Circle Time

Wrote this a long time ago and (appropriately or not?) I’m coming full circle to edit and post it now. Having problems at the moment committing myself to anything longer than flash fiction. Keep starting things and abandoning them… Ideas are never a problem; it’s sorting the good from the indifferent, making decisions, keeping going that all feels out of sorts. So instead I’m reading and editing old stuff.

If you have a read, thanks! And do let me know what you think.

Miranda

Circle Time

Break time: movement, sunlight and noise fill the playground. Inside, a girl races along a shaded corridor, two long brown plaits streaming behind. Her face is flushed, exhilarated.  She turns a corner sharply and escapes through an open door, into the noise and light of the playground.

At the other end of the corridor in a large, gloomy cloakroom a boy – short and stocky – walks between vertical lines of coats and bags, his face scrunched. He is trying not to cry.  He holds a backpack in one hand and reaches into it with the other. Piece-by-piece he is emptying the bag – pencil case, football boot, water bottle – flinging things to the four corners of the room, bellowing as he lets each object go.

***

On Sunday nights Annie likes to stay awake as long as possible. Tonight, as usual, in the familiar shadows cast by her nightlight, object-by-object she checks the possessions spread around her, lingering over those that are most significant. She can sense rather than see the coloured edge of the 1000-piece Degas jigsaw amongst a pile of boxed games on a shelf. She has stared at the dreamy picture on the lid, of floating dancers in smudgy blue dresses, but has never tipped out the thousand pieces as far as she can remember. She pauses at the shadowy humps at the end of her bed; one is her Dad’s old teddy bear and the other the beautifully dressed rag-doll, with multicoloured hair, that her mother made for her, the Christmas Annie was three.

Annie hears her father coming up the stairs to bed and calls softly.

‘Dad! Dad!’

‘Did I wake you, Annie?’

‘No, I wasn’t asleep yet.’

‘Oh, Annie sweetheart.’ He sighs as he pushes open the door. ‘It’s half eleven.’

‘Dad?’ She holds out a hand to draw him into the room. ‘Mum was a vegetarian wasn’t she, ever since you met her?’

Annie’s father takes the offered hand, sits down on the bed.

‘Yes, since she was at university, before we even met. What is it, Annie?’

‘We had turkey nuggets again last week, at Auntie Pat’s. Me and Adrian. I had to eat them so he would.’

‘Annie, love, she’s your Mum’s sister. She’s doing us a big favour.’

Annie rolls over onto her side and curls her body around her father’s seated form, then snuggles her face into the pillow. If she were a cat she’d purr, both for the comfort of it and to keep him there.

‘Stop worrying and go to sleep now. You’ll be tired in the morning. You know what Miss Stevens said, about being a bit more with it at school, Poppet.’

It is her turn to sigh.

Gently he sweeps Annie’s fringe to one side, then strokes the mass of dark curls that spread across the pillow as she drifts off to sleep. Tomorrow morning, Annie’s Aunt will brush and pull and twist Annie’s unruly locks into two long plaits, to save time during the school week.

***

At eleven o’clock every Wednesday it was Circle Time in every classroom at Annie’s school. In class 5, Miss Stevens was sitting with her whole class in a circle of chairs, holding a small green wooden frog. Children had swapped places across the circle according to eye colour or month of birthday – all without too much giggling and bumping – and now it was time for the game of passing the magic box.

Annie enjoyed Circle Time with Miss Stevens. Her teacher was young and for the most part cheerful and she didn’t make you join in the discussion bits, unless you wanted to. The children passed the green frog round the circle as a signal to speak. Instead of the funny wooden animal, Annie imagined that she saw a real magic box, oval shaped with a pink varnished lid and delicate ornate hinges. She imagined it cradled by each child as she pictured each of their suggestions – in my box there’s a magic dragon, a jet-propelled skateboard, a fifty-pound note.

Terry, as usual, said he would take a football out of the box and some children groaned or laughed, even though in Circle Time, Miss Stevens reminded her class, you were supposed to let everyone say what they really did wish was in the box and it was not a competition. Can’t it at least be some sort of football with magic powers? Annie thought. She could tell Miss Stevens didn’t really like Terry and the way he and his friends tried to put people off, even if she had told them all not to laugh at Terry’s football.

The frog was passed to Annie.

‘In my box I’ve found a tiny ginger kitten, with lovely green eyes,’ she said, suddenly speaking up, her voice squeaky and unfamiliar even to herself.

‘Beautiful, Annie!’ Miss Stevens smiled encouragement.

Annie looked down into her lap. She didn’t like to see the way some children smiled sarcastically across the circle. Beside her, Hayley tapped Annie’s chair gently with her foot. It was Hayley who’d shown Annie the pictures of her cat’s litter of kittens at break time.

The game over, children shared an achievement or news, but you didn’t have to. Annie was still thinking about Hayley’s photos. How lovely it would be to actually own one of those kittens and to say something real in the news section for once. She’d had a lovely weekend with Dad, but that seemed a long time ago now and anyway too private, so she passed as usual on her turn.

‘So, any problems to report before we finish?’ Miss Stevens was using her singsong Circle Time voice. ‘We’ll go this way round this time.’

She passed the wooden frog. Tom shook his head, as did Jenny next to him.

‘One of my gel pens went missing from my bag again,’ said the next girl.

‘My new football boots ended up in lost property last Friday night. My Mum was fed up waiting for me,’ said the boy next to her.

‘Yeah! Stuff is still being chucked about in the cloakroom, Miss,’ said a tall girl across the other side of the circle.

‘Take turns please, Kirsty.’ Miss Stevens’ voice was sharp.

‘Okay, sorry Miss. But what’s the point anyway? We’re supposed to tell the truth in Circle Time, but we’re not allowed to say who’s doing it.’ Kirsty shrugged. ‘That doesn’t make sense.’

‘You said it might stop if we all talked about it.’ This boy was red and agitated, unlike Kirsty, nervous at speaking up. ‘But people are still being pushed about in there at home time.’

Around the circle children started to mutter in agreement. Head still bowed, Annie watched Miss Stevens from under her fringe.

‘And Abby got thumped yesterday in the library when she was changing her reading book, only she was scared to say,’ said one of Kirsty’s friends above the noise.

Several children looked at Terry who sat squat and defiant, protected by two taller friends left and right. Annie eyed his round cheeks and tight little features; tomato-face she thought to herself, stupid squinty little tomato-face.

‘Me?’ he mouthed, pointing a fat finger at his own chest and staring across at Kirsty and her friends.

‘Don’t worry, Terry,’ said the boy next to him. ‘She can’t mention anyone’s name you know, it’s Circle Time.’

‘You all know the rules; you can all tell me things in private, outside Circle Time.’ Miss Stevens’ voice was stern and hard as she stood up to gain control. ‘Then we can try to sort this out. Come and see me this lunchtime.’ She indicated Kirsty and her friend.

Miss Stevens glanced at the faces around her. The changing places games were designed to mix the class up, but she could clearly see the little groups, the clusters of friends, the alliances, arranged around her circle, the ridiculous Terry protected left and right.

‘Now let’s just finish properly,’ she said, resuming her gentler voice. She sat herself back into the circle. ‘Give Annie the frog please. Your turn.’ She knew Annie would just pass it on, get them back on track.

Annie stared at the frog in her lap. ‘I just think that, well I think that we should try to get along, to think about everyone’s feelings,’ she mumbled.

‘How sensible, Annie. We should try to think about each other’s feelings. I think that’s where we’ll finish for today.’

And Miss Steven’s stood up to signal Circle Time was over.

‘What about my go then,’ said Terry. ‘People over here haven’t said nothing yet.’

Miss Stevens stared at him. ‘Well go on then,’ she said coldly but she didn’t bother to sit back down in her precious circle or pass the frog. ‘And make it quick.’

‘I got thumped in the cloakroom too,’ said Terry. ‘And last time it was by her!’

He pointed across the circle at Annie. Miss Stevens watched as Annie looked up, her usual distracted expression replaced by a tense frown. And who could blame her. Terry’s friends started to laugh, whilst all around children talked to each other animatedly. Only Terry and Annie were silent, as Miss Stevens quickly stepped into the circle between them.

‘Thank you, Terry,’ she said. ‘Well you know I’m available in private at lunchtime to discuss any problems, if you can tear yourself away from your usual football game that is.’

Miss Stevens was aware that the sneer in her voice sounded nothing like the caring unflustered teacher on the Circle Time training video, but she was also aware of the smirk on Kirsty’s face.

‘Chairs away now please, sensibly.’

***

At five o’clock, Terry walks home from school. He’s hung around outside his friend Paul’s house for a while, having goes on his bike, until Paul’s mum has called Paul in for his tea. Now he’s slowly walking back along the high street, past the emptying shops, to his own house. Terry swings his bag back and forth across his body, banging his right leg then his left as he trudges along. He feels in his trouser pocket. There’s the note Miss Stevens has written especially and given him to remind his mum about parents’ evening. Miss Stevens hadn’t even mentioned Circle Time when she had given it to him at the end of the day. Stupid bitch with her pathetic frog and swapping games. Terry clutches the piece of paper, screwing it up inside his pocket.

Across the road in the traffic, waiting at the lights, Terry notices a white car with windows open and music pounding. Someone is waving. His sister is leaning across the driver, waving frantically, her blond hair draped over the steering wheel.

‘Terry! Terry!’ she calls. ‘Want a lift home?’

She’s supposed to get his tea when she gets in from school, before their mum comes home at six, but she’s usually out with her friends.

‘Come on, Tel, room for a little one.’

Terry’s face remains blank but he checks the road and begins to cross between the stationary cars. Just as he reaches the traffic island in the centre, the lights change and the white car moves off in the line of traffic, leaving him stranded there as cars stream by in both directions, gathering speed. He can just make out another girl in the back now, behind his sister. They’ll be having a good laugh at his expense.

***

Break time. In the corner of a large, gloomy cloakroom a girl sits on a wooden bench, gently tapping her feet against the wire shoe rack beneath. She is reading a book and humming to herself as she nestles against one of the hanging coats. A boy comes into the cloakroom, walks between a row of coats and tugs open a backpack hanging there.

Annie sees him at the end of the row where she sits. It’s Terry. She shrinks further back into her coat. Terry looks down the aisle at Annie. She’s not the sort of girl you would thump. Not that she would thump back, or tell. He starts pulling something from the bottom of the bag.

‘Annie! Annie!’ he says in a surprisingly soft, singsong voice. ‘Be kind to Annie please, children,’ he chants.

He turns to face her.

‘Your Mum must have hated you, to go and top herself.’

Annie feels squashed into her corner; she can hardly breathe. She looks at his round face, its tiny features and with a great effort she gets up and takes a single step towards him. She can feel her legs trembling.

‘And you must hate yourself,’ she says quietly. Her voice is shaking too, but it comes out louder now. ‘Be kind to Terry children, he’s fat and stupid!’

He stares at her, amazed. Would Miss Stevens really say that?  He wouldn’t put it past her.

Terry watches as Annie begins to walk directly towards him. She moves steadily, one step at a time. It is Terry who is frozen now, unsure how to respond. She raises the book to shield her face from his stare and then, as she passes him, with a tiny animal noise, half-way between a sob and a laugh, she slices the book sharply with surprising force towards the side of his head. Terry stumbles backwards, but Annie is too quick and the book catches his ear painfully.

***

Annie has passed him now and is out of the cloakroom. She can feel her heart pounding as she races along the shaded corridor, two long brown plaits streaming behind. Her face is flushed, exhilarated. She turns the corner sharply and escapes through the open door, into the noise and light of the playground.

M J Lewis 2016

Brains or Brawn?

A story for Valentine’s Day, though oddly set at Halloween. I suppose strictly this is for the youthful market, but anyone over twenty could excuse themselves by noting the clever links to Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale. (Cue: clever LINK.) But truly, you don’t need to bother about that, except to say do look out for the donning of armour and the battle scene.

Please read on and, anyone who had a heart, enjoy… 

Brains or Brawn?  Emily4

It wasn’t even my idea. It all goes back to that stupid quiz Polly made me do in the IT lesson. That’s what set it all in motion. And then once it got going, it seemed to grow all on its own with no help from me. It grew and grew and grew some more, from one teeny tiny harmless little thought, until it became my only thought and all the sensible thoughts were squeezed so small they vanished. Well almost vanished.

We had a supply teacher, last thing on the Friday before the half term holiday. He just stayed put at the front desk, hiding behind his large hideous tie. I can’t say I blame him – spreadsheets and year 10 don’t mix well any day. So it was easy enough for me and my best friend Polly to duck down behind our screen and chat. Polly pulled her phone out of her bag.

‘What about the spreadsheet?’ I protested.

‘I’ll knock it off later then email it to you. Don’t be so worried, sweet Emily.’

Polly’s cool at computing. She’s cool at lots of stuff actually, just pretends not to be. It lowers people’s expectations she says, and then she does something really smart and impressive and everyone loves her for it. I’m the quiet one, working away beneath my curtain of perfect blond hair, rain or shine. She’s such a sensible girl, that Emily, never needs attention, not like her loud friend Polly.

Anyway, the quiz. Brains or Brawn? it was called. Designed to save you years of heartache.

‘You have to do this Ems!’ Polly commanded, which is what Polly does.

‘I so do not!’ I challenged feebly.

‘Look you can’t waste your spot-free days chasing brains, scuttling around in sensible shoes with a dictionary under your arm, when deep down it’s a bit of brawn you fancy.’

So in the face of her amazing powers of persuasion I crumbled and did the quiz. Well we both did. Polly has a boyfriend already, so she’s supposedly made her choice. He’s at some posh school up in town doing umpteen A-levels, but I’d still say Polly is the brain behind that coupling.

‘No harm in checking,’ she said.

I, on the other hand, most definitely do not have a boyfriend. According to Polly, I’m way too clever and pretty to waste on the local lack of talent. Truthfully, I’ve always been too shy with boys. Well not all of them. There’s Polly’s big brother, Toby, but I’ve known him years and years, ever since dive-bombing-the-paddling-pool stage. And some boys in our year are all right, like Jimmy who always has the right homework copied down, but is also quite good-looking with it. But neither of them counts obviously.

Anyway, the quiz. It had all the usual unlikely scenarios.

Your idea of a romantic first date is

  1. a) a trip to the fair where he wins you a giant teddy bear

b )a barefoot walk along the beach to watch the sunset

A trip to McDonald’s and a grope in the park is about your lot round here. But we did the stupid quiz anyway – it was a long boring Friday afternoon, and what harm could it do? Anyway, I came out as very balanced, not too far either way.

‘Lucky you, Emily,’ said Polly. ‘Brains or brawn!’

I should have objected then while I still had a chance. I’m not that stupid. I knew my results meant I should go for a boy who was a balanced mixture of brains and brawn, sort of like a balanced meal. Jimmy maybe, but even thinking about that made me squirm with embarrassment and I certainly wasn’t suggesting it to Polly.

Even I knew it didn’t mean I had twice the field open to me.

By the time we were discussing my perfect partner, IT was over and we were weaving our way through the crowds in the corridor and then taking our usual short-cut right through the staff car park. If any teachers notice us Polly gives a little wave and I smile my nice girl smile. She figures any teachers leaving straight after the last lesson feel guilty enough anyway. Tonight it was Mr Peterson and Mr Musgrave climbing into a car together.

‘I didn’t know those two were friends,’ I said.

Small besuited Mr Peterson is our lovely Maths teacher and towering Mr Musgrave (tattoos and tight black T-shirt) is our Head of House. Where muscular Mr Musgrave is loud and dramatic and very definitely scary,  pretty Mr Peterson is all sweetness and enthusiasm, tripping around the classroom on his size 5 feet, filled with the joy of Mathematics.

‘Look there you go, Emily,’ said Polly. ‘Two perfect examples of pure brains and pure brawn; cute Mr Peterson, with his pretty shirts and numbers are pure poetry nonsense and ex-convict Mr Musgrave.’

‘He’s not an ex-convict,’ I objected. ‘He’s just taught English in prisons.’

‘Whatever,’ she shrugged. ‘But two fit specimens, you’d have to admit. And which one is for you Emily?’

I laughed and waved along with Polly as they drove out of the car park. It was the Friday before the half term holiday after all and it was just a very silly quiz. There was no point taking it seriously.

*********

I could blame it on that stupid quiz. I could blame it on boredom. I could blame it on Polly for going away at half term. In fact I definitely blame it on her, or at least her inconsiderate parents for whisking her and Toby over the sea to Skye, and then on to the remotest of remote holiday cottages – no wi-fi, no phone connection. I usually spend half my time at Polly’s, either upstairs hanging out in Polly’s room or playing on Toby’s computer, or downstairs chatting with her Mum in the kitchen.

But whoever or whatever caused it, that’s when it really started, in the half term holiday. That’s when one tiny suggestion, one silly joke, started to grow into something else.

As I lay in my warm bed on those cold October mornings it was so, so easy to picture Mr Peterson, all brains and loveliness, sitting at his desk at the front of our Maths class. I look up from my work and I catch him watching me, with just the hint of a secret smile in his blue eyes. I shyly return his smile, then hook my hair back behind my ears and bow my head over my work. Or I choose Mr Musgrave, the embodiment of brooding masculinity, flashing a dark smouldering look in my direction as he clears a path for me through a horde of rowdy kids in the canteen.

I’d doze and wake from muddled dreams, full of strange, anxious feelings. I watched my reflection in the mirror as I wriggled my jeans up over my hips. I placed a palm on my flat stomach and felt a shiver run down my arms as all the tiny downy hairs stood on end. Whose hand was it? Mr Brains or Mr Brawn? Which one should I choose?

I sat at my window, looking out at nothing as I turned the pages backwards and forwards in the English text on my knees – the Knight’s Tale from Chaucer. How was I supposed to cope with that? When I tried to work or read, whole made-up scenes, whole conversations played out between my eyes and the page and I’d give up and climb onto my bed. I’d pull the duvet back over my head, push my cheek down into the pillow and wrap my own arms around my bony shoulders.

But that still didn’t answer my question.

Would it be brains in the small perfect shape of Mr Peterson, or brawn in the protective muscular bulk of Mr Musgrave?

On Sunday the clocks went back and Mum coaxed me downstairs with an offer of hot chocolate and Top Hat on the television. She loves those old movies. I snuggled under a blanket as the dusk began to fall at four in the afternoon, matching my melancholy perfectly.

*********

Walking to school on Monday morning after a week of this I knew I was heading back to reality, but I couldn’t help myself. Just one last little daydream, I thought.

Snuggled in my Parka, on the way to Polly’s house, it was easy to find Mr Peterson in the softness of the fur lining, or Mr Musgrave in the rasp of the zipper teeth across my cold cheek. I could be sweet Emily, giggling under a blanket, kisses soft as butterfly wings fluttering up and down my neck; or bad Emily, fingers knotted into handfuls of hair, kisses hot and hard as bruises.

‘Whatya been doing sweetie?’ Polly asked.

‘You know. Chilling mostly. Bit of homework. How was Skye?’

That was easy, I thought. So now back to the real world. As if it could really be that simple.

And so began the worst week of my entire life. To be fair there were moments of normality, but not when I was anywhere near either Mr Peterson or Mr Musgrave. I’ll spare all the embarrassing detail, but to put it briefly, to my normal everyday sort of shyness I managed to add serious blushing of the head, neck and general all-over-body kind, not to mention extreme stammering. Then there was the tripping down non-existent steps, dribbling food down my front in the canteen and a sort of general air of brainlessness and clumsiness that followed me around like a bad smell. Sometimes I combined several skills at once, like when I entered the Maths class, tripped, kicked over Mr Peterson’s briefcase and bashed my head on his desk, all the time with him sitting at it of course.

‘Are you all right Emily,’ he said as I stumbled to my seat, blushing so hard I thought the roots of my hair would begin to sizzle.

No I was not all right. I was a crazy girl who just wanted her head, and the body attached to it, to return to Planet Normal.

On Friday in House Assembly I backed into a skinny Year 7 boy, knocking him to the floor like a tiny skittle. When Mr Musgrave laughed and said something about men falling at my feet I started breathing so oddly he sent me to the medical room.

*****************

I knew Polly knew something was up by the way she didn’t ask me what was up.

‘What you need is my special Friday night rescue package,’ was all she said.

Then she took out two pieces of orange card -– tickets to the Year 11 Halloween disco.

‘But Year 10’s aren’t allowed,’ I said feebly.

‘Use your pumpkin, Emily dearest,’ she said. ‘It’s Halloween, so we dress up. And tell me Emily my dearest love, do I know how to dress up?’

Polly didn’t really need telling. She knows she’s the queen of the catwalk, the high- priestess of gorgeousness. And more to the point for gatecrashing a party, she’s the diva of disguise.

I stared up at the ceiling of the medical room and smiled for what felt like the first time in ages.

*********

At nine o’clock that night we were sneaking down Polly’s stairs, ready to shout our goodbyes to her parents. I had made a remarkable recovery, even if it didn’t show through my green face paint. In fact nothing showed, especially when I added the large warty nose. That was the point. Be my old self again? No better than that, be someone else entirely. Polly had lent me her strappy little black dress and any bare flesh (an area not quite as big as a football pitch) was camouflaged in green glitter. So actually the same colour as a football pitch. She assured me I looked lovely; lovely and green and totally unrecognisable.

As the girl said, ‘From now on I’ll be green with envy whenever I think of little you in my little dress Emily. And the nose job! What can I say about the nose?’

Polly herself was amazingly restrained in one of her Dad’s suits and a flubbery Frankenstein’s Monster mask. Although I noticed she didn’t actually stop to ask her Dad’s opinion of her costume.

Toby was already waiting in the drive in his Mum’s car as instructed, with the engine running. I opened the back door and shuffled my shrink-wrapped bottom along the back seat.

‘And there was me thinking it was fancy dress,’ he quipped.

‘I can see that,’ I said.

Toby’s extreme bad taste in second-hand clothes is legendary, going all the way back to when he played the Artful Dodger at primary school. That’s Polly’s theory anyway.

Polly climbed into the front passenger seat. ‘Ooo, mildew green,’ she said. ‘The new black.’ She gave his cord jacket a sisterly stroke. ‘And what is that smell? Moth balls? No actually, please don’t tell us.’

But it was a ride. And by the time we’d shrieked our way over every speed bump between Polly’s house and school we were ready for action.

**************************************************

Monster mask on, green fringe over green face, we flashed our tickets at the door and we were in. I wouldn’t say the hall was transformed beyond recognition exactly, but it was loud, dark and crowded.

‘How about a drink?’ I said.

It’s always odd which teachers actually want to come to these events. Of course I’d known they (as in Mr Brains and Mr Brawn) might be there, but I’d not let that thought in, not really. Well at least not more than once every minute since Polly had first flashed the tickets.

Mr Peterson was behind the bar, all smug and domestic, with his very pregnant wife by his side. They were both in smoochy pink, petit Mr Peterson in a frilly shirt and not so petite Mrs Peterson in a huge blobby T-shirt. In fact she reminded me of the inflatable Mr Blobby Toby keeps in his bedroom. I grabbed two weird looking purple drinks from the end of the table furthest from the happy couple and headed back to Polly. And I can proudly say I didn’t so much as tremble, let alone spill the whole lot over anyone.

It wasn’t until we were dancing, bouncing up and down in the mass of strangely dressed bodies, that I spotted Mr Musgrave. I’d have to say fangs and a black cape were definitely his thing. Looking at him lounging against the wall bars I felt a familiar weakness around the knees and a certain pounding inside that couldn’t be explained away by the loud music or Polly’s severely restricting dress. I needed to go and sit down somewhere quickly. But Polly had other ideas.

‘Let’s ask him to dance,’ she shouted above the din.

Polly grabbed one green arm and I had to follow. I was in disguise after all. She stood on tiptoes to whisper something in his ear and then before you could say Back Dracula! he was leaping about, arms and legs pumping like some huge black insect in distress. I felt that panicky feeling welling up again, but this time it was different. Smouldering, dangerously cool Mr Musgrave was doing an embarrassing-dad dance, a sort of cross between everyone’s favourite uncle at a wedding and a wind-up chicken!

I started laughing: laughing and screaming and jumping and shaking my green hair manically all at the same time. Deep down Mr Brawn himself was not so much one of the cool undead as one of the dead uncool. I hung on to Polly and hurled myself higher and higher.

Then suddenly I’d had enough, more than enough. I wanted out.

Blame it on that evil brew of E-numbers in the purple drinks or the gut-churning bass. Or maybe an allergic reaction to Mr and Mrs Pink Peterson. For once in my life I made a decision, I actually made up my own mind. Just for once I wasn’t pushed, I jumped.

Well I ran for it anyway. I rounded off a perfect week by starring in my own brief, but dramatic, exit scene.

I pelted across the dance floor, pushing a path through the pulsing scrum of bodies and crashing into a life-sized cardboard zombie. And then I was out through the door, taking half the orange and black streamers with me. I clattered down the corridor, cursing my heels and that silly dress, swung right at the ornamental fish tank and heaved open the swing doors to the car park.

So finally I’d really escaped, I was free of it all. I slowed down to walking pace, tugging at the tangled mess of streamers in my hair and taking in deep gulps of cold air as I headed for the gate. That’s when he stepped out of the shadows, blocking my way, a figure straight out of a creepy sweaty nightmare…

*********

But that’s what I’ve left behind, my nightmare week. He’s not part of that. He’s here, he’s real. And now his arms are round my bare shoulders, holding them to stop the shaking and pushing aside a dangling lock of green hair with his lips to whisper something I can’t take in. I’m burying my face in soft worn corduroy and giggling into his chest, although I can’t really tell if I’m giggling or sobbing. All I know for certain is he’s holding me really tight and close and through a large warty nose I’m breathing in the weirdest most amazing smell, of second-hand shops, after-shave and take-away curry.

So which is it, brains or brawn? Neither of course, just pure unmistakable lovely Tobyness.

Did I say the worst week of my life? You know, I could be wrong about that.

M J Lewis ©2015