Short Story: If.

Joyce stood in the middle of the school playground quietly. She knew that she had a reason to be there, but she couldn’t quite bring it to mind. She could remember being here before, plenty of times, but she couldn’t remember when. There had been cakes, yes, and didn’t someone ask her to bake a ginger one once? She looked down at her hands. They were empty. No cake. Maybe there had been a cake this time and she had left it behind. She had no idea what kind it might have been. Meetings as well, that’s right, and chairs, a lot of chairs, to set out and put away. Chairs for people to sit on, obviously. She knew that. She wasn’t stupid. She looked around the playground. There were no chairs anywhere. This was a worry. Did you put chairs out here? Should she do that now? What if people came and there was nowhere for them to sit down? That would be dreadful. The chairs must be inside. She went to the large red wooden door and pulled at the metal handle. It didn’t open. She could see chairs inside, plenty of them, but the door was…….. the word was gone. What did you say about a door when it wouldn’t do anything? Wouldn’t open?  She walked back into the middle of the playground and looked for the children. Usually there were children, and the nice woman who told them all what to do. She wondered where the children had gone. Children got taken away sometimes. So many of them. All gone. She started to cry when she thought of the children, gone. All gone.
“Are you all right Joyce?”
Joyce wondered how the strange man knew her name. She knew her name. It was written under her photograph on the sideboard. She had once had another name but that had gone now. Gone with the children.
The man was getting too close. Joyce backed away. He was smiling but people did that. All the time. It didn’t mean anything. The woman who came to help her clean up smiled and she didn’t like it. The doctor smiled while he was asking her stupid questions that she didn’t know the answer to. Things he thought she should know but didn’t. He shouldn’t do that. It was unkind. They all smiled. It was confusing. How could you work anything out if people smiled all the time?
“What are you doing here?”
“I need to put some chairs out.”
“It’s all right Joyce. There’s no meeting today. School is locked up.”
Locked- that was it. The door was locked.
“Locked up!”
“Yes. Shall I walk home with you?”
Joyce wondered how the man knew where she lived. That was worrying. She didn’t want strangers knowing her name and where she lived. She was a very private person.
“People will be coming. They need somewhere to sit.”
“Not today.”
“Oh but they will!”
Joyce could remember now. She could remember very clearly. Soon they would all be coming for the village show. There would be cakes, that would be what the cakes she had left at home were for, plants and knitted baby clothes, and the dogs would be herding sheep on the field. People would be bringing all sorts of things and they would give out coloured tickets. Where was everybody? Such a glorious afternoon and they were all late. She had entered a piece of writing in the calligraphy section. She could recite it now. She had won competitions for that before. Not here though. Somewhere else. She spoke the poem out loud, remembering the words on the page. Pretty loops and straight lines.
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you. If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.”
The rest had gone. Never mind. She closed her eyes and she could see the dogs. Good dogs. Jack Anderson had brought a piglet and it was nowhere near as heavy as Sadie Johnson said it was. Joyce had lifted it up so she knew. Sadie Johnson might make good jam but she didn’t know pigs. She was helping with the tombola later on. There was a lot to do.
“I have a cake ready. I left it at home. They’ll be judging soon.”
The man had an odd look on his face. Joyce didn’t trust him. She had seen him somewhere before. Perhaps he was following her.
“Shall we go home and get it?”
He held out his hand. Joyce nodded and took it gently.
“I think we’d better.”

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3 comments on “Short Story: If.

  1. judecalverttoulmin says:

    Lovely story, Pat, beautifully written. Made me well up. And inspired by our discussion about Louis Theroux’s Extreme Love – Dementia on your facebook, as well! 🙂

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Oh, Pat…

  3. patricia1957 says:

    I am going to admit to liking this one. 🙂

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