Tag Archives: The Woman Who Walked To School

Friday Fiction: Final part of the award-winning story, ‘The Woman Who Walked To School’

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s the 3rd and final part of a short story I have written, called The Woman Who Walked To School

 

 **STOP PRESS: Last Friday this short story was awarded the runner-up prize in the Wotton Arts & Literature Festival**

The woman who walked to school  (Part Three – final)

 

For the next week, Margaret felt as if she were floating like one of those maxi dresses in the breeze.  While she couldn’t bring herself to stand and have a full conversation with the glamorous group, on Tuesday, she did manage to smile at them. On Wednesday, she looked in the mirror and reached for the hairbrush. On Thursday she popped on some blusher. And on Friday she slipped on a dress.  Mercifully, Thomas had now begun nursery, so, after walk-to-school week was over, one morning a week, Margaret had a window of freedom for herself. But, first, she just had the Church vacuuming to do.

‘Ah, Maggie,’ said the Vicar when he saw her, ‘just the person.’

‘Hello.’

‘I wondered,’ he said, ‘if you could host and serve at the annual visit by the Bishop? We’re all very excited!  It would only be for the evening,’ he smiled, ‘and you do do it so well.’

Margaret pulled her cardigan tight. ‘Um, which evening is it?’

‘Let me see now…Ah yes, Saturday. 16th July. That alright?’

Helen’s party. Margaret felt her heart race. ‘Um, I’ll have to check my diary. I think I may have…Well, I may something on.’

His face dropped. ‘Oh. Oh, of course. We may struggle without you though, Maggie. You’re a real shoulder to lean on.’ And with that, he left Margaret to her vacuuming.

            No energy left in her, Margaret switched off the machine and let out a breath. It sounded daft, she supposed, but was this the way it was always going to be? Was she forever to be viewed as a shoulder to lean on? A doormat? Yes, everyone could rely on her. Yes, she found it hard to say no, found it hard to walk away from people and situations when help was needed. But sometimes…sometimes she just wished it wasn’t always so. She had never asked for any help, even at the hardest of times.  When her husband was ill in hospital, when her kids where sick and she was out of milk and bread, or when she was struggling to come to terms with the death of her father – she would simply cry herself to sleep. She wasn’t a shoulder to lean on; she was a mound of jelly to be squashed with one thud.

            Saturday 16th July came and went and Margaret stayed at home. She called Helen and sent her apologies, and she contacted the Vicar and said she was sick. In a way she was. While she didn’t like to lie, she knew she couldn’t face anyone. She was fed up; fed up of her life as it was. Something had to give. As the final week of the school summer term came to a close, Monday morning popped up again and Margaret closed the door to walk to school. Once at the gates and the eldest waved off, Margaret was picking up Thomas when she heard footsteps running up behind her.

‘Margaret!’ came a breathless voice.

Margaret turned. Helen stood, shoulders heaving, bag slid to her arm.

‘So glad I caught you!’ said Helen, fanning her face. ‘God, I’m so unfit. I’m so sorry you couldn’t make it to the party. How you feeling now? Better? God, heels are hell.’ 

Margaret tucked a hair behind her ear. ‘I’m okay, thank you. I’m better.’  She popped Thomas on to her hip.

 ‘Oh good,’ said Helen. ‘Look, a few of us are going for a coffee. Fancy joining us?’

‘Um…’ Margaret squeezed Thomas close. Coffee? Her?

‘Oh,’ said Helen, taking this for rejection, ‘sorry, you must be so busy. We always marvel how you’re so energetic, all that walking and so patient with the kids and Church. We’re all in awe of you.’

Margaret frowned. ‘Really?’

Helen nodded. ‘Yes. That’s why we’ve never really plucked up the nerve to talk to you. Sounds daft, doesn’t it? God, I’m sorry. It’s just you seem so,’ she searched for the word, ‘together.’

Margaret let out a laugh.

Helen laughed, too. ‘So, fancy a quick coffee? Bring Thomas?’

Margaret smiled. ‘That would be lovely.’ And so, with the morning sun on her back, Margaret, for the first time, headed off from school for coffee and a chat with the group of mums. 

 

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading! Next Friday I’m switiching to ‘fact’, posting a travel article written for The Guardian. Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing news…**

A snotty nose ends in a short-story award…

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

I’ve gone and got myself a cold. Well, not ‘got’ one necessarily but rather ‘acquired’ one from my daughter who’s been sniffing and coughing her way around the house for the past week. ‘Blow your nose,’ I say to her, sniffing and handing her a hankie. My husband looks at me. ‘Err, honey?’ I look up, my mouth hanging open because I have lost all ability to breathe through my nose. ‘You’ve got a little something streaming down your face.’ I touch my chin and realise that my daughter is not the only one requiring a tissue. ‘Oh damn it,’ I mutter to myself, to which the youngest hollers from her bedroom, ‘Whoohoo! 50 pence in the swear jar for mum!’  I stumble into the bathroom wondering why they only tell me about the swear jar and not my husband, when I promptly slip on a sock and land face first in the laundry basket. My husband walks in and points. ‘Look at mum, girls!’ They come running in. ‘You’ve got pants on your head!’ they yell, clearly delighted. I sigh and, after a few choice words to my husband and a further declaration of the swear jar by my youngest, I haul my snotty self from the smelly socks and PE kit, I wonder if I can go to Barbados and maybe stay there.

And so, this is pretty much how it has been all week, perhaps minus the head pants. Come Friday, I am sat at my laptop checking my emails and deliberating whether to have a crumpet with jam or Marmite for my snack (you can’t say I don’t make ground making decisions here…) when up pings a message in my inbox. Seeing the sender’s email, I happily click it open and read. At this point I have to tell you that I am rubbish at taking bad news. Utterly bobbins. Depending on what time of day it is, I can either a) go quiet, b) stomp or c) cry. I can also perform all three at once – it is a skill us ladies have honed over many a year, and a skill which on this particular Friday I display, with may I say, a special finesse. The email in question is unexpected. It is also not intended for me. It’s funny when you receive an email about you, but not for you – a bit like eavesdropping on a conversation at a smoky party. The good news is that I really don’t mind the comment in question that the email raises – but it perhaps just would have been handy if I had been told directly by the sender as opposed to through a crack in the door. But, such as things are, you’ve got to make the most of it and I think I’m pretty right in saying that, thankfully, give me a bit of bad news and, once I’ve dried my face, I’ll grab it by the legs like a snappy Jack Russell and not let go until I’ve sorted it out. 

And so, it is during this ‘Jack Russell’ period that, feeling low, I get a call from my good friend to remind me that in the evening we are due to attend the local literature festival short story night. Naturally, I had completely forgotten. ‘What are you going to wear?’ I ask her. I hear the phone drop. ‘You okay?’ I ask. ‘Jesus,’ she says,  returning, ‘the washing machine’s flooded the garage. Got to go.’ I put down the phone and wonder if perhaps Bali is nice at this time of year.

That evening, my friend and I attend the Wotton-Under-Edge Arts Festival literary evening. As I am normally a bag of nerves at these things to which my default position is to babble on like a  kiss on Blarney Stone, I was very grateful my buddy could be with me as an antidote to my waffle. Her default position in such nervous circumstances is to completely clam up, so between us we make quite a pair. We sit down, a bit late, and look around. The average age is about 65. ‘I’m sorry,’ I whisper to her, uncertain what is ahead. ‘It’s fine,’ she says, smiling and swigging red wine, ‘this is making me feel young! I love it!’ And do you know what? The evening is great. The two ladies hosting the event are the writer Sue Limb and Dr.Rosemary Bailey – and they are hilarious (think The Golden Girls meets Ab Fab and you’re about there). As the short stories are read out, everyone listens, laughs and applauds what are, without doubt, some well-crafted tales, particularly from the junior entry group.  Come the interval, my friend turns to me and asks what the name of my short story is. ‘The woman who walked to school,’ I whisper. And, just as I say this, they announce the next story to be read out – and, yup, it is mine. Like a man in a Zumba class, having your story read out loud is strange. ‘My heart’s banging,’ my friend whispers. ‘Poker face,’ I reply, ‘keep your poker face on.’ I say this because what I don’t want to do is reveal what I really feel – namely I might cry (seems my reaction to happiness is the same as to bad news – no wonder my hubbie gets confused.) To my relief, not only do they read it, but they like it too, commenting on how well constructed it is, how observant and how true. By the time the winners are announced I am breathing hard, and when my name is given as third prize runner-up, my friend can hardly sit down. ‘Yay!’ she mouths as I go up to shake hands and receive my prize. Yay! Afterwards, several people come up to me to comment on how much they enjoyed my story. I am so touched, it is very humbling. Indeed, one lady asks me if I can send the story to her daughter in France as she thinks it may help her adjust to life in a new country with a new baby. What can I say – I am honoured. It is all I can do to not cry there and then like a jelly mound of hormones.

That night, arriving home after my friend gives me a well done hug that could have squeezed the life out of a boulder, shrieking, ‘You won an award! For something you wrote!’, my husband pours me a large glass of red by way of celebration. I tell him all about the evening as well as the eves drop email early that day. ‘Are you cross about the email?’ he asks. I shake my head and sigh. ‘No. It’s okay. It’s good to get feedback – they know their stuff. I’ll make the most of it, and hopefully things will be even better.’ He narrows his eyes at me. ‘You cried about it, didn’t you?’ I nod. ‘And stomped?’ ‘Hmmm.’ I pull a blanket over my legs and peer at the TV. ‘Is that Stephen Fry?’ My husband nods. ‘It’s QI.’ I am about to reply when I promptly sneeze all over the couch. ‘Bloody hell, honey!’ says my husband. ‘Aha! 50 pence in the swear jar for you!’ I’m telling the girls. Take that, daddy!’ He tuts, leans to the side and hands me a tissue. ‘You’ve got a little something on your nose.’ I take the tissue and sniff. Maybe Crete is nice at this time of year.

**Out on Thursday “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest newspaper column to my blog. This week it’s all about shopping locally…**

Friday Fiction: Part 2 of The Woman Who Walked To School

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s part two of a short story I have written, called The Woman Who Walked To School

 

 

The woman who walked to school  (Part Two)

 At the end of the soup lunch, Margaret was exhausted. She’d served and cleaned, and all with one eye on Thomas, who, in his two-year-old wisdom, had decided that the Church was his new racetrack. To her surprise, no one helped. At not one time did any of the Friends, including the Vicar, offer to assist Margaret with the serving or keep an eye on Thomas for her. By the end, her forehead was damp, her hair wild and her stomach rumbling. ‘Oh,’ the women said, smiling as they rose to leave, opening the Church doors, the July sunshine flooding in, ‘that turned out so well, so easy. We must do it again. We raised £75.’ ‘Yes,’ they all agreed, pleased. ‘What a success, let’s do this again.’ Margaret could by now only manage a weak smile and a nod, but, as she popped Thomas on the potty before she began the washing up, she watched the women bustle out and realised she had a choice. She realised that she didn’t have to do this anymore.

From that day, Margaret tried to make herself feel a little better. Like an amnesia sufferer experiencing flashbacks, from time to time she would recall snippets of her former self. She would remember how she used pay regular visits to the hairdresser, how she’d have long, candlelit baths, how her diary would be well thumbed and overused, how she’d meet her husband for drinks in a bar after work just because it was fun.

Wiping Weetabix from her sleeve, the following Monday Margaret began her usual journey to school. This week it was ‘Walk to School Week’, and she was always mildly intrigued to see the usual 4x4s and sharp tailoring replaced with weather-ready wellies and battered brollies. Margaret watched as these glamazons marched their offspring to school with their heads held high and their make up in place. If the day was sunny, out would come their floaty maxi dresses, Birkenstocks and cashmere cardigans, all the time with Margaret watching them, pulling at her t-shirt wishing she has hidden at home.

So, it was during this week, when Margaret was scuttling to and from school, that Thomas happened to step on the hem of the dress of one of the glamorous mothers.

‘Oh, my, I’m so, so sorry. Thomas! Here, let me,’ Margaret said to the woman, reaching to wipe the dress.

‘Please, no. Thank you,’ replied the mother. Margaret stepped back. ‘I’m Helen, by the way,’ the mother said, holding out her hand. Margaret squinted in the sun and propped her hand on her brow.

 ‘I’m sorry,’ Helen said, ‘I didn’t ask your name.’

‘Margaret,’ said Margaret, thinking how the woman’s voice was all chocolate soufflé. Hers, she thought, was more of an upside down cake.

The two shook hands. ‘Well, nice to meet you,’ said Helen who began to walk away, then, hesitating turned back. ‘Look, Margaret, we’re having a summer party at our place in a fortnight. 16th July. Just a few drinks, barbeque, that type of thing. It’s eight until late. You should come.’

Margaret smiled; she suddenly felt light-headed.

‘Um, I think I have something with my address’, said Helen, rummaging through her bag. ‘Ah.’ She pulled out a card and handed it to Margaret. ‘This is us. Address is on there. Please do come, your other half, too. Would be simply lovely to get to know you, have a chat.’

Margaret gazed at the card with its gold lettering. ‘Oh, um, yes,’ she said, looking up. ‘Yes, I’d…well, I’d love to, thank you.’ Thomas pulled at Helen’s dress. Margaret took his hand.

Helen smiled. ‘Isn’t he a poppet? Well, nice to meet you.’

Margaret grasped Thomas’ fist. ‘Yes,’ she smiled, ‘nice to meet you, too.’

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading! Part 3 of The Woman Who Walked To School will be posted next Friday. Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing news…**

New “Friday Fiction”: first short story instalment now ready to read…

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  a new post where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, we’re kicking off with the first instalment of a short story I have written, called The Woman Who Walked To School

 

The woman who walked to school           (Part One)

When Margaret turned up at the school gates, she couldn’t remember how she’d got there. She knew she had walked, always had; but no, that wasn’t it. She simply couldn’t recall the journey.

The village where she lived was a holding area for commuters, families and people with lives. On a Monday, Margaret would watch them from her lounge window and wonder what they were doing, where they were going. She always imagined they had busy, important things to do; doctors, lawyers, teachers. She would get up, flip on the kettle and check the time. She used to have a life. And now? Now it was as if the world was carrying on without her.

Grassmore Village was postcard-perfect, with the Church at its heart. Her name down on the helper rota, Margaret walked to Church with Thomas about twice a week to give the place a quick vacuum, but, with Thomas now a toddler and into everything, she found it hard to keep up, his endless investigations into hymn books, trees and dog poo, exhausting.  When she saw the other mothers outside school, she imagined they never had to deal with a child brandishing a stick of dog muck at them. These mothers arrived glistening, polished and utterly protected from mud and nature, their high heels un-scuffed, their fingernails shining and their hair styled. They somehow reminded Margaret of fresh candy floss – sweet, pink and popular. These women were so composed, so well managed, so…together. They were also together as a group. Every summer’s day they would converse with each other at the gates in fresh, delicate words, words so beautifully blended that if she could pop one in her mouth she imagined it would taste of the lightest lemon mouse. The group was something that Margaret felt, with her frayed skirt, greying hair and baggy t-shirt, she could never be a part of. Ironic, she thought, that this is what it had come to. It almost made her laugh. In her teens, Margaret used to be something of a popular girl at school, not too showy or tarty, but simply pretty, bright and fun. And, now here she was, at school once more, watching the other pretty, bright, fun ones and wishing she were one of them.

The morning when the Vicar first asked her to prepare the soup for the Friends of the Church lunch, Margaret thought he was joking.  Do the soup with a toddler in tow? She’d end up wearing the soup, not eating it. Yet the idea, as she soon discovered, was not for her to actually eat any of the soup herself, but to prepare it at home, transport it to the Church and serve it. She wanted to say no. She wanted to tell the Vicar where he could shove his soup. Yet, saying no was hard for Margaret, and so, when she agreed to help, her shoulders dropped and her heart sank. This was her life.

And so it was that on a summer’s morning Margaret found herself entombed inside the Church, shivering and heaving a bucket-sized pot of vegetable soup into the serving area. With Thomas already playing cars on the floor, she side stepped a Matchbox Ford and promptly dropped her bag, the contents spilling to the floor. For a moment she just stood, clutching the soup. She looked at her things: a hair band, a bus ticket, broken breadsticks, nappies, biscuit crumbs, fluff from the carpet at home, tractor books. This was her, these were the items that represented her, who she was, what she was about. When she saw the other mums’ handbags, all soft leather, buckles and brand names, she knew those bags would hold items that kept each owner individual: a bit of Chanel here, a new scarf there, a mobile phone holding a lively social calendar.  To Margaret, those women, they were still themselves. But, who was she?…

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading! The next instalment of The Woman Who Walked To School will be posted next Friday. Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing news…**