I had a dream last night and it was so vivid I just wrote it down as a short story. Please don’t analyse this!
TQ9ers – a Tale from Totnes
Hey Abs, meet me at the top of the wiggly path. Got something to tell you…
The message was from her best friend, Iona. It was strange. They almost always walked to school down in Totnes together in the mornings anyway. It must be important, if she had to make sure of it and leave a bit early this morning.
The girls exchanged a greeting as a determined, sliding drizzle began to dapple their faces from the direction of the river Dart. They headed down the zig-zag path that led from their modern estate to the river. Normally they would cut the corners and walk more directly down the hill, but today it was sodden and muddy, and theirs was a school that would not take kindly to them arriving covered in mud. Even if they were to arrive with muddy shoes they were likely to get a dressing down, and probably a phone call home. That’s the sort of school it was. The education was good, but the views were quite old-fashioned. The parents liked that. That is what they paid for. Smart uniforms and, on the face of it at least, exemplary behaviour and manners.
“Only our school thinks that it knows better than everyone else and ignores a bank holiday,” complained Abigail. “Pricks.”
“But get this: McGonagall isn’t even going to show up! She’s taken the day off, the sly cow.” This was what the girls called the head teacher on account of a vague resemblance to Maggie Smith who plays the character in the Harry Potter films, even though she was a good few years younger. “My Dad saw it on the web page.”
“How fair is that!” Abi watched a drop of water run down her friend’s cheek. It was getting heavier and they huddled up against the wind which was sending the rain at a forty five degree angle now. It seemed determined to batter and soak them. They walked more quickly and had to raise their voices against the moans of the weather.
“Listen, I’ve got a plan, that’s why I texted you. I’m going to throw a sickie. I intend to be gone by break time. You should do the same. I’ll act out a fever, I’m good at that, and you just say the English have landed.” The girls at Leatside Independent Day School had learned in French that this was an expression derived from the Redcoats’ bloody fights against Napoleon which means that a girl has her period. Abi frowned. She wasn’t sure. What would their parents say? How would they get away with it?
Iona Meehan was destined for great things. Her quiet intelligence was not apparent at first. But she was a shrewd listener who generally got what she wanted, simply by working out other people’s feelings and what the stumbling block was. Or what the sweetener could be. She had even got herself a false Facebook account so that she could get an invite to TQ9ers – a private residents’ group to which their Head Teacher belonged. This was for what she termed “information gathering purposes”. For sure Iona was destined for success.
She stopped and turned to her friend, putting one hand on her shoulder so that Abi had to stop too and look her in the eye, her back to the wind now.
“We could meet those Spanish boys.” They had exchanged mobile numbers with some of the language students who often came here to learn English, two days previously. Abi had been particularly taken by one of them. They crossed the bridge where the conversation had started and it was at exactly this point that Iona dropped this suggestion. She was aware of the extra persuasion the location would add. One of the boys had picked up a torn flyer for the anti-Brexit march and stuck it back on the wall using the gum he was chewing. He had smiled at them and said,
“We need you in Europe. We are friends.”
“I agree. But you do know that we are twinned with Narnia in this town, don’t you?” Abi had laughed. The Spanish student had enough cultural knowledge to understand the joke, or had been told about the place before his visit. It was indeed said that the town was twinned with Narnia and it was hardly surprising that views on Europe between the Spanish boy and the girl from Totnes coincided. There was even a man from the town who had declared independence, made EEC Totnesian passports and distributed them to people free of charge.
And that is how it had started. They had all ended up going for a coffee together and had swapped numbers.
“McGonagall can hardly complain, being as how she’s taken the day off herself.”
So Abi was persuaded. By mid-morning the two had executed their plan. The rain had stopped and the clouds were moving away. She had had little trouble persuading the school nurse that she was suffering a rather intense bout of stomach pains. Iona had dishevelled herself, spent the first lesson looking miserable and listless, then made her cheeks red with hot water before going to the sick bay.
As agreed, they met in the café by the market place. A warm aroma of Nag Champa joss sticks and patchouli, mingled with fresh coffee fell about her like a heavy blanket as Abi walked in. Iona was already sitting at a table. Her phone sat next to a large slice of banana cake and she was smiling.
“Hi, I’ll just get myself something.” Abi returned with a huge whipped-cream-topped mug of hot chocolate and a slice of cake. She sat down beside her friend.
“So you got out OK?”
“Piece of cake.”
“So, shall we ring them?”
“Let’s eat first.”
The phone buzzed. Iona took it up and swiped the screen. She frowned.
“I don’t know really.” She handed the phone to Abi to read the message. It was a post on TQ9ers Facebook page from their head teacher:
You would have been 10 today. We miss you and think of you every day. I love you. You were only three when you left us, but I thank you for every minute of your short life, for the love and for the joy you gave us. Sleep well, my darling,