Tell A Tale in 500 Words

Another Day By Helen Price

Another day.  She drags her red chair (red for class one, yellow infants being the only juniors to her) towards her desk, a cosy fit; harder to get out. She knows it’s going to start soon. She looks up; Miss Roach is at the front of the class, asking them to open their books.

She loves books. Especially when she’s alone.  The colourful covers and glossy pages, yielding adventure, fantasy and sometimes surprise because the cover picture doesn’t always match the story. Things are often different from how they first appear. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes bad. And there’s the smell.  The dizzying pleasure of glue, wafting as she flicks the pages, later thumb-scented with lunch-box fruit and chocolate cake. In her bedroom, she sinks into stories, her mind devouring and re-working what happens next, the pleasure of simultaneous digestion of tales and toast, separate from life beyond.

In class she feels removed from communal reading.  Then it begins just as she knew it would. Maria on one side and Theresa on the other push their chairs very close to hers. Now she’s really trapped. You smell, says one. Your hair is greasy, says the other. You’re not our friend, they both say. She cries. No longer able to hold it in, the thought of not having a friend is the worst thing. She appeals to Miss Roach, who’s of no use. Oh, what’s the matter, she says, not asks, in a sing-song voice. She chalks the board, often not even noticing. Missing what’s in front of her as readily as missing the wolf dressed as Grandma.  

The aloneness of being alone. The humming drone of voices, her own amongst them, rote reading. The view of other children’s backs, faceless, perhaps not real. Miss Roach so far, far away. She wonders in these lone, lonely, alone moments if she’ll ever escape, get home. Maybe this is all there will ever be; mannequin-children, except from the two on either side of her who feel very real, shutting her in and shutting her out, the clear, smiling face of Miss Roach, oddly looming large, mouthing. She cuddles her book to her chest and fixes on one thing. At home, later, she’ll add a little more.

 

On prize day, Miss Cray, the senior teacher, considers everything Miss Roach has placed before her—(nothing of hers, of course)—a knitted square, a drawing of a cat, a painted cross.

Book-fuelled with courage, yet jelly-legged, she manages to step out and walk in front of the whole school, offering her book, bound with her father’s wood glue, crayoned cover and story in fountain-pen ink in her best writing about a lonely girl, and Miss Cray—nice, fair-minded Miss Cray—accepts, looking and looking at it, absorbed, turning pages, then she smiles, looks at her and says, ‘Oh! My task is very easy this year, why wasn’t I shown this before? First prize!’

She turns around, elated, beaming, everyone staring at her in dumb wonder. 


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