough, won’t I? If I pass…” she sparkled, came back to herself.
“When you pass, Poppy. I’ll tell you what; I’ll put this through as half price; call it extended learning.  More for us to learn, less for the tax man to take.”

They began to talk in the line. Poppy talked and Eddie listened, adding a little, answering her questions. He was happy for her to talk, weary of doing too much, of becoming over-familiar. They crept forward, nothing to be learnt but the feel of the car, the static the patience.
“It’s just seems like…bad luck to cancel, after good news, you know? Like a jinx or something.” She said out of nothing, explaining herself.
“You’d get on with my aunt. She reads tarot cards, tea leaves; all superstitions and fate and chance. The people who used to seek her out.” He whistled. “Longer than the traffic jam, sometimes, I swear.”
“Really? I don’t know if I’d like to get mine read. Imagine coming up short on a life line or something. God that would be horrible. I had a friend who did an Ouija board. Told her she was gonna die that year. Never did, but I remember thinking, after that, she looked older, like she was holding it or something. Brrr.” She shook, then lurched forward, ten and two.
“Relax Poppy. I think this lessons a non-judging one. She wrote it all down, my aunt. My mum found a book, journal, keeping records of it all. What she saw, thought she saw.”
“What did they say?” Poppy almost whispered.
“Nothing. Couldn’t read them handwriting was too poor. Mystery to everyone but herself.
Made sense I suppose, the symmetry of it. The secrets.”

He thought that too, how right it was to let secrets fade with the old lady, her own hand, unreadable.
“So what you made you want to be a driving instructor, then?” Poppy said. He could tell she was enjoying questioning him, letting him speak and finishing things out.
“It was just something that came up. I wanted to be a fireman really. I’ve got a heart murmur, kept me out of it.” He waved it away.
“What did it feel like? Does it feel like?” she said. She looked a little shy then, asking him something like that. It was strange, seeing her trying to be responsible.
“Nothing you can feel. Sometimes I wake up suddenly. I think I can hear it trembling but that’s just me. Nervous imagination.” He nodded. She nodded.
“There’s a space, Poppy.” He said.
“Shit! Sorry!” she edged forward a few feet.
“What about you then, Poppy? Why so keen to be behind the wheel? Even when you started, I could tell you wanted to tear across the line.”

It was true; her enthusiasm like sunlight, just needing to be directed into a single beam.
“I want to be able to drive all across the country, visit every city. I want to do it all in one go.” she nodded, and he knew she would do, too.
“I’ve been abroad a bit, but I think here’s beautiful. If you look hard enough, everywhere’s beautiful. Take round here; the river walk to the fountain. I went there last week, about six. The sun was setting and it was beautiful. And it could have been anywhere.” Someone honked their horn and they both shook their head.
“Like shouting at the rain.” He said.
“My brother was a bit like that, a bit of a lad. Always bombing around, getting into trouble. Gone the other way now. Christian! In a group and everything. Never did things in half. I know it’s good but I miss him the way he was sometimes, you know? Bad ain’t it?” she looked over, squinted.
“You see both sides in a family, don’t you?”  Someone shouted now, over the horns.
“So what about you, Mr. M? You and the wife doing much this summer?” there was a trail of smoke rising above them.
“Maybe…Laura liked her creature comforts, her security, surroundings. Hard to persuade her. I don’t mind. I’d like to not pay for the electric, get her away from the soaps for a fortnight.”
“I know!” said Poppy, jumping in her seat. “I don’t watch TV. Can’t stand it. Don’t get me wrong. I love renting films, going to the pictures, but… nothing wrong with it, just not for me."

They moved forward a few inches. He wound his window down.
“Thing is…my parents died, one then the other. Dad first, then mum. And I remember thinking, after, how much time we wasted sitting around the box, you know? All that time we could have been talking, that I could have found out about them and we just let it all slip away. Such a shame, when you think about it.” She followed him, wound her window down too. The breeze came through slowly, ran over both of them.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Poppy. About your parents.” He tried to imagine her mum and dad, who would have been the loud one, who would have reined her in.
“That’s alright, Mr. M. Thanks, though. I’ve got my brother and my sister too. She’s not changed, not one bit. She’s a brilliant mimic, my sister; not just famous people, but who we know, too. Sometimes, when I’m feeling down she’ll do my mum’s voice. I’ll ask her too…and it’s like she’s back here with me. I suppose that’s strange, but there you go.” She shrugged, smiled out into the traffic.
“Not silly. Lucky, I’d say.” He smiled over to her as she looked back.
“There you go! I like the way you think Mr. M. she’s a one, though; full of all this useless information she tells me; two million bags are lost in airports every, year. Why know that? But then, I think I was like that at school; always remembering all those facts in science and that; like photosynthesis and all that; never used it a day after I left school but I can remember it better than my mobile number? What’s all that about, eh? But then me and technology we never got on, Mr. M. Was at a beach once and everyone around me was looking down at a lap top; on the beach! Can you believe it?”
“People depend on things like that too much, don’t they? Can’t remember the last time I received a handwritten letter. Then again I don’t send them, so it works both ways, doesn’t it? Here we go.”

He saw a rise of dust, smoke as they turned the corner. A building was building demolished, the crane jutting out, slowing them all down. The crane swung round, tearing down the building, piece by piece. Half of it stood, the main chunk torn out, on its last legs.
“Beautiful, isn’t it, Mr. M? Sad I suppose, but beautiful too.” She said. He didn’t look round, knew she was looking same as him. And she was right. It was beautiful, how it jutted out, hung but didn’t fall. “Wonder if it was burnt out or is just getting torn down?”

They slowly edged round it, through the smoke and dust, onto the road as it cleared. They managed to keep going for the full hour, Poppy driving flawlessly. When they parked up they were both quiet, a little talked out from earlier. He looked over, smiled.
“There’s the date when you’re taking the test. An hour practise with me and then the test straight after. Any problems with the date, collides with anything, call me and we’ll work it out, okay?” he looked up, smiling at how attentive she was listening. “You’ll be fine, Poppy; just don’t let yourself get nervous, okay?”
“Yes, boss. I won’t let you down, Mr. M, trust me.” She did a goofy salute and started laughing. “I’ll miss our lessons, when they’re done.”
“I’ll miss them, too. Maybe I’ll see you about, between your travels…”
“I’ll write you a letter!” she said, her eyes lighting suddenly.
“And I’ll write you one back.” He said. They smiled, but he hoped it would happen like that. She climbed out of the car and he did too, walking round to the other side.
Before he got in, she hugged him again.
“That building getting torn down was amazing, wasn’t it? Lucky to see something like that. Good to share, too! Bye, Mr. M.” she let go, walked down the street. He waved her off as she walked up her steps. Then he got back in his car, pulled away, back home, smiling, resolving to find his writing pad and good pen when he got back tonight.

© Chris Castle June 2011
chriscastle76 at

What waits back home
Chris Castle

“Do they know where he is?” Marty asked. He looked around and saw Marie looking far off into the hills

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