by Janet Howson
“I understand that your daughter punched another student. I’m afraid we will not tolerate that sort of behaviour in St Saviours, Mrs Bancroft.” Mrs Harrison’s face was stern, her hair pulled back from her face made her look even more severe. She was sixty-five and had had enough of running a school, she felt permanently tired.
“How do you know she was the one that started it? It could just of well have been the other girl. Who is she anyway?” Val sat up straight in the chair, looking the headmistress in the eye.
“Her name is Jane Young. She’s in your daughter’s class. She now has a rather painful black eye as a result of the strike by your daughter.” She turned towards Becky who was hovering at the back of the room. “Show your mother your hands Becky.”
Becky reluctantly pulled her hands out of her pockets and approached her mother. With an impatient sigh she displayed her hands. She is so like me, Val thought. Scared of nothing and nobody. However, there was no way she would have punched a girl for no good reason.
“You see Mrs Bancroft, Becky’s knuckles are cut, I would guess that she acquired those cuts when she punched Jane.” She sniffed and pushed her glasses further back on her nose. “Conclusive evidence wouldn’t you say?”
“No I wouldn’t. Her hands were like that when she went into school today. Cut them picking blackberries. The thorns are vicious. Admit it, you don’t really know what happened, do you?”
“Jane said they were talking about boys and Becky lost her temper and punched her. It seems to me like a typical teenagers’ quarrel.”
“What really happened, Becks? What was the argument about?”
Becky, faced her mum. “I’ve liked Mark for ages and we had been sort of seeing each other after school. Then today, that bitch came up to me in the toilet block and said Mark had asked her out and it was no surprise as she was better looking than me. Her mates were all laughing at me so I pushed her out of the way so I could get out of the toilets. She tried to stop me but slipped on something and fell. I suppose that was when she got the black eye. No way did I punch her. Although she did deserve it. That is the truth, mum, honest, have you ever known me to hit anyone?”
“Of course I believe you, Becks. Well that explains things Mrs Harrison, just an accident. Jane is trying to get Becks into trouble, I’d like to have a word with the little…”
“That will not be possible, Mrs Bancroft. Jane is off school nursing her wounds. However, if what Becky says is true then I will need to speak to her mother in due course. We will leave it for now Becky. You can go home with your mother.” Mrs Harrison gathered some papers together, paper clipped them and put them in a drawer, signalling an end to the conversation.
“Thank you, Mrs Harrison,” Becky looked relieved.
Val got up. This brought back memories of her own childhood. Always in trouble. Waiting outside the Headmistress's room, being given lines, detentions and warnings. She did badly at school, coming out with no qualifications of worth. She didn’t want Becky to end up the same. She was a bright kid, she could go to university and get a good job.
“Come on, Becks, let’s get you home. You’ve got your swimming lesson tonight.”
The two of them passed down the long corridors past the empty classrooms. The cleaners were just beginning their evening session and there was the painful sound of a violin coming from the music room.
“Glad you didn’t take up the violin, Becks, I don’t think I could have stood that noise every night.”
“No way, I wouldn’t mind having a go at the drums though.”
“What?” Val looked horrified.
“Only joking,” Becky laughed at her mother’s shocked face. “Come on we’re going to be late for swimming. Did you remember my drink?”
“Do I ever forget. I wish you wouldn’t drink that Red Bull though. Can’t be doing you any good.”
“Oh mum, everyone drinks it. Gives me energy and keeps me awake when I’m tired.”
Val sat in the canteen whilst Becky changed and went off to the pool. She checked her phone for messages. She was hoping there would be text from Patrick. She really liked him. The first person she had been interested in since her divorce. She still saw her ex-husband when she dropped Becky off on a Saturday. She wouldn’t dream of not allowing her access to her father. She was adopted herself. She had never tried to trace her birth mother and did not keep in contact with her adoptive parents. Becky was the only family she had. She would like to meet someone though and marry again.
She had met Patrick at her Drama group. She liked him straight away. He was Mr Personality. Not particularly good looking but a charmer. He had a good job and a flat of his own. She would chat to him whenever the opportunity arose. He was Lysander in the play they were doing, ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, and she was Hermia, so they were in the same scenes together. She had texted him to see whether he fancied getting to the Dress rehearsal earlier to go through their lines. He hadn’t replied.
She picked up her designer handbag and extracted a mirror and a lipstick. She peered at herself and applied the bright red lipstick. Well girl, you aint a bad catch for your age. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. She laughed to herself as she put the mirror away.
She got out her script and turned to the page she was still unsure of, mouthing the words to herself. It was difficult to concentrate with the noise of the activities and the general hub bub of the Sports centre clientele.
“I thought I’d find you ‘ere. It’s Beck’s swimming night aint it? Mind if we join yer?"
Val looked up, it was Graham, her ex with a young dark haired woman. Val took her in with a glance. High heels, painted in eyebrows, thick makeup and a botox pout. She instantly disliked her. The two of them sat down, cradling take-away cups of coffee.
“What you doing here? It isn’t Saturday.”
“I know. Just wanted to see my baby and have a chat with you.”
“Well she won’t be finished for another hour, time she gets changed and dried her hair.”
“No problem, gives us a chance to chat. This is Chantelle, my future wife. We get married next month. Chantelle this is Val my ex-wife.”
Val felt a chill down her spine. What was this all about? Was he going to reduce his maintenance to her now he was marrying again? She found it difficult enough as it was with only her salary coming in and the ever increasing outgoings they had.
“Nice to meet you. Congratulations.” Perhaps this was about inviting Becky to the wedding? Even being a bridesmaid. She would love that.
“You see, I’ve ‘ad a really good promotion but it means moving to Birmingham. Chantelle ‘as come into a very large inheritance as an only child. However, we ain’t got anyone to spend it on. Chantelle can’t have children and we don’t want to adopt.” He paused, looked at Chantelle who nodded for him to go on, taking his arm in hers. If we had Becky living with us, we could send ‘er to a really good private school, give ‘er the best opportunities in life. She could end up going to Oxford or Cambridge. She’s a very bright girl, you ‘ave always said that.”
Val was speechless. They actually thought she would give up the daughter she had brought up single handed to a man who had left her when she was only a baby because he had felt trapped in their relationship? Well they know what they could do with their money. They were not about to spend it on schooling her daughter in Birmingham. Posh school or not.
“It is unbelievable that you should think for one moment that I would hand over my Becks to a father who only gives her two hours of his time on a Saturday, usually forgets her birthday and always has something better to do with his time at Christmas than see her. As for you Chantelle, no disrespect, but you haven’t had any children of your own and to think you could take on a teenager, a strong minded one at that, well, you are kidding yourself. Forget it, it’s a non-starter.”
Graham, looked hard at Val. “I'm prepared to take it to court if we can’t come to an agreement. I am in a far better financial position to bring up a teenager than you. You’re always saying you struggle to keep your ‘ead above water. Well, let me take the strain off you by having Becks live with us. You will have all your money to spend on yourself then. Also, we all know you've had problems with the old drink. Are you really a suitable mother? Social services will be interested to know the times you left her alone to go to the off licence for more supplies”
“That was a long time ago and you know I went to AA and I have been dry for years. If you hadn’t left us you would have been there to look after her whilst I was out wouldn’t you?”
Their voices were rising and people started to look round. They were all unaware of a figure listening to every word they were saying, clutching a swimming costume and towel, a look of shock on her face. They also didn’t see her turn and run for the main doors of the sports centre dropping her costume and towel on route. They didn’t see her reach the busy main road, her eyes clouded with tears, obscuring her vision. They didn’t see the container lorry screeching to a halt, too late to avoid the figure that had run out into the road. They didn’t hear the sirens of the ambulance as it speeded towards the scene. They were still arguing, arguing about her, and the arguing went on, and on, way past the time of the start of the rehearsal for the play that Val would never be able to face being in, after losing the only person she really cared about. Her own Midsummer Night’s Dream fairy
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About the Author
Janet taught Drama and English for 35 years in several Comprehensive schools, directing a lot of plays, some of which she wrote herself. She was spurred to start writing again when she found a folder of forgotten poetry she had written years ago. She is now enjoying writing short stories and is honoured to have been chosen to be published in The Best of CafeLit and also Nativity a Bridge House publication. Her first published book Charitable Thoughts is now out at last.