A Story to Enjoy continued

The final extract from Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson – A story to enjoy.

Cynthia Mott found a body in her shed, but it was the day of the school play, and feeling stressed, she decided to shut the door and ignore it. She is now worried that this might be a criminal offence. We rejoin the story after the school play. The teachers are returning to their homes, and we glimpse something of their private lives.

Chapter Two

Jane Lancaster returned to her office and sat at her desk. It was nicely solid, bought as a congratulatory gift by her husband when she first received the headship. She sighed. Life was sometimes so complicated. She felt the burden of her news like a physical weight within her and she had wanted to start preparing the staff. She realised that they would be tired after the nativity play, but that would have worked to her advantage. None of them would have wanted to linger today. She could have discussed the play, let them all vent their feelings and then at the end, just before they left, she could have told them the news and suggested they arrange a special meeting before the beginning of next term in order to fully discuss it.

They would be shocked. Of course they would, that went without saying. But she had so little information to give them that she hoped to avoid too much discussion initially. She just wanted to warn them, let the idea sink in during the Christmas break and then try to confront it properly when they were all accustomed to the idea. Now that wretched woman had scuppered her plans. Whilst she could not help having a headache, Jane felt that Miss Mott would have been more accommodating had she respected Jane’s position. Had she, in fact, respected Jane. She reached for her pen and a sheaf of letters that needed signing and with another sigh began to read.

Cynthia reached her car feeling highly agitated. She fumbled with her keys and dropped them twice before she was able to fit them into the lock. She was feeling very sick and slightly light headed as she steered the car back into the High Street and began to drive home. A gaggle of teenaged boys saw her approaching and purposefully stepped out in front of the car, staring belligerently at her car as they strolled slowly across the road.

‘Oh, they need to learn a lesson in manners,’ thought Cynthia, pressing on the accelerator rather than the brake. She was surprised by the speed at which the car lurched forward, having intended to only rev the engine before braking to give them a warning. The boys leaped onto the kerb, the car narrowly missing them. They turned and Cynthia saw real fear in their eyes as she passed them. She glanced in her rear view mirror and watched as one spat his contempt at the departing car and then she was gone, driving around the slight bend at the end of the street, pausing at the roundabout. She felt a laugh rise in her stomach and giggled.

‘Goodness, I might have killed one of them. That really would give the police cause for suspicion. Two bodies in one day. I would be positively notorious.’ She indicated and turned slowly into her own lane. The giggles had subsided now and she felt very close to crying. What was she about to encounter? In her mind she could already see flashing lights and police tape cordoning off her house. She could imagine the solemn faced constable approaching her car, could hear him cautioning her and telling her she needed to accompany him to the station. She could almost see her neighbours’ faces peering from behind their curtains, hear the mutterings of judgement and her respectability crumbling. She rounded the last corner.

***

Esther Pritchard had also been keen to leave school promptly, so was delighted to hear that the impromptu staff meeting had been postponed. As soon as the last child was safely handed over to his parents, she collected her coat from behind the door of her tidy classroom and left. She rarely stayed for long at the end of a school day as both her boys walked home from their school and although Rob was often there, he certainly could not be relied on.

She parked in the driveway of the modern semi that served as the Baptist Manse and hurried inside. She was greeted by a trail of shoes and bags and coats, leading from the front door to the kitchen. She walked along the hall, tidying as she went. She was hoping to chat to Rob, tell him about the nativity play and maybe have a tea together.

‘Hi Mum,’ called Joseph as she entered the kitchen. ‘What can I eat? I’m starving.’
‘You’re always starving,’ she reminded him, removing the open box of cereal from his hand. She reached for the kettle and began filling it. ‘There’s some cold pizza in the fridge from yesterday,’ she suggested. ‘Do you want a drink?’
‘I’ll have a hot chocolate,’ said Samuel through a mouthful of toast, spraying crumbs over his pullover. He brushed them off absently and stuck out a foot to kick his brother as he passed. Joseph ignored him and pulled the pizza from the fridge.
‘You need a plate for that,’ said Esther as he took a mouthful, ‘and where’s Dad?’
‘Study,’ stated Joseph, moving out of reach of Samuel, who was endeavouring to steal some of the pizza.
‘Honestly, you two,’ said Esther fondly, leaving the kitchen to find her husband. She was approaching the study door when the telephone shrilled. She stopped and listened, hoping it would be nothing important. She really wanted to share her day and laugh about it.

‘Hello? Rob Pritchard,’ she heard her husband’s rich voice answering. ‘Oh, hello Roselyn, how are you today?’

Esther made a face. The telephone rang a million times a day, usually at meal times. At least half the times it seemed to be Roselyn. She was somewhat needy, which Esther understood. Her husband was always willing to listen to her problems, even the imagined ones, for many hours at a time. This Esther did not understand.
She pushed open the door. Rob smiled when he saw her and blew a kiss. She moved her hand in a drinking gesture and received an upraised thumb in response. Wishing she could sometimes disable all telephones she returned to the kitchen.
The boys had disappeared, leaving crumbs and dirty knives strewn across the work surface. She could hear the television blaring in the lounge so took the hot chocolate in there.

The lounge was fairly large, though when filled with chairs for prayer meetings and Bible studies often felt too small. A worn blue carpet covered the floor and curtains from a previous house, which did not quite match, hung forlornly at the large bay window, partially hidden now by the Christmas tree. The tree was much too big for the room and Esther wondered why she always allowed Rob and the boys to persuade her that big was essential when it came to trees. It was covered in an eclectic array of ornaments, some collected over the years, some teacher gifts from classes she had taught and some made by the boys when they were younger. All looked rather tatty this year but there was no money to replace them. Esther felt that she was the only person who noticed.

There was a computer on a small table in one corner which was for family use. The boys were not allowed computers or televisions in their bedrooms. It was the cause of frequent arguments as one invariably wanted to play something noisy while the other was attempting to watch a programme. Of course, neither boy could enjoy either when the church held a meeting there. Esther wished the church had invested in a house that had a study large enough for meetings, but there was nothing she could do to change it. Ministers were supposed to feel led by God to a church congregation, they were meant to have no opinion about the house which that church then provided. Except for gratitude of course.

Both her sons were lying on sofas, socks off, cushions behind heads, elongated limbs draped randomly across the chairs. She smiled, proud of their size and jealous of the relaxed abandon they portrayed.

‘Ooh, thanks Mum,’ said Samuel as she came in, struggling to sit up so he could receive his drink.
‘Do you two have any homework?’ asked Esther, knowing they would say no whether they did or not.
‘Nope,’ they both confirmed, settling back to watch a cartoon family that seemed to be firmly entrenched in all the stereotypes that society claimed to abhor.

Samuel’s drink dripped onto the sofa and he moved his arm to cover it, hoping his mother wouldn’t notice and make a fuss about cleaning it up. School was finished; they were turning off for the day. Esther noticed that the Christmas tree needed watering and returned to the kitchen to begin preparing dinner.

***

Andrew Smyth was one of the last teachers to leave the school and it was dark before he closed his classroom door. Maddy Brown had stayed to help him hang the rest of the costumes and pick up the discarded plimsolls and socks that always seemed to litter the floor after the class had changed clothes. She told him that on Friday the children usually took home all their paintings from the term, so perhaps she could spend tomorrow clearing the display boards and sorting artwork. He planned to let the children mainly play for the last two days while he heard readers, so that seemed a good plan. They were too excited to learn anything he felt, why bother trying?

He returned to his lodgings and was pleased to find the house was empty. He had found the room in a newspaper ad when he was first appointed and it seemed ideal. The house was owned by a divorced woman, who hadn’t wanted to sell the family home when her children moved out, and she now rented out two of the bedrooms to paying guests. He shared the bathroom and a tiny sitting room with the other guest, an IT specialist who never seemed to be there, and they all shared the kitchen and garden. Best of all, his landlady also smoked, so he had no restrictions when he wanted to relax.

He lifted his satchel strap over his head with one hand, dumping it on the stairs before making his way to the kitchen. He pulled a beer from his designated shelf in the fridge and took it upstairs. He threw his navy jacket over the back of his desk chair and loosened his tie. He had a nice room, right at the top of the cottage. It was well furnished, with a sturdy oak bed and matching desk and chair that suited the solidness of the walls and the sloping ceiling.

Sprawling on the bed, he downed half the beer before reaching for his laptop to check his email and Facebook accounts. He had enjoyed the day for once. The children had all been so excited and it was fun to provide a show for the parents. On days like today he quite enjoyed the job.

‘Maybe I’m just bored,’ he thought. ‘Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad staying there if I had something a bit more interesting to think about too. I need a hobby. Something that entails meeting some interesting adults who don’t have children. Maybe something a bit artistic too, I’m good at that.’ He finished his beer and threw the can towards his waste paper basket. It nearly went in. He ran his fingers through his hair. It was getting rather long at the front and flopped over his eye. He had better get it cut before he went home or his mother would nag him.

He began an email to his mother, sending her some dates when he could visit during the holiday. Definitely Christmas Day itself, he would not be missing out on her turkey dinner. He had mixed feelings about going home. It was nice enough seeing his parents and sister again. The food was much better too. But he did feel that he was going back in time. His dad would ask him to help stack shelves in the shop and want advice about his banking and his mother would start tidying his bedroom if he left things on the floor. He seemed to revert back to being a child the moment he stepped inside their house and he was not entirely sure his parents had noticed that he was now an adult. It was strange to be telling a whole class of children what to do all day, and then to go home and be told by his mother and sister what he should be doing himself. They even monitored what he was eating and how much he was smoking. That was partly why he had been so keen to find a job not too near his parents’ home. It was always nice to see them, he just did not want to live there any more. He was his own person now.

****

This is the final extract I will be posting. Why not buy a copy of Hidden Faces?

Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson is available in bookshops for £11.95, but you can buy copies directly from me for £7.95 (with free UK postage). Simply complete the contact form below, and I will send you a copy (payment by sterling cheque or bank transfer is due on receipt of the book).

Who would you like to make smile this Christmas? A signed book is a great gift!

A Story to Enjoy continued

Continuing Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson – A story to enjoy.

Cynthia Mott discovered a body in her garden shed, but it was the day of the school play, so she shut the door and left it. She is now worried that ignoring a body might be a criminal offence. We join the story after the play, when the children are returning to their classrooms:

Andrew Smyth followed his class to their classroom. The children were almost running and began pushing to be first through the door. He entered the room, amazed at how quickly they could fill a space with noise and mess.

‘Quiet!’ he shouted. For a moment there was silence, then gradually the noise began again, quietly at first, quickly growing to the same level as when he had entered the room.

His teaching assistant was already there, helping the children to change. She was called Maddy Brown. ‘Mad Brown Cow’ is what Andrew called her in private, in the pub with his mates. She was a nice enough woman, old enough to be his mother and sometimes she treated him more like a forgetful child than the teacher, not that he minded.

He flung himself into the chair beside his desk and slumped against the armrests. He was tall, with a mass of sandy hair and eyes that twinkled when he smiled. He was slightly too thin, but with good shoulders and a confidence that girls seemed to like.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I think that went pretty well. We certainly gave them a show.’

Maddy Brown came across to ask him where he wanted the costumes to be put.

‘Let’s just heap them on that table,’ he said. ‘We can sort them out later, when the kids have gone.’

‘Do you think it might be better to put them straight onto their hangers?’ suggested his assistant. ‘It will be difficult to remember who wore what, and when we put them away in the costumes cupboard they all need to be labelled and back on their hangers, ready for next year.’

‘Oh, okay,’ he smiled. He did not really care. He was hoping that he wouldn’t be there next year.

Andrew Smyth was a teacher by default. His passion at school had been history. He was good at remembering dates, could argue causes and evidence and had loved the stories that explained why and how things had developed. Unfortunately he had loved socialising and having a laugh even more. His exam results were nowhere near good enough to read history at university and he looked destined to join his father in the corner shop, stacking cans all day and being polite to people who dropped litter and tried to steal bars of chocolate.

A careers teacher at school had taken him to one side and suggested he try to get a place on a teacher training course. Andrew had regularly helped out with the boys’ local football club and that would help his application and one of the minor universities, one that formerly had been a polytechnic, was sure to take him. They would take into account his working class background and the school would give him a good reference. He just had to perform well in the interview and that would not be a problem, he was an excellent public speaker and enjoyed an audience. His father was keen to have ‘someone in the family who went to university’ and Andrew decided it would be a good way to avoid shop work, so he applied. He had hoped to teach history but was told that he stood a better chance in primary education. The government was trying to encourage more men to teach the younger years, he was more likely to get a place.

That had been four short years ago. He had attended university, made friends with the sports teachers and endured regular teaching practices in a variety of schools. His grades were not great but they were good enough to graduate with a middling degree and, as promised, being male was definitely a bonus when it came to applying for jobs. He had survived one term at the school and was very much hoping to leave in September. He found Miss Mott, his mentor, to be a stressed and pernickety woman. She gave a whole new meaning to the word ‘pedantic’. Nothing that he did was right, from his wall displays to how his class sat in assembly.

The trouble was, he just did not care. He liked the children, enjoyed chatting to them and making them laugh. He liked being a mini celebrity in their eyes, the centre of attention in the playground. He just couldn’t bring himself to care if they ran in the corridor or knelt up on the carpet or (worse sin of all) played around in the toilets when they should have been outside on a freezing playground.

He watched them now as they struggled out of their costumes. They were all talking loudly, laughing about ‘the fight’ and saying whether or not their parents had been there. Maddy approached him with a stack of reading books.

‘Do you want to hear readers while I help them change?’

He took the books and read the name from the first card. Billy came across, wearing vest and pants and sat on the small chair next to him. Maddy draped a grey sweatshirt around his shoulders to keep him warm as he opened his reading book and started to read. He knew the story by heart and could say the words without looking. Andrew was not looking either, so sometimes what the child said did not match the words on the page, but neither of them noticed. He got to the last page and paused.

‘Can I have a new book now?’ he asked hopefully.

‘Not today,’ said Andrew. ‘I think we need to read it once more, to be sure you really know those words.’ The new books were stored in a cupboard in the corridor. He didn’t want to have to spend time looking for the next book. Not today. Today had been enough work already. He just wanted to get them all dressed and hand them back to their parents so he could leave for the day.

He called the next name and sent the disappointed Billy back to continue getting dressed. The boy meandered back to his place. He stepped over newspaper that was spilling from a bin in the corner, trailed his fingers through a tub of Lego bricks and walked past a display board where paintings drooped from their pins. They had all painted Christmas gifts and cut them out, and they had been stapled under a large paper tree. The paper had started to curl in the warm classroom, some of the shiny stars they used were now on the floor. Billy could see his picture, where it was pinned, near to the corner of the board. Mr Smyth had written ‘Lots of Christmas Presents’ in large paper letters and Billy’s painting was partially under the last ‘s’. He thought they would probably be allowed to take them home on Friday. Usually the walls were cleared before the holidays. He hoped someone had told Mr Smyth. Sometimes he forgot things like that.

Maddy Brown carried six laden hangers to the rack in the corner. She noticed a heap of props, the treasures carried by the kings, abandoned on the painting rack. They belonged in Miss Mott’s classroom, so Maddy scooped them up and went over to Andrew.

‘I think I’ll take these over to Oak Class now,’ she told him. ‘It’s not worth risking them being spoiled or lost. It would be annoying if at home time someone put one in their bag “by mistake”. Can you manage for a minute?’

Andrew nodded, lost in a daydream while Lucy stammered over words in her book. Maddy watched them for a moment then decided not to comment and walked to Oak Class.

As she walked along the corridor she could hear various levels of noise drifting from the open classroom doors. Cherry Class was by far the loudest. Had she not just departed, she would have assumed the children had been left unsupervised. The volume of Pear Class was audible but subdued. Esther Pritchard allowed Year Two some freedom but kept the noise below a certain level.

Maddy nearly collided with a small boy solemnly carrying a book in both hands as he left his classroom.
‘I finished my book,’ he said proudly, walking towards the book cupboard to collect the next one.
Maddy watched him walk. One plimsoll was only partially on and he was squashing the back as he lopped along the corridor. He gazed at the walls as he walked, absorbing the nativity scene collages and the paper chains that had been strewn across the ceiling.

She turned back to the open door of Oak Class and knocked politely as she entered the quiet room, looking for Cynthia Mott, cautiously, as though she might be told off like a child. She respected Miss Mott’s teaching experience but she was not an individual who was easy to like.

The class was in near silence. Most children were already dressed in their grey sweatshirts and navy trousers or skirts. June Fuller was kneeling in one corner, helping a girl with her tights. She was trying not to grimace as her hand made contact with the clammy foot speckled with grains of sand. She hastily pulled up the sweaty tights and smiled at Maddy.

The class sat at their tables, costumes heaped in mounds in front of them, books in hands, mouths closed. Cynthia was carefully hanging the costumes one at a time, while her gaze constantly swept the room, ready to pounce should she spy the beginnings of an illicit conversation. Outwardly calm, only a small frown belied the tension within. She nodded at Maddy.

‘Ah, Mrs Brown, are those the kings’ treasures? Lovely, I was hoping that someone responsible would take care of them. Could you kindly place them on my desk and I will put them away later. Thank you.
‘Uh, Judith, I do not believe anyone asked you to move from your seat. Sit down and read your book. When you have finished you can put up your hand.
‘Tommy, stop wriggling. If you need to go to the toilet go at once.’

The nervous Tommy sighed with relief and pushed past Mrs Brown on his urgent visit to the toilets.
‘And do not run!’ he heard as he rushed full speed along the corridor, unsure if he would get there in time.

Maddy followed his departing back along the corridor. She smiled at his panic and wondered why boys always left toilet trips to the very last minute.

Cynthia Mott continued sorting the costumes, hanging them tidily. Her mind was a whirl of thoughts.
‘If he died yesterday, I might not have noticed. Maybe he was in my shed all night. In which case, his family will report his absence and begin to look for him. If they find him bolted in my shed they will know he was discovered previously.’ A new thought came to her, striking her already taut nerves and causing bile to rise in her throat.

‘What if they think I locked him in while he was still alive? What if the police arrive and accuse me of causing his death? What if they are there now? They could arrive at the school at any moment. I will be publicly humiliated. I might even be arrested.’
Footsteps could be heard approaching the classroom and Cynthia dropped the costume she was holding in alarm. A form appeared in the doorway. It was Jane Lancaster.

‘Ah, Miss Mott. Sorry to disturb you but I think we need to have a staff meeting when the children have left. We can discuss this morning’s play and write down our thoughts for next year, while it’s still fresh in our minds.’

‘No.’ Cynthia snapped. ‘That will not be possible.’
Jane Lancaster looked rather taken aback.
‘It won’t be for long,’ she said, ‘I do feel it would be of huge benefit. I realise you are all tired but ten minutes in the staffroom seems a sensible plan.’
‘No,’ Cynthia repeated, ‘that will not be possible.’ She hesitated, searching for a legitimate excuse to give to the irritating woman. It seemed a ridiculous idea, even if she were not embroiled in impending disaster.
‘I am afraid I am suffering from a terrible headache and need to return home promptly.’

Jane Lancaster looked at her. She certainly did look extremely pale. It would be inconvenient if she were absent for the last few days of term. She decided to relent.

‘Of course, I am sorry to hear that,’ she sympathised. ‘Are you okay to carry on or do you want June to see the children out? There’s only ten minutes until home time.’

Cynthia leaped at the unexpected reprieve. ‘That would be most appreciated,’ she replied, looking at June for confirmation.

June surveyed the classroom, strewn with costumes waiting to be hung, and the children, who would explode into gleeful noise as soon as Miss Mott left. She had her own children to collect from the junior school but she supposed they would just have to wait a bit longer. She knew they would greet her with resentful eyes at having been left until all the other children had gone. They would be standing in the school office, looking abandoned and uncared for, and she would feel like a negligent parent. Again. She wondered why it should be her and not Jane Lancaster who had to cover for Miss Mott. She thought, yet again, about how little she was paid in relation to what was expected of her. As usual, she seemed to have no choice. She sighed in acquiescence.

Cynthia Mott hurriedly gathered her bag and struggled into her coat. As she flew from her classroom she spied Mr Carter, bucket in hand, as he prepared to start cleaning the floors when the children had left.

‘Do phone me nice and early if you are too ill to work tomorrow,’ she heard, as she rushed along the corridor, scrabbling for her car keys even as she walked. She needed to get home and sort out this ghastly mess before it was too late.

***
Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson is available in bookshops for £11.95, but you can buy copies directly from me for £7.95 (with free UK postage). Simply complete the contact form below, and I will send you a copy (payment by sterling cheque or bank transfer is due on receipt of the book).

Who would you like to make smile this Christmas? A signed book is a great gift!

A Story to Enjoy continued

Continuing extracts from Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson – A story to enjoy:

The children were all ready and seated quietly when the message arrived that they could walk to the hall. Miss Mott led her class slowly to the space allocated to them and indicated that they should sit. She found her reserved seat behind them. She lifted her glasses from their chain around her neck and looked around. The parents were all seated on blue plastic seats which had been designed for infants. They were much too small to be comfortable and had been squashed together in an attempt to fit as many parents as possible into the school hall. Now they sat, perched uncomfortably, touching shoulders with people on either side. Some of them looked rather red faced and sweaty as they wore winter coats and the hall was hot.

‘They were told,’ thought Miss Mott, ‘to kindly leave their coats in their cars.’ She sighed, they never listened.

Andrew Smyth and Cherry Class had not yet arrived. This was intensely irritating. There was a lot about Mr Smyth that Cynthia found irritating. He was the newly qualified teacher and she was his mentor. It was not a role she enjoyed. He didn’t seem to value neatness or record keeping. Nor did he seem capable of keeping his classes calm and disciplined, which surely was the most important role for a teacher.

Cynthia had known it was going to be difficult when he first showed her his plans for his history lessons. He had decided they were going to focus on the burnings of martyrs during the reign of Henry VIII. He had enthusiastic plans for a large wall display with tissue paper flames and showers of gold stars, showing how packets of gun powder, tied to the martyr’s necks, had exploded their heads. It would have been a visual feast and would no doubt have scarred Cherry Class for life.

Now he was late for the nativity performance. It had been agreed that her class would arrive last, so that the youngest children would have less time to sit before the play began. Mr Smyth taught Year One, so he should have been waiting. Cynthia heard a noise at the door and turned. Cherry Class stumbled into the hall. Some were not properly dressed and had their costumes draped across their shoulders where they had neglected to fasten the back. Behind them was Mr Smyth. He entered the hall smiling widely, with his shirt untucked at the back. He led his shambolic class to their assigned seating area, tripping over a mother’s legs on his way to his own chair.

Esther Pritchard raised both her hands and eyebrows, then began to play the opening notes on the piano while the children scrambled to their feet. They were mostly all standing in time for the first word. The nativity play had begun.
Miss Mott faced the children, mouthing the words with an exaggerated smile in the hope they would copy her expression. Most of them were looking at the floor of course, or scouring the audience for their parents. Nigel Stott stopped singing to nudge the child next to him, pointing out his mother, who waved back at him.

‘Silly woman,’ thought Miss Mott. She glared at Nigel, who turned red under her gaze, straightened his back and tried to sing with the rest of his class. He joined in loudly but singing the wrong verse. The boy next to him giggled until he too caught Miss Mott’s eye.

She looked at the children. Angel Gabriel was being glared at by Mary, who had a red mark on one arm. Cynthia guessed there had been an argument. It looked as if Mary had been crying and she kept rubbing her arm as though to make a point. Angel Gabriel was grinning triumphantly.

Joseph’s headdress was too large and kept slipping over his eyes. Rather than push it back, he was tilting his head backwards and peering at the audience from under its rim.

One of the shepherds had a cold and no handkerchief. Every time his nose ran, he surreptitiously picked up the fluffy toy lamb, wiped his nose on it, lowered it again. The fluff tickled his nose and nearly made him sneeze. Miss Mott frowned her disapproval and he slowly, slowly, inch by inch, placed the lamb back on the floor.

One of the kings had been ill all week but had returned to school so he didn’t miss the play. He looked decidedly green. Cynthia wondered at the logic behind sending an obviously ill child into school. He was sadly uncomfortable. Her only hope was that all the other children would catch it during the holidays and not have to miss school. It was always tiresome to have children absent when you were attempting to teach.

Unbidden, a thought occurred to Cynthia. She had fastened the bolt on the garden shed. From the outside. Should anyone find the unfortunate gardener, it would be obvious that he had been found previously. She felt dread, like cold fingers through her stomach. Was ignoring a body a criminal act? Could she be put in prison? Would there be a court case? It now was hard to concentrate on the play. The song was finished and the children were shuffling to sit back in their places. The Year Two narrators were standing to attention, waiting for Esther Pritchard to nod and signal they should start reading. Cynthia was feeling sick. She was unsure of her options. She could not leave the school hall before the end of the play, that would cause untold fuss. Neither could she escape before the end of the school day, she needed to oversee the changing of the children and the safe stowing of the costumes.

A small girl crawled towards her and tugged her skirt. ‘I need to go to the toilet,’ she whispered loudly.

‘Can you wait? We did all go to the toilet before we came in,’ she reminded her.

The child nodded uncertainly and crawled back to her place, stepping on fingers as she went, receiving scowls and dark sighs. The children glanced at Miss Mott to ensure that she had noticed.

Cynthia decided there was nothing she could do at that moment and forced herself to focus on the play. She looked around the hall. Esther Pritchard was avidly following the script from her piano seat. Everything about Esther Pritchard was avid. Her fair hair refused to sit neatly and sprung around her face like a wiry bird’s nest. Her eyes bulged slightly and her mouth was always smiling. She was one of those nice people who Miss Mott found thoroughly irritating. She never swore, never gossiped and always spoke softly. She was married to the minister of the local chapel and this also irritated Cynthia. She should not be earning money and having a separate career. Cynthia was well qualified in this area as her own father had been a vicar.

Next she looked at Jane Lancaster. She was the head teacher and had worn a suit for the occasion. She had not introduced the play, such a shame. Cynthia hoped she would give a short speech at the end. Standards needed to be upheld. Jane Lancaster was a naturally shy person and whilst she was competent when making policy decisions and organising the curriculum, she did tend to avoid confrontation and disliked public speaking. Cynthia considered this to be a failing.

The children were again struggling to stand as the piano played the introduction to the donkey song. They were sitting in much too small a space and it was almost impossible for them to avoid stepping on each other. The donkey set off for his walk around the audience, followed by Mary and Joseph. Mary had thankfully stopped rubbing her arm and was now concentrating on not stepping on her long blue gown.

The chairs for the parents had been arranged with small aisles along each side and along the back, so the children could walk around the entire audience. This was a new idea, introduced for the first time this year. Cynthia was not at all sure that it was a good one.

She noticed that the donkey was walking much too fast, the threesome were meant to walk for the entirety of the song, they would be finished before the end of the first verse. Parents sitting next to the aisle shuffled even closer together to make room for them, their chairs scraping on the wooden floor.

Without warning, Mary stopped. She had seen her mother. Triumphantly she rolled up her sleeve to reveal red fingermarks.
‘Timmy Beal slapped me,’ she stated in a loud voice. ‘It’s because I told him that angels are really girls. They are, aren’t they?’
The piano continued playing but very few children were singing. They were straining to see what would happen next. This was interesting, not something they had rehearsed in their daily practice. Parents sitting at the front of the hall turned around to watch, some of the children stood on tip toe to try and see what was happening.

Miss Mott rose from her seat and turned towards the indignant Mary. ‘Carry on, Belinda,’ she said, in a voice that expected to be obeyed, ‘we can discuss this later.’

The child obediently continued walking, Joseph trailing behind, the donkey giggling uncontrollably in the lead. The rest of the school continued singing, some of them giggling to copy the donkey, some looking upset because they knew their play had been spoilt. Jane Lancaster looked ready to burst with anger; Esther Pritchard continued to look peaceful. Andrew Smyth was clearly having trouble containing his own laughter and was pretending to blow his nose.

There was some whispering when the children sat again and Miss Mott raised her eyebrows in warning. They settled down and the play continued.

Joseph knocked on brightly coloured doors which wobbled alarmingly. They had been made from large cardboard boxes which had been flattened and painted. No one knew what doors looked like in the New Testament era, so they closely resembled the children’s own front doors, complete with numbers and letter boxes. Excited innkeepers informed them there was no room, prompted by their wives, who knew the script and wanted to share the lines. The last one obligingly offered the couple his stable and they followed him to a different corner of the hall where a manger stood waiting. The school shuffled round to see.

All the angels clustered around the couple, hiding them from view and singing the angel song. It was meant to be sung by only the angels but some of the school forgot and joined in. There was then lots of nudging and loud shushing as they were reminded to be quiet.

As the angels moved away, the parents glimpsed Joseph throwing a doll, head first, into the manger. Some of them sniggered, which Cynthia thought was rather rude of them. Then the angels walked across to the area that was meant to be a hillside. They walked slowly in their unfamiliar clothing, keeping their heads upright so their halos remained steady.

Gabriel approached, and Mary saw her chance for revenge. Waiting until he was level with her, she stuck out a black plimsolled foot. It caught his leg and he tripped, sprawling on the floor, pink legs sticking out from his tunic. He banged his head on the manger, a loud crack, everyone heard it. Blood gushed from his forehead. He lay very still.

‘You’ve killed him,’ stated Joseph, impressed.

Jimmy Brown started to cry.

After a second, Tommy Beale aka Gabriel opened his mouth and roared. He sat up, blood on his hands and costume, running down his face and dripping onto the floor. His mother rushed forwards and scooped him into her arms. Belinda’s mother also stood, ready to do battle if necessary.

Jane Lancaster rose to her feet. She smoothed down the skirt of her suit and cleared her throat, uncertain as to what she should say.

Miss Mott stood and took control.‘Mrs Beale, if you could please escort Tommy to the office we can ascertain if he needs medical attention. Perhaps you could apply some pressure to the wound, do you have a handkerchief?’

Mrs Beale looked about to argue, then changed her mind when she met Miss Mott’s gaze.
‘Could the remaining angels please stand in your place ready to sing to the shepherds,’ she continued. The children obeyed, happy that someone was taking charge. ‘Lucy, do you remember Gabriel’s words? You do? Well done. Could you be very sensible please and say them, then we can carry on with the play.’

The play continued. All went smoothly until the last song. The entire school was standing, the hall was very hot and Cynthia noticed Sally Marks swaying in the second row. She was very pale and looked rather unsteady. Silently, Cynthia rushed forwards and caught her as she fell. Without stopping, she whisked her past the parents and out into the fresh air. She laid her on her side on a bench and within seconds the child had stirred and was trying to sit. Her anxious mother appeared at Cynthia’s side.

‘One of them always faints,’ said Cynthia, ‘make her lie down for a little while then take her home to rest. Please inform the office on your way out.’

She turned towards the hall. The doors were open and the first class was emerging. There had not been time for any sort of speech, Mrs Lancaster had said nothing. Cynthia sighed and went to collect her class from behind the wriggling mass that was Cherry Class.

***
Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson is available in bookshops for £11.95, but you can buy copies directly from me for £7.95 (with free UK postage). Simply complete the contact form below, and I will send you a copy (payment by sterling cheque or bank transfer is due on receipt of the book).

Who would you like to make smile this Christmas? A signed book is a great gift!

A Story to Enjoy

Hello, has the whirlwind that is modern-day Christmas caught you yet? There are so many gifts to buy, people to see, meals to cook, and parties to attend. It’s mostly fun, but sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming can’t it? So, for a little light relief while you have a coffee break, I thought I would share with you extracts from Hidden Faces. I’ll post a snippet over the next few days (but you’ll need to buy the book if you want to read the whole story).

Sit back, relax for a few minutes, and enjoy…

***
The face that I present to the world,
Differs
From the face the world doth see, which
Differs
From the face I feel within myself, which
Differs
From the face that’s truly me.
***
Chapter One

Cynthia Mott was late. She slotted her key into the solid front door and pushed it open, stepped into the front room, brushed her feet on the mat and hurried under the low beam into her kitchen. She dumped her bag in the corner, keys on top of the fridge and bent to retrieve her forgotten lunch.

There was a thump. She froze, all her attention focused on listening. It came again. A dull, low thump. Wood on wood. It came from the cottage garden, which should have been empty.

She glanced at the clock, irritable, there was no time for this, had not really been time to even collect her sandwiches. Another thump. That decided her. She dropped the lunch box into her bag, kicked off her shoes, struggled into the wellingtons by the back door and marched across the lawn.

The grass was still frozen, glistening from the hard frost which had hardened the sprinkling of snow into icy tufts. She crunched as she walked, hurrying towards the shed. The door should have been fastened but a slight breeze was blowing, stirring it. It swung open, paused for a moment as though holding its breath, then thumped shut. As she approached, Cynthia could see the outline of a man through the cobwebbed window. She frowned, began composing caustic sentences, flung open the shed door. She too paused, held her breath.

He was dead. There could be no doubt about that. His face, already tinged with blue, had one eye open, gazing sightlessly at the ceiling. He sat on her abandoned rocking chair in the corner, trousers stained and mouth drooping. His grey hair poked thinly from beneath a brown cap and his feet, strangely angled, were clad in muddy boots. There was a newspaper on the floor, she supposed it had fallen when he drifted from consciousness.

Suddenly suffused with anger, Cynthia glanced once more at her watch. 12:40. The tension rose within her like an icy bubble, overwhelming her ability to think.

‘I do not have time for this,’ she announced, ‘not today.’

Decisively she reached out, shut the door, fastened it with a large bolt. She turned and hurried back to the cottage, slipped back into her sensible low heeled shoes, retrieved her bag and slammed the front door behind her.

***

The road was slippery as Cynthia joined the long line of cars edging their way into town. It was a week before Christmas and lights hung from trees that swayed tiredly in the breeze. The lights did not appear to have any shape at all and one felt they had been sneezed across the branches rather than designed. Shoppers hurried from rare parking spaces, ever aware of the nearing deadline, carrying immense lists, failing to look jolly. Chewing her lunch as she drove, Cynthia avoided careless pedestrians as she navigated the High Street. Marksbridge was a small market town built alongside the river. It had a collection of small shops clustered along a single road with facades dating back to the 1800s. One of the large supermarket chains had recently arrived on former scrub land at the bottom of the High Street but other than that it seemed that the outside world had failed to notice the town.

The school was on a car-lined side road leading from the top of the High Street. As she navigated the parked vehicles, she hoped her parking space would be free. It was not, of course, it was that kind of a day. A large black Land Rover now filled the space she had vacated less than an hour earlier. She supposed it belonged to dinner staff and she reversed back onto the crowded lane.

By the time Cynthia had parked and hurried back to the school, the bell was ringing for the end of playtime. She entered the school via a side door in an attempt to not be seen by Mr Carter, the caretaker. She had neither time nor energy for a conversation. Hoping there had been no changes to the afternoon’s schedule, she rushed to her classroom and struggled out of her coat before the first child appeared at the door.

Everything about Miss Mott was round. The autumn months had not been good for her figure, and were she the kind of woman who paid attention to such things, she would have been disappointed by its size. Instead, when dressing that morning she had pulled her cardigan down as far as it would go in the hope of disguise and thought no more about it. She now sat solidly on her chair and opened the register.

The children crowded into the classroom in an excited rush. Their pink faces looked expectantly at her as they jostled for space on the worn carpet. Some sidled as close to her legs as they dared, and one put out a tentative finger to touch her shoe. She waited until they were still and then began to read their names, marking who was present. It was an unnecessary activity in her eyes, as no one would have left since the morning registration, but it did provide a chance for the children to settle after screaming around the playground, and she valued calm very highly. The boys’ names were always printed first in the register but Miss Mott read the girls’ names first. It seemed illogical to her to reinforce the boys’ natural inclination towards dominance.

When two children had been dispatched to the office with the completed register, Miss Mott explained the afternoon’s activities. Her voice, low, calm, slow, gave directions clearly. She explained that the children would change into their costumes, wait quietly with a book until they were called to the hall. Everything would be calm, sensible, controlled. Her tone and manner did not allow for anything else. The children watched, listening carefully, keen to please. June Fuller, the classroom assistant hovered near the back, sorting costumes, waiting for her instructions to begin.

Miss Mott looked at the children’s faces. They were full of barely contained excitement, all eyes watching her attentively. She felt suddenly tired. She had seen so many Christmases now, they all seemed the same. She knew that each parent would only really watch their own child, the only thing that mattered was that their precious son or daughter was given the opportunity to shine, even if only for a minute. They had been practising the songs since September and Miss Mott was thoroughly sick of them. Their cheerful tunes grated on her nerves and the easily sung but rather puerile words made her slightly nauseated.

The children began to change into their nativity costumes. Miss Mott moved around the classroom fastening hooks, positioning headdresses. Her thoughts wandered back to her shed.

‘That wretched man,’ she thought, ‘why did he have to die today?’

His name was Clarence James and he had worked in her garden since she had moved into the property ten years ago. She had told him repeatedly that he should retire but he had stubbornly refused and now this had happened. She knelt to help Tommy tie his shoe lace. She could hear June asking Mandy which outfit belonged to her. Much as she disliked the annual nativity performance, it demanded her full attention and she would think about the Mr James problem later.

***

Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson is available in bookshops for £11.95, but you can buy copies directly from me for £7.95 (with free UK postage). Simply complete the contact form below, and I will send you a copy (payment by sterling cheque or bank transfer is due on receipt of the book).

Who would you like to make smile this Christmas? A signed book is a great gift!

Happy New Year! (Survived 2017 okay?)

Well, I did it, I made it to the end of the year. Christmas was lovely, but busy, then straight into visiting family, family parties, and preparing for New Year Eve’s party. I can now collapse in a heap somewhere.

The family parties especially are good to survive. They are fun, but somewhat different to the parties we had when I was little. In those days, we all went to my granny’s house, where she had a huge room that stretched across the shop below, and we played games. The games were things like musical statues, and postman’s knock – where no one ever wanted to have to kiss Uncle George because he didn’t have many teeth. He’s dead now. Today, it would probably be classed as child abuse.

These days, I go to my in-laws houses for family games. These range from the impossible (Eg, trying to match words my mother might think of – I opted out this year and let my brother partner her) to the not so impossible (trying to stay awake during ‘Mafia’). My father-in-law brought a game this year: we had to order a list of animals according to the neurones found in their cerebral cortex. Which is a test for intelligence (the number of neurones, not the game. Though actually, now I come to think of it…) Like I said, I survived, and it was fun.

Then we began to prepare for our own party. The low point every year is lunch time on the day of the party, when the family wants food, but I am trying to clear up the kitchen and I don’t want to start cooking. Then there are always left-overs, which do not fit into the fridge, but I don’t like to waste them. Actually, the fridge is a major tension point, as I try to coat strawberries in chocolate and prepare vegetables for dips, and there is nowhere, absolutely nowhere, to put them. Why does no one ever eat the last piece of quiche/pudding/pie? And I can’t even put them in plastic bags anymore because Son who works for a conservation charity tells me it’s unethical. The dog walks around shedding hairs on my freshly vacuumed floors, and someone used the last bit of loo roll and flung the cardboard bit on the floor.

The party this year had an “Around the World’ theme. I went to church Sunday morning, mainly to avoid the annual tense discussion, when I try to keep my house undisturbed and Husband is in major ‘change everything for a party’ mode. I returned to a lot of flags, and tried to avoid going into rooms where I knew my furniture would be moved around.

Son 1 asked what he could wear, as he planned to come as ‘the international space station’. (If you have a young child who tends to announce on the way to school that today is Book Day, and everyone is dressing up, and if your friends tell you, “Don’t worry, they grow out of that,” – Don’t believe them. They don’t.)

By the time guests arrived, all was lovely, and I had a marvellous time.

Anyhow, I hope you too made it to this side of the new year. Have a rest now as you slip back into the easy routine of work and weekends. Have a great week.

Take care,
Love, Anne x

 

Thank you for reading.

Why not start the new year by signing up to follow my blog?

I usually write a post every week.

anneethompson.com

*********

How was your Christmas?

Hello, and how was your Christmas? Or, more to the point, how are you? Full of food and love and happy thoughts I hope.

I find the work for Christmas begins several days before, when I start making lists. Then I have to rewrite the lists, because I’ve lost the originals. This year I decided to also make a time-plan, like we used to make in Domestic Science lessons at school: 11:40 boil potatoes and parsnips, 11:55 potatoes into oven, 12:00 parsnips into oven…you get the idea. I hoped it might solve the “finding the chestnuts for the sprouts in the fridge, when I put the remains of the turkey in there” problem, which tends to happen every year. It didn’t work of course, but at least I had evidence that I had tried.

Another pre-Christmas job is laundry – washing everything that’s in the dirty washing basket. This was partly because I didn’t want to have to do washing during the Christmas period, and partly because I knew Son 2 would arrive with a suitcase of dirty washing, and I prefer not to have to queue for the washing machine. Husband then made helpful comments about, “Gosh, we must’ve been burgled, and they stole all that stuff you’ve been storing in the washing basket for months.” But I ignored him.

Actually, understanding Husband is sometimes difficult. He often embarks on a major DIY project just as my workload feels over-whelming. Like the year he decided it would be helpful to re-floor the kitchen on Christmas Eve. Yep, Christmas Eve. This year he mended the extractor fan in the bathroom. At least, that’s what he told me he was doing, it looked awfully like he was playing Candy-Crush whilst sitting on the sofa, but who am I to know?

To be fair, Husband mainly helps to stop me spiralling into despair. When I woke him at 3:30am on the morning of the 23rd, to tell him in panic I was completely out of control, the time had slipped away from me and it was already Christmas and I wasn’t ready, and I still haven’t managed to proofread Clara, he was very calm. He just sort of absorbs all my worries and tells me it will be fine. Which it was. Perhaps that’s why I married him.

There were a few low points. I had decided this year to avoid the ‘pull the crackers and then leave all the stuff on the table’ activity which happens every year. I decided to buy those make your own crackers and buy a gift people would actually want, which in my family is alcohol. The trouble was, the crackers did not arrive in pieces, as I had expected, they were already formed but with one end open. So inserting miniature bottles of drink was a struggle, and adding the hat and joke was impossible. I basically had to screw them up and stuff them inside. Which did, I admit, look less than professional when they were opened, but everyone merrily wore scrumpled hats. I guess the alcohol helped.

Another unexpected moment was when the food order arrived on 23rd. Who knew you could buy such tiny packets of stuffing?

The absolute low point however, was our family trip to the cinema to see Pitch Perfect 3. Husband’s choice. I knew it would be bad, but I hadn’t realised quite how bad. Words cannot adequately express my feelings towards such drivel. But everything else about our Christmas was brilliant. Next is New Year’s Eve party – not so much potential for disaster there. Is there?

Take care,

Love, Anne x

xxx
anneethompson.com

 

******************************************************

 

An Extract From Hidden Faces

As it’s nearly Christmas, and Hidden Faces begins as the staff prepare for the Nativity play, I thought I would share an extract with you. I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter One

Cynthia Mott was late. She slotted her key into the solid front door and pushed it open, stepped into the front room, brushed her feet on the mat and hurried under the low beam into her kitchen. She dumped her bag in the corner, keys on top of the fridge and bent to retrieve her forgotten lunch.

There was a thump. She froze, all her attention focused on listening. It came again. A dull, low thump. Wood on wood. It came from the cottage garden, which should have been empty.

She glanced at the clock, irritable, there was no time for this, had not really been time to even collect her sandwiches. Another thump. That decided her. She dropped the lunch box into her bag, kicked off her shoes, struggled into the wellingtons by the back door and marched across the lawn.

The grass was still frozen, glistening from the hard frost which had hardened the sprinkling of snow into icy tufts. She crunched as she walked, hurrying towards the shed. The door should have been fastened but a slight breeze was blowing, stirring it. It swung open, paused for a moment as though holding its breath, then thumped shut. As she approached, Cynthia could see the outline of a man through the cobwebbed window. She frowned, began composing caustic sentences, flung open the shed door. She too paused, held her breath.

He was dead. There could be no doubt about that. His face, already tinged with blue, had one eye open, gazing sightlessly at the ceiling. He sat on her abandoned rocking chair in the corner, trousers stained and mouth drooping. His grey hair poked thinly from beneath a brown cap and his feet, strangely angled, were clad in muddy boots. There was a newspaper on the floor, she supposed it had fallen when he drifted from consciousness.

Suddenly suffused with anger, Cynthia glanced once more at her watch. 12:40. The tension rose within her like an icy bubble, overwhelming her ability to think.

‘I do not have time for this,’ she announced, ‘not today.’

Decisively she reached out, shut the door, fastened it with a large bolt. She turned and hurried back to the cottage, slipped back into her sensible low heeled shoes, retrieved her bag and slammed the front door behind her.

***

The road was slippery as Cynthia joined the long line of cars edging their way into town. It was a week before Christmas and lights hung from trees that swayed tiredly in the breeze. The lights did not appear to have any shape at all and one felt they had been sneezed across the branches rather than designed. Shoppers hurried from rare parking spaces, ever aware of the nearing deadline, carrying immense lists, failing to look jolly.

Chewing her lunch as she drove, Cynthia avoided careless pedestrians as she navigated the High Street. Marksbridge was a small market town built alongside the river. It had a collection of small shops clustered along a single road with facades dating back to the 1800s. One of the large supermarket chains had recently arrived on former scrubland at the bottom of the High Street but other than that it seemed that the outside world had failed to notice the town.

The school was on a car lined side road leading from the top of the High Street. As she navigated the parked vehicles, she hoped her parking space would be free. It was not, of course, it was that kind of a day…

xxxxxxxx

Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson is an easy-read, feel-good novel, perfect for reading next to a fire at Christmas. Available from bookshops and Amazon. UK link below.