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.
The Lollipop Woman ( Story 4)
‘Good morning, Sophie, Savannah, how are you today?’ Paula greeted the children with her warm caring smile.
‘Hi, Paula.’ ‘Hello, Paula.’ Good morning, Paula.’ The chorus of greetings took place each school morning from those who waited to cross the road. Their lollipop lady was a friend and a trusting adult to many of the children. Never late and always with a smile, Paula saw the children and their guardians safely across the road. The weather this morning was pleasant. Paula left her heavy rainproof coat in her car, and slipped on her sleeveless hi-vis jacket. Thank goodness its Friday she thought. Her legs weren’t as strong as when she started this job eighteen years ago. Plus her arms grew weary from lifting the large lollipop-like stick to halt the traffic. How many children had she seen through the years start school and finish it?
Never did she think when she took up the position that she would still be here, morning and afternoon to help them to cross the road. She had her favourites of course. The shy little ones at the beginning of the school year, not knowing what to expect behind those big grey gates. She hoped her friendly smile and encouraging words as they held their parents or grandparents hands tight when they crossed the words made the day easier. By the end of the school year, those little ones would skip across themselves, waving confidently back to their Mums and Dads, or whoever dropped them off.
The pupils were polite, it was often the parents who would grunt or mumble in greetings. Some looked down at Paula, she was only a lollipop-woman after all. They had real jobs to get to. To many she was invisible. This was what led her to the side-line job she held for the last few years. Children talk, they babble, they share, they are innocent and blameless she believed but also useful.
‘You seem to like the horses?’ The deep voice flowed over her shoulder from behind. The noise from the television screens in the betting office died away as Paula swivelled on her seat and saw Mick, a local ne’er do well with a deserved dodgy reputation smirking at her.
‘My friends tell me you are here most days between your, ahem, shifts’, his grin revealing missing bottom teeth.
‘Mick, what is it you want?’
‘I’ve a proposition for you. A little bird told me you need some roof repairs and some general maintenance on your home now for a while.’
‘I might do. Since when was that your business?’ Paula looked around to see who was listening, but no-one was taking any notice. They were all too busy praying to see the horse they’d backed cross the finish line first.
‘Well maybe I can help you out. I’ve a proposition for you. Call it a little part-time work if you wish.’ Mick smiled once more.
He really was ugly, she thought.
‘Morning kids, how are you all doing?’ Paula greeted the children as they crossed the road. Her lollipop stick by her side.
‘Hi, Paula. We’re going on holiday’s next week Mam said.’ Small Tommy jumped with excitement while skipping across the road. His Mum following on and laughing.
‘That will be nice.’
‘Yeah and Susie’s going to the seaside to her Nana’s,’ Tommy chirped as he reached the school gates.
Mick smiled and took notes. The betting office was busy, people in and out, shouts of encouragement at the screens filled the room. He pulled an envelope from his jacket pocket and handed it to Paula.
‘You’ve done well. Keep it up.’
Her hand shook as she placed the envelope of money into her bag. The repairs were almost done on her roof. She hated what she was doing, good families returning home to find their homes broken into.
‘No more after next month, okay, Mick.’
‘I’ll decide that, Paula. You keep asking those kids questions and keep the info coming this way.’ Mick turned and walked away.
Paula followed him out. ‘Hey you, I could go to the Guards, or leave an anonymous tip-off.’
‘Listen to yourself. You know if you do anything stupid, well it won’t be your new roof that will need repairing.’ His laugh carried back to her as he strode down the street.
She shook with worry. What had she done? Those parents trusted her with their kids. They gave her presents at the end of term. Some she knew so well, they had become friends, inviting her to weddings. This had to stop and since she was guilty by association as she saw it, she would report her part in it. To hell with Mick. He couldn’t and wouldn’t frighten her. That evening, she texted him her intentions, let’s see how he would like that, she mumbled as she turned off her telly and went to fill a hot-water bottle. The nights were chilly now that they were drawing in.
A knock at her door woke her. Who could it be at this hour?
‘Where’s Paula?’ ‘Who are you?’ the children bombarded the new lollipop person with questions.
‘Paula is not well at present. She will be back though once she’s better.’
The school and parents association sent bouquets to the hospital. The children made get-well cards. The school gates were a buzz with Paula’s accident at home. Breaking her arm meant she would not be back to work for a while. How unlucky she was falling down her stairs.
First Day, New Friends (Story 3)
Eoghan grabbed his Mammy’s hand tightly. His new shoes hurt, he didn’t like them at all. They were hard and black, he really wanted to wear his runners with the glowing lights when you jumped. They were cool. Looking over his shoulder, he saw his Dad following them. He was talking to another man and they were laughing. Bet it’s about soccer, Eoghan thought. That’s all his Dad ever talked about.
“Alright, pet? Nearly there now. It’s exciting isn’t it?” his Mam smiled at him. She was worried though, he could tell by the pretend happy voice she used. He gripped her hand more and kept his head down. School. Why did he have to go? Everyone goes his brother said, its fun he added when they saw their Mam was listening. If it’s so much fun why did his brother and sister moan about homework and horrible teachers?
The bright yellow building came into view. Pink railings surrounded the play-yard and blue benches were scattered about too. Children were everywhere. How would he know where to go? He would need his Mam to show him each morning. Pity, his siblings were in big school. He would have liked to have them here with him.
“It’s a bit noisy isn’t it, Eoghan, but that means lots of new friends to play with.” Mam used her pretend happy voice again.
A loud siren went off, Eoghan jumped with fright, was that the school bell? He pulled his hand from his mother and covered his ears. Turning quickly he ran back to his Dad and grabbed him.
“Hey, what’s up, champ?” His dad lifted him and gave him a hug. “Nervous, are you? That’s okay, son. Everyone is nervous on their first day. I was too.”
“You were? But Dad, you’re brave.” The little boy stared into his Dad’s eyes.
“Not all the time, Eoghan. Sometimes people pretend they’re brave but they’re often scared. And that’s okay.”
Eoghan squirmed down from his father’s arms. His Mum was waiting for him by the gate. Other mothers were talking to her and they were all wiping their eyes.
“Is Mam crying?” Eoghan whispered to his father.
“She might be.”
“Why? She’s not starting school, why is she sad?” Eoghan walked along, watching his Mam and the other women laughing while still wiping away tears.
“Ah, Eoghan, who know how the minds of women work!”
“But Dad, I don’t want Mam to be sad.” He ran up to his mother and tugged her jacket.
“Eoghan, are you ready to go in, sweetheart?” His Mam smiled but her eyes were wet.
“I’m not going in. I’m staying home with you. You’re sad.” Eoghan stood straight, his feet planted firmly on the path, ignoring the pushing and shoving of the other children going into the yard.
“Oh pet, you must go to school. I’m not sad because of that. It’s Mammy being silly, that’s all.”
“But you’re crying!” he protested in his loudest voice.
“Only because you are my baby boy, and now all my children are going to school. When you’re a bit older it will make sense.” She ruffled his hair and put out her hand to him.
His Dad was now standing beside them. He put his hand out too towards Eoghan. Taking his parents hands in his, he went through the school gates.
“Hello, who have we here?” A lady in a green dress smiled at Eoghan.
“This is Eoghan. Our baby starting off today,” His mother’s voice was squeaky.
“Hello, Eoghan, I’m Ms. Crawford. Will I bring you to see your new classroom?”
Eoghan shook his head, no, he wasn’t going anywhere with this woman. She spoke to his parents in a whisper and he looked up at his Dad. His father winked at him and patted Eoghan’s head. “It is okay, son, off you go with your teacher. Mam and I will be waiting for you at the gates.”
Taking his schoolbag from his Dad, Eoghan followed the woman. He turned and saw his parents waving, Mam was dabbing her eyes. He dropped his bag and ran back to hug her. Scooping him up in her arms, his Mam kissed him and hugged him tightly.
“I’ll be here, Eoghan and you can tell me all what happened when it’s over.” Taking him by the hand, she went over to the teacher and waved him goodbye.
Inside in the classroom, the children were running and playing with toys. He saw a huge dinosaur in a corner, a big T-Rex.
“Would you like to play with the dinosaur, Eoghan?” The teacher was bending down to talk to him. He nodded.
“My name is Evan, can I play dinosaurs with you?” A boy asked Eoghan as he twirled a stegasaurus in the air.
“Ok. My name is Eoghan”
“We are going to be best friends, Eoghan. My Mammy said that school is full of new friends.”
“My Daddy said no-one knows how women’s minds work.” Eoghan and Evan looked around the colourful classroom.
“Maybe we will learn that in school,” Evan spoke in wonderment.
“Let’s play first,” Eoghan replied to his new best friend.
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.