The Playing Field – A Short Story

The field stretched out four acres behind the schoolhouse. Two long rows of evergreens spanned from one end of the field to the other, creating a sense of protective separation from the school grounds and the outside world. It had been snowing incessantly for three days so that the grounds were white. The tree branches, heavy with snow, hung close to the ground and occasionally dropped heavy clumps of it forming high mounds that almost reached the branches that created them. 

As the children returned to school, they walked quietly. Some of them in groups of three or four, others in pairs and one alone with his head down and hands buried deep in his pockets. A group of three girls stood around whispering to each other in front on the boutique across the square. As they shared their chewing gum and gossip about the other girls in the class, they watched the other children walk past through the main gate and into the playground.  

Justin walked alone up the tree-lined street beyond Janet’s Café and up the path to the school. He heard the girls huddled by the boutique giggle as he passed them. He dropped his head lower so that his eyes were almost hidden behind the rim of his woolly hat and shoved his hands deeper into his pockets. He willed his feet to moved faster while trying to make as little noise as possible. When he reached the door to the classroom, he paused, listening for a moment to the voices beyond, then pushed open the door and slipped inside.   

Most of the class had been assembled. At the front right corner of the room, Mrs. Lawson sat facing the class with her hands folded on her desk. The tidy desk spread out before her held neat piles of paper in four stacks, waiting to be distributed. Her dark, emotionless face glanced frequently towards the clock, waiting for the three minutes remaining for class to start to pass. As Justin took his seat and the last students stumbled into the room behind him, she began to speak. 

“Good Morning, Class.” She said.  

The class responded in unison, “Good Morning, Mrs. Lawson.” Their even voices filled the room.  

She glanced around at them without smiling. Most of them hand their hands on their desks and some on their laps, but all of their eyes were forward. She liked what she saw; polite, obedient children with polished shoes and combed hair. Most of their mothers made sure that their uniforms were carefully pressed and their white shirts well starched. One or two had less breeding and looked a little ragged, but that couldn’t be helped, she supposed.  

“Today we are going to start with a spelling test.” She said, and then sharply looked around, hoping to catch one or two children showing their disapproval. All eyes stayed forward and fixed on her except two. Justin’s eyes dropped and concentrated on his lap. He could feel her looking at him. She continued to speak. 

“There will be twenty-five words. When I call them out, please write down the correct spelling. Please print your answer so that there is no mistake about handwriting. This test will be graded.” She said, and then walked around the room while the children prepared their papers. They each took a fresh piece of paper from their notepads and numbered them from one to twenty-five. When she was satisfied that they were ready, she wandered up and down the rows of desks and called out the words to be spelled.  

Justin leaned over his paper, carefully writing down his answers. Beside him, he could feel Billy O’Kelly staring at him. The large boy leaned towards him and whispered.  “J. P., how do you spell successful? Is it one “s” or two?”

Justin ignored him. Billy tried again, “Psst…J.P…J.P….” Justin gave him a sideways glance then turned his head back quickly. He had no desire to be caught cheating.

Billy raised his head and glared at Justin in comprehension. Justin heard him whisper one last time. “You’re dead at recess.” He hissed. 

When the test was over, Mrs. Lawson went to the front of the room and addressed the class.  

“Please pass your papers forward. Do not speak until the papers have been collected. Once I have them all, please open your reading books to chapter five and read quietly while I grade your papers. You will be required to write a summary of what you have read after recess.”

She took the papers from each of the children sitting in the front rows then sat at her desk to grade them. 

Justin sat rigid in his seat. His left had cradled the book on his desk so that Billy could not see his face behind the cover. Recess was in an hour. 

When the spelling test had been graded, Mrs. Lawson handed them back to the student. Some quiet moans spread throughout the room as the students saw their grades. Billy received a 44%.  

Justin looked at the mistakes on his paper and noticed an error in the grading. He raised his hand and his eyes to the teacher. Her eyes darted towards him and she sighed heavily.  

“Yes, Mr. Pierce? What is it?” She said. The class turned and looked at him.

“Mrs. Lawson, I…Well…” 

“Yes, what is it boy?” She said impatiently. 

“There seems to be a mistake on my paper. I spelled recommendation right. It’s one “c” and two “m’s”.  

She couldn’t believe it. This shabby, little boy was telling her how to spell. “Pierce, I graded these papers and all papers very carefully. I’m sure you’ll find that you are mistaken. It’s double “c” and double “m”.” She said then turned away and began to write the next assignment on the blackboard. Billy looked at Justin and smirked at him. 

Justin looked at his paper. He was certain he was correct. He had studied. He always studied.  

“Mrs. Lawson, “ He said quietly. “I’m sure I’m right. Could we double check in the dictionary?” His voice was shaking. 

She turned around with the chalk in her hand and glared at him. She looked at his trousers, faded at the knees and the scuffed black shoes on his awkward feet. His black hair was always in need of a haircut. She resented the fact that the school had allowed such scruffy child from “that neighbourhood” to attend their school. 

“Very well. Please yourself.” She said then turned back to the blackboard. 

A moment later, Justin walked up to her and showed her the entry in the dictionary. She looked at it, but the stern expression on her face never changed.  

“I see.” She said. “I’ll make the change in the grade-book. Now go back to your seat.”  

Justin obeyed and went back to his reading assignment until the recess bell rang. The children slipped out of their chairs and went out the back door of the classroom and into the playground.  

Justin walked toward the open field where he could sit on a stone bench and watch the others play their games. He had been daydreaming, not really paying attention when he felt his arms being pinned behind him and someone’s arm around his neck as he was dragged from the bench. It took only a moment to realise that Billy had made good on his threat. Adam Fisher, a gangly, profusely-freckled boy held Justin’s arms while Billy choked the air out of his lungs.  As Justin tried to free himself, Adam laughed till tears rolled down his cheeks.  

Justin looked around the playground while he struggled. The other children were at the far end of the field enjoying a game of tag. Across the field he could see the classroom door and the window beside it. For a moment, a woman’s face appeared and he felt a surge of relief at seeing her, but it faded as she raised her arm across the window, her eyes fixed on him until they disappeared behind the curtain. 

Finally, as his began to faint, Billy let him drop. As Justin slid onto the snow, his chin hit the edge of the stone bench. Blood poured from the wound as Billy and Adam walked away arm and arm. Justin put his hand to his chin and was sure that he would be left with a scar. 

© Eliza Dashwood 2004

Quote for the day

 I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life… I wanted to live so sturdily and so Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life… to drive life into a corner to know it by experience and be able to give an account of it in my next excursion.  

– Henry David Thoreau

Writing Prompt: The morning after…

All sorts of things happen to people when they’ve had a few too many drinks. Lord knows I’ve had my fair share of memory hiccups. I’ve lost my favourite scarf twice, woken up with a cigarette burn on my wrist (on the inside where it really hurts), found a blue woolen glove in my handbag, a newspaper clipping about Celtic football club and a cut that needed stitches.

Try writing about a character that wakes up to find some strange items in their pockets. Have them retrace the night’s events. What happened and how did these items find their way into your character’s possession?

Locker key

Digital Camera

Match book

A chocolate egg

A cat’s flea collar and I.D. tag

Have fun.

Writing Prompt: The Morning After

Writing Prompt: Snow Day/Moonlight

It’s funny how different people react to the harsh weather. I looked out the window and saw the fields behind my house covered with snow. The hillside wore a white blanket, inviting me to slide down on a sledge. When I went to the front of the house, the street and gardens were hidden and unfortunately, so was my car. There were at least six inches of fresh, fluffy powder over the windows, on the driveway, all over the garden. Down the steps, there were deep, tiny footprints where Titch had clearly stepped out and disliking the cold, had turned straight around and back to warmth on the house.

Trains have been cancelled or delayed every day. The roads have been treacherous.  As I drove down the hill to the train station this morning, my back wheels skid slightly, but I was able to correct them and carry on. A friend was not so lucky the other day, having ended up in a hedge. I was grateful to hear he was all right, but it has made me more careful than usual.

The fire is lit, Titch is at my side. I looked out the window a moment ago and the full moon is out, huge and magnificent in the sky. It’s strange, it’s a little quirk of mine. I love the sight of the full moon. I’ve seen it over so many cities over the years and I always associate it with happy memories.

So, a cold but beautiful day, followed by a freezing lovely night.

What do you think of when you see snow covered hill and a big full moon?

Writing Prompt: Snow Day/Moonlight

Writing Prompt: Anything at all

I often ask myself, if I could do anything at all, if bills and time were not a factor, what would I do? The answer hasn’t varied too much over the years. So, how would I spend every waking moment of every day?

I’d shut myself up in my office with a coffee maker, my books, writing desk and computer. I’d nestle into my chair, (a director’s chair made of burnt orange canvas). I wish sometimes that I had two lives I could live every day. One in the office where I write and read and dream my days away. Another where I run around learning and speaking with people who work in my industry.

If you could do anything at all, what would it be?

Writing Prompt: Anything at all

Writing Prompt: The Book List

As you may have noticed through some of the other pages on the site, I’ve started a new book list for 2009. As I go through them, I’m writing down what I finish and adding a review. So far, I’ve read “Candide” by Voltaire (for the 20th time), “Fire in the Blood” by Irene Nemirovsky and “Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne. I’ve loved all three in different ways and I highly recommend them all. Particularly the last one on the list. I read it on train journeys to and from work over two days. Having finished it tonight, it left me sad, a little shaken and with the total conviction that I’ll read it again. It was beautiful and although it ended in the only tragic way a book on that subject could, I didn’t want it to end. I’ve just picked up “Crooked Little Vein” by Warren Ellis and I’m sure it too will be completed in a matter of days, judging by the speed at which I’m turning the first few pages.

I’ve always been an ambitious reader. I make lists, set targets; I’ve spend thousands on books throughout my life and I’m proud of the little library I’ve collected and stacked on the dark wood shelves around me. There are some books there that I’ve had for years and never got around to, this is their year.

Tell me, if you could get through ten books this year that you’ve always wanted to go through, but never managed, which ones would they be? What is it about them that attracts you? Is it a recommendation, a genre, the author, the storyline? What we read speaks volumes about who we are. What does your list say about you?

From the books above, I’d say I’m a tragic-romantic prone to the darker side of life who appreciates irony….

Writing Prompt: The Book List

Closing off the book list 2008

Well, I gave it a go and here is how far I got in 2008:

1. A Certain Slant of Light – Laura Whitcomb

2. The Road to Avalon – Joan Wolf

3. Rope Burns – F.X. Toole

4. We Need to Talk about Kevin – Lionel Shriver

5. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

6. Battle Royale – Houshun Takami

7. I Haven’t Dreamt of Flying for a While – Taichi Yamada

8. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

9. Rape – A Love Story – Joyce Carol Oates

10. How to Survive a Horror Movie – Seth Grahame-Smith

11. The Ice Queen – Alice Hoffman

12. Breakfast At Tiffany’s – Truman Capote

13. The Book with No Name – Anonymous

14. Winkie – Clifford Chase

15. Lost Girls and Love Hotels – Catherine Hanrahan

16. Nefertiti – Michelle Moran

17. Tan Lines – J.J. Salem

18. The Fifth Child – Doris Lessing

19. Candide – Voltaire

20. Real World – Natsuro Karino

21. The Choice – Nicolas Sparks

22. Almost Transparent Blue – Ryu Murakami

23. The Tartar Steppe – Dino Buzzati

24. Out – Natsuro Kirino

25. After Dark – Murakami

So, just short of half my target. 2009 will have to be better. So, here’s my first resolution of the year. My friends will understand how difficult this will be for me, but I won’t buy another book until I’ve read 52 books from  my exisiting library.  I have about 200 unread books to choose from, so I shoudn’t want for options… wish me luck in 2009.

Writing Prompt: Creating the perfect fit

My tastes in books tends to be a bit eclectic. I have Japanese thrillers, historical fiction, contemporary British, history, philosophy, fantasy, horror and science fiction (to name a few).  There is no predicting what will capture my attention on a given day when I wander into Waterstone’s on Princes Street. When I go in, I tell myself that I won’t buy anything. I’ll just browse. I’ve written before about how libraries and bookshops calm me. You can measure my mood by the weight of my shopping bag.

As I looked at my overflowing bookcase at home, deciding what to read, I couldn’t decide. So, I selected five book at random and began to flick through them. I came across a passage in one of them and stopped.

“There’s only one way to overcome the fear: you’ve got to stab someone else with an ice pick.” (from: Piercing, Ryu Muurakami)

Interesting, I thought. Curious of what the others contained, I flicked through them and stopped at random pages. I closed my eyes for a moment, and letting my fingers guide me through the pages, I stopped somewhere in the middle of each. I opened my eyes letting them rest on any sentence they chose first, then marked the line. When I had done this with every book, I copied each line and this is what I got:

“I understand, though,” Mr. Lettreblair continued, “that she attached no importance to the money. Therefore, as the family say, why not let well enough alone?” (from: The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton)

“Before they has reached the top the painter threw the door wide open and with a deep bow invited K to enter.” (from The Trial, Franz Kafka)

“Oh Grady, I’m so glad you’re there. So many bad things are happening at once.” (from: Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon)

“He looks at his watch. It is twenty to one, which is not bad, and he won’t even mentions she’s late.  This is what he’d call within bounds.” (from: The Kiss, Joan Lingard)

These are all buried deep within the pages of very different books by authors that span from 1920 to 2002. The authors were Japanese, Scottish, American and Czech.

So, faced with the range of where the lines and books come from, it’s not impossible to picture a scenario where these lines might well fit together.

Try this: Pick five books, pick five lines at random and see if you can create a scene or a storyline where they might all fit.

Writing Prompt: Creating the perfect fit

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