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The International Writers Magazine - Our 23rd Year: Dreamscapes - From Our Archives

Déjà Vu
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...

Poinstown Grammar. 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 now."

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 who's here..."

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 in here."
"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 all."

© Carrie Anne Riddle Oct 2009

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