During this month when schools and colleges start back into a new educational year, I was delighted when my local newspaper, The Vale Star agreed to publish my flash fiction for this month. They also appear in The Weekly Observer, (their sister paper) and so are reaching a wide readership. I decided to share four stories calling the series, September Storytime, each one connected to school or college in some way. You can read all four here, each story is a perfect length to enjoy while taking a quick break from your busy day. They run to less than 1000 words each, so a short and sweet story. The first story, which was published last Thursday the 9th, follows. The others will be posted following their publication in the newspaper. So watch out for your September Storytime and remember to come back to read the others.
Silver Lining (Story 2)
Moira sat in the café. Around her were mothers chatting and laughing, little groups of two and three. She listened in to their conversations, smiling to herself at the snippets she heard – “Thank God the school is back, the lads were doing my head in.” “They should look at cutting the summer holidays, way too long.” “I agree. I missed this, having time to myself.” Are you heading in to Limerick later for some shopping?” “No, I’m going to Cork tomorrow, a new store opened, want to come?” “Great, I’ll skip Limerick so, catch up on the housework today.” And so it went on.
She too had said all those things, and now here she was going home to an empty house. Should she go over and tell those mothers to stop wishing their lives away? Would they listen? Had she when she heard others telling her the same thing 18 years ago? No, Moira had nodded and smiled politely and still yearned for her kids to grow up. Outside, she pulled her scarf around her neck, there was a slight chill in the September mornings, yet many held out for an Indian summer to help shorten the dark winter ahead. Slipping the key in to the front door she paused. It was the silence she dreaded. Each time she entered a cloak of loneliness crept around her.
Stepping inside Moira hesitated before removing her coat. Those women in the café had really wormed under her skin. Yet, they had a point. She, too, had longed for freedom, time for herself and now she had it. So what was she going to do with it?
A text interrupted her thoughts, a quick glance saw it was from Éamon. She knew by his lack of interest in going to the football games that he was missing the kids too, at least one of the children would usually be with him. Shaking off the self-pity from her shoulders, Moira went and got some paper and a pen. Now was the time to do all those things she said she was too busy for before.
Morning classes in the local education centre. Visits to galleries and museums. Meeting old friends for a chat. Decorating the house. Meals out with Éamon, a sneaky night away even. Her mood lifted, she grabbed her local paper and checked what was happening in the area. A play was opening in the local theatre tomorrow night. Without hesitating, she grabbed her phone. There, it was done! Tickets booked.
With a stronger step and a new perspective, Moira went from room to room. Definitely the house needed updating. A trip to the hardware this weekend for sure. It would be a project for both her and Éamon. With the kids under their feet and soccer, camogie, swimming filling their Saturday and Sundays for years, now they could finally do something together.
Her children were off doing their thing, the last one starting college the previous month. Maybe it was the empty nest syndrome all over again, with each one she felt it. The closed door to their bedroom, no shouting, music blaring, doors closing as they shouted ‘see you later’ going out and ‘when’s dinner?’ coming in. She smiled at the remembrance of the chaos they lived. But isn’t that was why she became a mother? She wanted the best for them. To raise them to become independent strong good people and they had. Eamon and she had given their time and energy during those years, now it was time to give it to themselves.
Those mothers in the café were doing their best. Like most parents, you only see the hard work your children are for the age they are at. Each stage bringing with it new challenges. Moira laughed out loud, what was she like? A wise old one knowing all the answers? She was only in her fifties, for goodness sake. Her phone pinged again. It was the eldest one. She tapped the screen to read the message.
Mum, home Sat morn. Have washing, need a lift to Jack’s gaff too x
Moira shook her head. Another thing for her to do, introduce the eldest to the washing machine and the bus timetable. Back in the kitchen she switched on the radio, turned it up and banished the silence.
School Gate Business (Story 1)
Ruth sat in her kitchen and listened to her new neighbour ramble on while sipping her much needed morning coffee. Their children could be heard shouting in the garden. Ruth had invited the woman in so they could get to know each other. School started next week and it was a kind thing to do.
“Would you agree?”
Ruth raised an eyebrow in surprise, ‘Would I agree to what?”
“To what I just said, about starting a school-parents’ text group?”
“Oh I’m in one. If one of us is late picking up our child or our child forgets homework, yeah, it is handy. Do you want to join?” Ruth smiled, warming to the woman, being neighbourly felt good.
“No, I meant a group for watching out for undesirables at the school gates.”
“But there’s never been a problem with such stuff. Did something happen where you lived before?” Ruth leaned in closer, licking her lips in anticipation of some gossip. She knew this new neighbour looked suspect when she saw them unloading the removal truck. No-one who has lime sofas and pink curtains can be run of the mill can they? But she decided to wait and get to know her first.
“No, no, I was just thinking out loud, forget it.” The neighbour twiddled with her hair and looked towards the garden, away from Ruth’s piercing gaze.
She’s hiding something, Ruth thought, confident that the neighbour’s uneasiness suggested a story. Straightening her shoulders Ruth spoke, her tone inviting, “Have you experienced something at your children’s old school that has upset you?” She placed a hand on the neighbours arm, her eyes sorrowful.
“Well there was an incident, I am trying to forget it, but it still upsets me.”
“You poor woman. Will it help to share? Is that why you moved here?” Ruth sipped her coffee. Her mug was empty. Damn it, just when the morning was becoming interesting. “Want more?” she held up the mug but the neighbour shook her head.
“My Paul says I’m not to torture myself. It’s over now.”
“But if it helps to talk…”
The neighbour looked around, was she checking to see who could overhear her, Ruth wondered. Then Ruth looked around too, they were alone. Of course we’re alone, we are in my kitchen she scolded herself. “Go on, if it’s not too difficult for you,” Ruth encouraged.
“At our last school, well, a parent, well she, she hung around the gates,” the neighbour halted and took a quick breath then continued, “She would give out her phone number.”
“Was she lonely? Selling drugs?” Ruth was baffled. This was the big reveal, a woman sharing her phone number?
“Lonely? Indeed not! She was selling alright, she was selling adult fun if you know what I mean…” the neighbour dropped her gaze, her right foot tapping the ground.
“Adult fun? Oh, oh I get you now. Did parents buy any?” Ruth was intrigued.
“Some, even staff and what made it worse was she was the parents’ rep on the board!”
Ruth’s laughing drowned the happy squealing of the kids playing outside. Her tummy hurt from the large gulps of air she took between laughs. The neighbour looked on in shock. “Sorry for laughing but it is rather, well, adults consenting. Is this why you moved because of her? That’s a bit of an over-reaction isn’t it?”
The neighbour stood up to go.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. How did they discover this mother’s hidden talent?”
“She approached my Paul. Imagine, my Paul, the poor man was mortified when the police called to our door to question him about his communications with her. Of course he was innocent. Poor man thought she was being a concerned parent texting him.”
She went and tapped on the window to her boys, “Time to go home.”
“He looks a very nice man from what I’ve seen.” Ruth replied gently hoping she came across sincere. Silence circled the kitchen, the children’s playing the only sound crushing the awkwardness that hung between the two women.
Turning from the kitchen window, Paul’s wife paled and struggled to get a breath. “You’ve been watching my Paul?” The new neighbour called again to her sons and raced to the front door of Ruth’s home. “I don’t think we can be friends. I’ll have to warn him about you, Ruth. It’s a curse having women chase after Paul.”
The front door slammed and Ruth sat in astonishment. Had she just been accused of eyeing up another man with lustful intentions? She refilled her coffee mug, wait until the girls in her school coffee group heard this. She would warn them about innocent Paul’s wandering eye too.
No more being late for school next week Ruth decided as she pulled out her phone to text the group.