The International Writers Magazine: School Days
They climbed on top of the hill, laid out the blanket. Annie put down the bag, pulled out the glasses, the bottles. Sarah looked down and saw the school, the bulldozers at the gates. Everything was still now and they couldn’t see any of the people moving yet.
“They don’t start until six. I think the headmaster’s making a speech for the newspaper before they get into it.” Annie sat crossed legged and patted the blanket for Sarah to sit next to her.
“You don’t want to go down there? Scared?” Sarah said, pulling up next to her. She started opening the bottle, arching her eyebrow.
“It’s a different head. Newman retired years ago. He terrified me. Made me cry over needlework. He was a bully.” Sarah handed the bottle over to Annie; let her work out the last part of the cork.
“Picked a good evening for it.” Sarah said as the cork popped. The sound echoed and they both looked round, as if they were going to get found out. They smiled looking at how guilty each of them looked.
“See, Newman’s given me a paranoia complex.” Sarah started to pour, first her glass, then Annie’s. “I thought it would be grey and murky when they tore down buildings, not a beautiful still sunset. Cheers.” They raised the glasses and drank. For a long moment the two of them sat resting on each other, looking from the bulldozers to the sun.
“You know, its ten years ago but it seems longer. I can’t even remember the names of most of our friends. Remember their faces, just not their names. Funny, huh?” Annie moved up, looked over. Sarah looked back, catching the sun as it turned.
“What about the boys you had crushes on? Or the bullies?” She said. She squeezed Annie’s leg and she closed her eyes and tilted to the sun for a second.
“Well the crushes were too numerous to mention, of course.” She said, her lips turning into a smile even as she tried to keep a straight face.
“Of course. Tart.” Sarah said, pinching her between her ribs, making her scream. They faced up close, made mock angry faces. Then Annie stooped under her neck and stayed there.
“The bullies…I’m not so sure. I mean I only really remember them as a group, you know? All melted into one blob. Can’t complain, not really. I got away lightly. They were pretty brutal with some of the other kids, I remember that.”
One of the bulldozers kicked into life for a second, the ball and chain swinging. Some of the crowd started to cheer and then boo when it stopped. The driver got out of the rig and raised his arm as the crowd cheered him.
“Denis. That’s who I remember. Denis. He was in our year. Denis Radley.” Annie moved over, poured another glass. She took Sarah’s and topped it up.
“God! Mad Denis. He was so creepy. Was he the crush or the bully?” Sarah said, taking back her glass.
“He was the victim. He was bullied every chance they got, poor bastard. No one lifted a finger, either, us included. Just let it all happen. Jesus. I remember he didn’t cry, not once, for the stuff they did to him. Took it all.”
“That’s sad. To be remembered for being a victim.” Sarah said. She put her hand over Annie’s but she didn’t look back.
“I used to have a spare notepad. Remember? My dad gave it to me because the teachers told him I made so many notes in class. But I never used it for that. In breaks or if a class was boring I used to write a story in it. Just one story with the same heroine in it and all the different adventures she got involved in. I used to love that book. Don’t even know where it is now. Huh.” She sipped her drink and looked back to Sarah.
“You never let me look in it. I got so mad sometimes. You always told me it had trig calculations and stuff in it, but I never believed you.” She said.
“I know…I guess I was embarrassed. So anyway, one day I was walking to gym and I had an idea; I reached into my bag for my notebook; bang! It was gone. I threw that thing down, emptied it out in the playground, but it was ‘sayonara see-ya’ gone. Remember that’s what we used to say when someone got beat in games? And I was already crying, even as I started putting things back in the bag. Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember half the things I put down in that book and I’d lost them. So I went to gym, got my ass kicked and made my way home. And then Denis pulled up beside me.” She reached for the bottle, emptied it into the glasses.
“He pulled up on his broken up bike, didn’t say a word. I never knew if the bike was just old or if it got smashed up by the gangs and whatever. So he pulled up and just handed me the notebook. Didn’t say where he’d found it, or when. Just handed it to me.”
“Maybe he stole it. Out of your bag.” Sarah said; she tried to smile it off, but it didn’t come off that way.
“I thought that later, but it wasn’t that. I just knew he’d just found it and was…looking after it for me. I knew he’d only give it back when there was no-one else around, like he didn’t want me to get …infected with his bad luck, or something. He just handed it to me and then cycled off. I didn’t even get the chance to say thanks.”
“It was a nice thing for him to do.” Sarah said. She rummaged for her cigarettes, and then gave up, wanting to hear the rest of the story.
“It was more than that, though. It was the first time anyone had acted selflessly. A gesture without looking to be thanked, you know? Outside my parents I’d never seen it, especially not in other kids; I thought it was just the invisible line you had to cross one day, someone whispered in your ear to be thoughtful or something and you acted accordingly. I don’t know.” The crowd below cheered, started doing a Mexican wave. It was getting close now.
“But that wasn’t the end of it. It was after you’d left for the holidays with your mum. See, about a week later there was a big deal. I got to school about five minutes before the bell did, like I always did, and all the teachers were outside in the playground. They’d cordoned off the main part of it, where the hopscotch and the hoops were. Everyone was trying to see why, but they’d looped round so no-one could get in. someone had broken in overnight, vandalised the playground.”
“So we all went in, after all the commotion and started lessons. And my second one was geography on the second floor. So I went and sat by the window in the second to back row like I always did. And I looked out after a while and there was the janitor and one of the other teachers with buckets of soapy water, scrubbing the concrete. I remember they scrubbed the chalk and the foam bubbled up bright purple. But they’d only just started, so I saw. It was my heroine, drawn all over the playground. See, I’d never made any sketches in the book or anything, but it was exactly how I thought she should look, right down to the eyelashes. It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. And I watched it die and when it was gone it was the saddest I felt for a long time. Even breaking up didn’t feel as bad as watching it that day. Apart from when my dad died I don’t know if I ever felt as sad as that day.”
“So he was in love with you? Denis Radley was in love with you.” Sarah said. Her eyes wide, like she was ten again.
“I don’t even know if he was.” Annie, shrugged, pushed out her lower lip.
“Come on, Annie! That’s probably the biggest romantic gesture I’ve ever heard of outside the movies!” She waved her hand, spilling wine over her knuckles as she did.
“Maybe. I think maybe he was in love with the heroine more, maybe.” A boy ran past ten foot in front of them, not looking anywhere, but just heads down running. What was he running from?
“Which was you, Annie! A superhero version of you.” Sarah said, tapping her knee, bringing her back from the boy.
“It was the girl I should have been. The girl who stopped the bullies. That’s probably why he liked it so much.” She said. Now she said it out loud at last, she knew it was true, that it couldn’t not be.
“Maybe. Or maybe he just liked the idea of someone being able to escape school, especially some poor bastard like Denis.” Sarah sat back, giving up on the argument now. She recognised the tone in Annie’s voice when she’d made up her mind about something, knew it wasn’t worth trying.
“Yeah…I don’t know.” Annie looked over, shrugged. The two of them smiled and then the cheering stopped. They both looked down, noticing the silence. They saw a figure of a man walk to the gates, holding a few pieces of paper.
“Here we go,” Sarah said, the two of them turning and facing the school. The sun had almost sunk now, and it was going to get dark soon.
“Here we go,” said Annie, looking past the man at the gates, to the school, the playground. She squinted, trying to make the concrete blur, to find some faint trace of chalk lines. But there was nothing. And then Sarah was unscrewing the top off the next bottle and the two began to guess what the speech was like, inserting their own jokes and gestures. And then they refilled their glasses and sat in silence for a long while, simply watching as the bulldozer keys turned over and the machines began to move forward towards the gates.
© chris castle March 2010
chriscastle76 at hotmail.com
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