Something was stirring the leaves under the hedge behind the goalpost on the far side of the school playing field. A glimpse of black and white told me it was a cat. I’d seen it before, stalking unsuspecting little victims. What was it after now? Run little mouse, run.
‘Susan! What did I just say?’
‘You can stay behind at break time and write out a hundred times “I must pay attention in class.”’
‘Yes Miss Fielding.’
It wasn’t deliberate. I did try. But my mind would insist on taking me out through the classroom window and off on crazy flights of fancy. It did it all the time.
I forced myself to concentrate on the blackboard. The here and now of Miss Fielding’s history lesson.
Along one side of the playing field was a wooden fence in front of a row of semi-detached, brick built houses. A movement caught my eye. A gate in the fence swung open and a tall man in a dark green jacket emerged, accompanied by a Scottie dog on a lead. I’d noticed him a few times now, walking the dog around the playing field perimeter. Always his shoulders were hunched and his head bowed, whether the day was cold and windy or not. The little dog would jump up at his knees and yap for attention, but in vain.
He’s maybe had a row with his wife…. He’s done something wrong – or maybe forgotten to do something. She’s angry with him and he’s left the house, slipping out by the back door, leaving her ranting in the kitchen …
Or maybe he’s lost his job. He’s been made redundant. He must be beside himself with worry. He’s got his wife and dog to look after, maybe a child or two as well, and no money to buy them what they need.
Then again, he might live alone. He certainly looks lonely. His wife could have died – only a few weeks ago. They were sixteen when they met at a school dance and he’d never had any other girlfriend since. He can see his life stretching ahead of him… right through to old age… with just the little dog for company. He misses her so badly. Cute though the little dog is, it couldn’t talk to him; it couldn’t cook him a delicious dinner or bring him hot lemon drinks in bed when he was poorly. It couldn’t wrap loving arms around him in bed…
‘Susan! You’re doing it again!’
Reluctantly, I wrenched my mind away from my daydream.
‘Right, Susan. That’s it. If I’ve warned you once, I’ve warned you a hundred times. Now go and stand outside the head’s office.’
Was she really sending me out of the class?
‘I said now, Susan!’
The rest of the class wide-eyed and silenced for once, I stood up and walked to the door, let myself out into the corridor.
The head’s office was up the stairs, next to the secretary’s office and the staff room. He had rigged up a mini traffic light system above his door; red for ‘wait’, amber for ‘I won’t be long’ and green for ‘come straight in’. I knocked lightly. The light turned red. I waited.
Opposite the head’s door was a wooden bench with a set of coat hooks above it and a skylight window above those. I grabbed one of the coat pegs and pulled myself up. Yes. If I stood on tiptoe I could see out. The man and his dog were nowhere in sight. Heavy grey rain clouds were gathering above the row of houses.
In an upper window, something flashed briefly. A woman was holding a chrome make-up mirror with one hand and applying mascara with the other. She must be going out somewhere. I wondered where…
Sue has been involved with National Short Story Week in producing podcasts of her Write Lines radio programme. They can be heard FREE at www.thewritelines.co.uk and are downloadable on iTunes. And I’m one of the guests on the podcast entitled ‘How to Build a Career and a Profile as a Writer‘.