Aside 24 Mar

Apologies for being away for a bit – below another of my short stories – enjoy!



As the bus pulled away from the kerb Andrew suddenly felt isolated. His mother had not wanted him to go on the school trip and begged him to wait another year before he ventured as far afield as Wales, but he was determined to establish his independence and had argued and demanded he be allowed to go. As the bus turned the corner he could still see his mother waving anxiously and wished with all his heart he had listened to her.
He sat at the back of the bus, a solitary figure amongst so many laughing, excited children. He was frightened and felt no such sensation, only trepidation for what lay ahead and what the other children had in store for him.
With his red hair, horn-rimmed glasses and gaunt appearance he had always been the butt of jokes and pranks by the other children. He had learned to live with and accept it as a way of life.
Approaching the motorway, he decided to read his geography book to try to take his mind off the receding safety of his familiar surroundings.
Half an hour later, the other children’s exuberance had increased and Mrs Abbott, the geography teacher, was trying desperately to control the riotous group. Andrew knew it would not be long before their attentions turned to him. Unfortunately, he was right. Before he knew what was happening, someone had snatched his rucksack off the seat next to him and was quickly rifling the contents. It was Jimmy Evans. Although Jimmy was at heart a good natured soul he could not resist taunting Andrew and making his friends laugh with his snipes. Andrew seemed to constantly annoy him. Being smaller than Jimmy, Andrew just let him carry on until he found something else of interest – his cheese and ham sandwiches,
“You don’t want these do you squirt” Jimmy asked menacingly.
Though his stomach rumbled, he nervously shook his head and continued staring at his book; to antagonise Jimmy would be a big mistake as he knew only too well from previous experience.
By the time the bus pulled in to the gates of the camp, Andrew was trying desperately to think of some illness that would send him home, his mother’s warning repeating itself in his head. He retrieved his suitcase from the back of the bus and fell into line. They were led up the grass-lined path and taken to their allotted dormitory. Three other buses had pulled up behind their bus and people were milling about everywhere. Andrew had only a fleeting glance at the roaming hills and feathering sky above him.
The dormitory was grey inside and bunk beds were lined up regimentally along either side with a locker separating each set of beds. Andrew chose the bunk bed nearest the door and set about unpacking his things. As he glanced around at the wooden floors and neatly made bunks, he tried to control his fear and get things into perspective. He had just finished unpacking when Mrs Abbott asked everyone to line up for lunch. He looked around on the trek to the canteen and felt instantly detached, the open expanse of fields to his right frightening him enormously. As the line came to a sudden halt, Andrew bumped into the person in front of him, Jimmy Evans! Jimmy immediately turned round and punched him in the arm, shouting
“Watch where you’re goin’ you stupid idiot!”.
Andrew retreated and joined the back of the queue. Picking up his tray in the noisy canteen, he found no trouble finding a seat in an unobtrusive corner and began to eat his lunch of mashed potato, carrots, mince and gravy followed by apple pie and custard. He chewed every mouthful carefully, dreading the inevitable return to the dormitory.
The afternoon passed uneventfully for Andrew, and he began slowly relaxing, walking alone around the camp during his free-time, hands in pockets, day-dreaming and breathing in the fresh air of the gentle spring afternoon. He began to notice the birds, and their constant chattering comforted Andrew.
On his return to the dormitory there was a flurry of activity as his class began to get ready for the evening disco. As he approached the showers he tried to control the trembling in his legs. He opened his soap bag and began washing his hands and face. There was no way he was attempting to take a shower with Jimmy Evans and his friends larking about in there.
He smiled to himself as he crossed the gravel path as he realised he had achieved not being noticed by Jimmy, and was quite looking forward to the disco. He entered the dormitory and realised immediately why Jimmy had left him alone – his clothes and books were strewn across the whole length of the room, garments his mother had lovingly packed were tossed on the bed, having first been trodden on by muddy shoes. He felt the tears sting his eyes as he retrieved his belongings and tried to sort out the chaos Jimmy and his friends had left.
Andrew now knew he could not risk going to the disco and asked Mrs Abbott if he could be excused as he had a headache. After sitting alone in the darkened dormitory for some time, he decided to go for a walk. He had noticed an exhibition centre on the way to the canteen earlier in the day and decided to investigate.
Walking with his tousled head bent towards the floor, he heard a sobbing sound coming from the back of one of the other dormitories. Approaching carefully, he saw a small blonde figure sitting on one of the refuse bins, head in hands and looking totally dejected. Andrew was undecided as to whether he should leave quietly or offer some help, but the words were out before he could decide,
“Are you okay?” Andrew asked.
The small figure slowly looked up, dirty tears streaked his face and Andrew protectively moved forward. The figure suddenly spoke “I want to go home” he whimpered. Andrew felt a certain empathy with this distressed character and compassionately put his arm around the shoulders of the boy and cuddled him close, “Don’t cry, I am sure things can’t be as bad as all that” Andrew exclaimed.
Suddenly a torrent of words burst forth from the boy most of them smothered in Andrew’s jacket.
“Slow down I can’t understand a word you’re saying. Let’s begin with your name” Andrew asked.
The small child replied plaintively, “Philip”.
“Right Philip, what are you doing out here all on your own?”
“I can’t go to the disco, they’ll all be there” Philip stuttered between sobs.
“Who’ll all be there?”
“Charlie and Kevin and most of the other boys in my class, they hate me, they stopped me from taking a shower, tying me to the sink until they had finished and then releasing me just before the disco began, they’ve hidden my clothes, I want to go home!” Philip started wailing once again.
Andrew cuddled him close and tried to think of a way to stop the child crying
“Let’s go and look in your dormitory and see if we can find your clothes and then we’ll go to the disco together” Andrew offered bravely. Philip looked into Andrew’s face and quickly took hold of his hand.
Entering Philip’s dormitory together they searched quickly for the missing clothes. Finding them stuffed behind a locker Andrew did his best to stretch out the creases. Andrew accompanied Philip to the shower and kept watch at the door whilst he showered and changed.
They entered the disco together, Andrew still holding Philip’s hand. They went up to the tuck shop and Andrew bought two cans of coke and some crisps and then led Philip to a dark corner. Philip cheered up a little and Andrew chatted animatedly with the small boy, trying to take his own mind off Jimmy Evans. Philip explained that he came with a group from St Paul’s School, that his father made him come, saying it would toughen him up. They spent the rest of the evening together unobserved by their tormentors and Andrew escorted Philip back to his dormitory and told him if he had any free-time the next day he was to seek him out and they would explore the exhibition centre together.
Andrew awoke the next morning, stretched, and hastily got up in order to avoid Jimmy in the shower. Returning to the dormitory, Jimmy and his friends passed him, sniggering and obviously pleased with their exploits of the previous evening.
Today it was pond study day and Andrew was keen to begin. He pulled on his wellingtons and lined up with the rest of his class for breakfast. He kept a safe distance from Jimmy and once in the canteen looked for his small friend of the previous night. He quickly spotted him sitting next to his teacher, smiled and gave a small reassuring wave.
On reaching the study classroom he sat near a window listening attentively to Mrs Abbott describing the inhabitants of the pond they were about to study. Andrew was fascinated and made notes on everything Mrs Abbott said. She explained about the Great Crested Newt and how they were protected by British Law and that if anyone found one were to contact her immediately so as not to endanger it. She explained about frogs, toads, water boatmen, dragonflies, damselflies, caddis flies, water skaters and beetles. Andrew scribbled furiously trying to remember all Mrs Abbott was telling them and was anxious to begin his study. The class was separated into groups of two by their names being put into a tin, picked out and matched up. Andrew drained and began wringing his hands together fearfully when his name was matched with Jimmy Evans. A slow smile spread across Jimmy’s face as he cast a quick glance towards Andrew.
Filing out of the classroom, Andrew tripped, dropping his collection of plastic jars and his net. Jimmy stepped over him giving him a sly kick in the ribs as he passed, exclaiming to his friends
“Looks like all the frogs are out here instead of being in the pond”.
They all laughed and Andrew picked himself up trying to control his reddening face.
On reaching the pond and finding that the group from St Paul’s was also there, Andrew looked for Philip and spotted him standing close to his teacher. Andrew waved and Philip waved back. He began scooping up water in his net and carefully sifting through the contents. Jimmy had obviously decided that he was not doing anything to help and just sat on the bank letting him do all the work that was fine with Andrew – at least he was being left alone. Mrs Abbott approached the group and warned everybody about Horse-flies and that if they were bitten they were to see her immediately. Jimmy guffawed as if nothing as insignificant as a fly could possibly bother him.
Andrew returned to the pond and was excitedly collecting specimens and labelling his plastic jars when suddenly there was a terrified scream from the other side. The teachers had wandered away and were not aware of anything amiss, Andrew scrambled up the bank trying to see what was going on. He watched the crowd of children on the other side and suddenly realising that Philip was nowhere to be seen, raced around the pond only to find three boys holding Philip’s head under the water, Andrew approached them and tried desperately to free Philip, but the other boys were much stronger so he began shouting towards the teachers, trying to attract their attention. It was useless and Andrew tried once again to get amongst the children and free Philip who was kicking frantically. Suddenly Philip’s body went limp and the children released him. Andrew quickly got hold of Philip’s jacket and was trying desperately to pull him to the bank but Philip was much heavier than he looked. Surprisingly, there was someone else helping to pull Philip’s inert body to the bank. Andrew did not have time to see who it was, but laying Philip down on the bank, he loosened his shirt and put his head in the recovery position as he had been taught in first aid. He began trying to resuscitate Philip and stopped for a brief moment to tell one of the other children to get a teacher. The child was reluctant to go until Andrew bellowed,
“Move it, now”.
The child ran whilst Andrew continued blowing air into Philip’s lungs. Suddenly there was a cough and a splutter and Philip’s eyes opened. He cradled the small boy in his lap until the teacher arrived and took the child up in his arms carrying him hurriedly to the sick bay.
Andrew now had a chance to relax and look around to find his assistant in helping Philip. There was no-one close except Jimmy Evans and Andrew could not believe his eyes when he saw Jimmy’s pants were wet from the knee down. Jimmy gave an awkward smile and walked back to other side of the pond.
The rest of the week passed pleasantly for Andrew, with people congratulating him and telling him how lucky it was for Philip that he was around. Andrew replied to these thanks with an embarrassed smile and then by saying
“I could not have done it without Jimmy’s help”
which always brought a surprised look from the other person.
Philip recovered and was not too badly hurt. He was sent home in a taxi with a teacher for support. His tormentors were also sent home with a message for their parents that they were suspended from school until a meeting could be arranged between them and the head teacher.
On the Friday morning before leaving, Andrew was trying to close his suitcase without success when abruptly Jimmy came through the door of the dormitory and casually moved Andrew aside and sat on the suitcase enabling Andrew to fasten it. Andrew said “thank you” and Jimmy just smiled.
Sitting once again at the back of the bus, Andrew glanced reluctantly out of the window and realised that he had, after all, enjoyed his first week at camp. With a jolt he felt somebody sit next to him and looked up into the smiling face of Jimmy. “I just wanted to say that I never realised how badly you were treated by us until I saw that other boy being bullied. I promise no-one will ever bully you again.” Andrew gulped and waited for a jab in the side or a punch in the arm. Nothing came. He nervously glanced around and smiled at Jimmy who immediately beamed back. On the journey home Andrew showed Jimmy the results of his pond study and explained the difference between dragonflies and damselflies. Jimmy listened politely, though Andrew knew he did not grasp what he was saying.
On turning the corner into the street where his school was situated, Andrew could see his mother waiting anxiously outside the school railings. There were only a few other mothers there but Andrew immediately recognised his mother’s red coat. He ran along the pavement and gave his mother a quick but strong hug and said,
“I wish you hadn’t come to meet me mum, I’m not a baby you know”,
Andrew’s mother looked surprised and tried to put her arm around her son as he pulled away but stayed close and began walking home.


Aside 18 Feb


There were no mirrors in the room. Not that she minded she could see all she needed to reflected in others eyes. The way they looked downwards as soon as they approached and realised the dried leathery handbag in the bed was actually human. Their chattering conversation concerning skin grafts and plastic surgery wouldn’t mend the mental scars they were inflicting with their patronising patter. She knew she was bitter but couldn’t seem to shake off these feelings that were threatening to overcome her sense of self-worth.

She welcomed the nurses, they were professional as they plumped up her pillows and re-arranged the guilt flowers in vases. They were all brisk and businesslike no niceties (too busy) but she preferred that to the pity and horror she got from family who came to see the freak they were related to. She knew she was being hard on herself but then she had no-one else to blame.

80% they said – no-one could see the other 20% the bit that was pink, smooth and wholesome rather than the brown scale that now passed for her skin. The 20% was so touchable she ran her crisped fingers up and down her inner leg revelling in the completeness of it, the rosebud colour reflecting on the white sheets. Alone she would open her nightgown and stare at the perfect formulation of the hairs, freckles and veins clearly visible when tightening her muscles.

James had left. He couldn’t handle it apparently. Anyone would have thought he‘d been in the fire. Her friends had told her he blamed himself for leaving her alone after the argument. That was silly! She was the one who was smoking, she was the one who’d drank the two bottles of wine and fallen asleep while the last cigarette she would ever smoke landed on the rug they‘d picked together in Habitat. It was a blessing he’d stopped visiting.

Lucky to be alive they said. Lucky! She’d contemplated that word so often in the last six months. The visits from friends had stopped after two months. Only family visited now. Duty bound every Sunday they trooped through with bags of grapes (ironic now she looked like a dried one). She giggled; at least the anti-depressants were working.

Walking again had been the hardest lesson, stretching out the tautened skin; the pain had become second nature. Each step was an event she likened to the Olympics and awarded herself medals, bronze on a bad day, and gold on a good day. She was determined and approached every physiotherapy session like an athlete changing into her tracksuit, her skin becoming her very own body armour. Occasionally she found herself thinking why she made the effort and the answer was always the same there was nothing else to do except to keep battling to release the anger pent up inside. All the anger was directed at her mainly al least that was allowed.

She thought back about how long she used to take to choose a new dress or a pair of jeans scrutinising herself in the mirrors in the changing rooms turning this way and that. Vain that‘s what she was. She used to rush home to try them and on once more revel in the purchase of yet more camouflage. Nowadays her only purchases were online and consisted mainly of comfortable track-suits, velour no less!

Her release was imminent and her mind was playing tricks. Could she actually walk down a street and cope with the stares, the pointing and possible happy slapping she was going to have to endure? No longer cocooned in her little lint nest of a hospital room. All in good time said Nurse Too Busy to Talk. Mirrors had to be faced first said Nurse Superefficient who had been plaguing her for a week to take a peek. The pictures in her mind of her previous reflection needed to be replaced bit by bit gradually emerging like a backwards butterfly. Maybe it won’t be so bad.

It was worse, oh her eyes were the same green but nothing else was familiar the leathery dry skin with sparse patches of hair (it may grow back eventually they had said). Self-pity, her old friend, was getting her nowhere just get on with it she screamed inside her head. She cried her last she had vowed no more tears. Kevin the physiotherapist popped his head round the door:

“And how’s our very own frazzle face today?”
“Get lost” she shouted
“Quick lets harness that anger and get you standing up” he said laughing
“If I must then I must”
“Get your kit on then I’m not taking you out like that”
“Give me 10 minutes”
“I’ll give you 5 now hurry up”

Political correctness was not one of Kevin’s fortes but most of the time he knew it was the only way some of them would be able cope. He knew she was struggling inside but he was not going to let it defeat her. She was stronger than most and her extensive vocabulary of expletives kept him amused. He’d seen pictures of her before and in his mind she’d never looked better. He’d always admired the strength and tenacity of his patients and never, ever, encouraged self-pity. The nurses were constantly tutting at his gung-ho approach waiting for the civil law suit to be filed – it hadn’t happened to date so he must be doing something right!

“Are you ready yet?”
“Having trouble with the zip. Can you do it?”
“I could, but that would be defeating the object of the session”
“Okay, okay I’ve got it now anyway”

She shuffled towards the end of the bed where Kevin was waiting with the wheelchair to take her to the torture chamber commonly called the “physiotherapy room”.

“Ow” she screamed easing herself down
“Don’t start all that, you know you can’t feel anything!” said Kevin
“Just wanted to see if you’d fall for it one last time” she taunted
“I don’t know what I’m going to do once you’ve gone”
“Find another victim!”
“Oh you’re good, very good”

Kevin wheeled her off laughing to himself confident that this one was going to make it.