International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Dreamscapes - From Our Archives
Carrie Anne Riddle
It's strange going back. Stranger still, that it happens to be exactly
twenty five years to the day since I left. I always swore I'd never
return. Same as I swore no child of mine would ever be forced to
set foot inside the place. To find themselves herded like cattle
along those black and white, life disinfected corridors, or prodded
like sheep into square, pristine pens. Grey skirt, white shirt,
strangulating tie. Classes A, B and C, sectioned off, branded, selected
and judged by their bleat. Yes sir, no sir, three bags full of brown
noses, rich in nuclear family waste...
The day before I left, I painted out three letters on the sign above
those gates, long since updated and replaced. An act of criminal vandalism,
they called it. Infantile and uncalled for. But to me the school was
'Poison', the pupils and teachers in it, Dr Crippens all. "Be a
good girl and do as we say. You'll feel so much better." But what
they really meant was crawl away and die...
They never understood why I rebelled. And Mum, poor Mum, didn't either.
"I only want what's best for you, love. There's not many round
here gets given the chances you do." And, of course, it was true.
None of the single mothers I knew would have made the sacrifices she
did, doing without to pay for their kid's education. But, blinded as
she was, in her quest to fashion the proverbial silk purse, she failed
to recognise the material she was working with, deemed as inappropriate
tat by those with the means to buy from designer boutiques, would never
make the grade, no matter how great her effort.
My accent was wrong, they said. My mannerisms, common. My shoes and
bag, so obviously cheap. "Elocution's a sign of intelligence, don't
you know? What good's a brain under imperfect hair? And, naturally,
when one is judged by the company one keeps, one can't possibly be seen
with the likes of you."
Shunned by my fellow pupils, it wasn't long before I gave up my studies
in favour of more pleasurable pursuits. Breaking Mum's rules at every
opportunity, I began hanging out with a gang of kids from the local
comp, smoking, drinking, picking fights with every smart assed, blazer
wearing geek who happened to pass our way. Indeed there was one girl
in particular, whose hair wasn't anywhere near so perfect by the time
we'd sorted her out with a brand new style.
"You're on your final warning, girl," raged young Mr Renton,
my housemaster and deputy head. "Any more such unruly, abusive
behaviour, either in school or out, and you'll be clearing out your
locker for good. In fact, if it wasn't for your victim and her parents'
good grace, together with your mother's assurance that nothing like
this will ever happen again, you'd be headed through those doors right
Promises, promises, I thought, apologising only to save any further
agro from Mum, whilst despising myself for not making the stand I'd
intended. Yet, that night, despite being grounded, and egged on by my
gang, I returned to the school, scaling the railings and joyfully wrecking
the sign. I set light to my books in the playground and would have tried
to burn down the school, had someone not spotted us first.
"Well, if you're going to be expelled," said my mate, Sharley.
"You might as well do it in style. How's about getting a tattoo?"
We spent the rest of that evening down at her brother, Wayne's. One
of the local bikers, and a craftsman in his own right, he didn't care
that I was underage. If I had the means to pay him - and he made it
quite clear that was in any form at all - he'd do as I wished. Settling,
in the finish, for sixty cigarettes and a bottle of booze stolen from
one of the gang members' homes, he set to work. It was a long uncomfortable
process, but the end result was well worth the pain, if only to see
the look on Renton's face the next morning when I gave him the middle
finger, complete with a picture of a flame-breathing Satan and the words
'Poison Grammer Burn In Hell', tatooed on my wrist...
Twenty five years to the day...
"Looks lovely, Mum. Doesn't it? Far nicer than that run down old
comp. Mr Renton's said to be a great headmaster too. Really tough on
bullying. Been here for years. Oh, you must remember him, Mum. Gran
said you attended this school for a while... Mum..?
"What, Marcie? Yes, sorry, I was miles away." I smile at my
daughter, her beautiful face lighting up as we walk through the gates.
Bright, intelligent, a popular member of the various organisations she
attends, somehow I can't ever imagine her being like me - and yet, if
the kids at the comp had their way, I know she'd go under, for sure.
They're jealous, she says. None of those who pick on her go to drama
or ballet and because she does, they call her a snob... And worse.
"Give them a chance," I told her, "Everyone can't be
the same." But the day I caught her playing truant, I knew I couldn't
ignore her pleading for long.
In through the doors, along the colourful corridors; grey trousers,
white shirts and proudly loosened ties.
"Marcie!" a girl cries, leaping towards my daughter and hugging
her tight. "Are you coming to join us after all? Hey, Chris, look
Before long, Marcie's surrounded. No sniping, no fighting, just a fifteen
strong, friendship fuelled, laughter filled embrace. I don't know why
I look away. Embarrased perhaps, though curious too as to how much has
changed while somehow staying the same.
I gaze towards the classroom doors, the clock on the wall, hands pointing
to nine. I hear the bell and see a face I remember. Twenty five years
to the day - and here we are again.
"Ah, you must be Marcie's mother. Pleased to meet you. I'm Dave
Renton, headmaster. My grand-daughter, Jayne, goes to ballet with Marcie,
I believe. Lovely girl, so I'm told. Should have no trouble at all fitting
"Nice of you to say so, Mr Renton. And pleased to meet you too."
Outstretched hands and smiles.
He glances at my wrist. The tattoo's long gone, but the scar tissue
remains. A moment's hesitation, half-recognition on his part, perhaps?
I'm not sure.
"I'm sorry," he says. "And I hope you don't mind me asking,
but do I know you? It's just that your face seems a little familiar."
I'm tempted to tell him, I really am. But looking at Marcie, I can't.
"No?" He shakes his head. "Must be a sign of age, or
déjà vu or something. Anyway, sorry. Now if you'll follow
me, we should have Marcie's enrollment sorted in no time. No time at
© Carrie Anne Riddle Oct 2009
stories in Dreamscapes
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