by Shena Mackay Part-12
  • 04 May - 10 May, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

Mrs Carter looked like a big cheeky schoolgirl and Miss Fay looked old and tired and sad. She turned on Ruby and me.

‘Get out of my classroom. Out of my sight. You make me sick, the pair of you.’

‘Good old Mrs Carter!’ said Ruby, when we were safely in the street. ‘Why were you crying?’

‘I don’t know.’

My eyes felt sore and gritty, with thick, swollen lids.

‘What will you tell your mum when she asks why you’ve been crying?’

‘I know,’ I said. ‘I’ll pretend we’ve fallen out and then I can say we’ve made up again. I’ll call for you later.’


As soon as Ruby had gone in, instead of going home, I set off for Lovers Lane. Even if he had given up and gone home, I could say I had gone there, and he wouldn’t be able to tell me off.

He was waiting behind the telephone box with Liesel sitting beside him, off the lead.

‘Darling. I’d almost given you up.’

He hugged me, in broad daylight. I wriggled free.

‘But you’ve been crying! What is it? Has somebody hurt you?’

I shook my head.

‘If anybody hurts you, I’ll kill them. I mean it, April. Have you any idea how much I love you?’

I shook my head again. Then that seemed ungrateful, so I nodded.

‘But what about what about Mrs Greenedige?’

‘Damn Mrs Greenidge! Damn and blast her to hell!’

He slashed at nettles and goosegrass with Liesel’s lead, sending green heads flying.

‘Why doesn’t she just get on with it and die and get out of our way? Mrs Greenedige, Mrs Greenidge, Mrs Greenidge.’

He was lashing and whipping the plans in a frenzy. Liesel yelped and ran a few feet up the road where she sat quivering and whining. I started to back away.

‘Wait,’ he called as I turned to run. ‘I’ve got something for you.’

I was too scared not to walk slowly towards him. He pulled a paper bag of sweets from his pocket.

‘Thank you very much.’

It was a quarter of dolly mixture. I looked at the tiny jellies and coloured sweet sandwiches.

‘I’ve got to go home now. I’m late home from school,’ I said.

Mr Greenedge’s blue eyes were hard as glass and still angry.

‘Oh, yes, you go, now you’ve got what you came for.’

It wasn’t fair. I didn’t know what to say. I walked up to Liesel, who was still shivering, and gave her a sweet.

‘Goodbye, then,’ I said.

‘April, wait. Let me walk with you. I’m sorry I got cross. It was only because I love you, you do understand, don’t you?’

‘Yes. Would you like a dolly mixture.’

I held out the bag to him.

‘You give me one. Pop it in my mouth.’

He stopped down and I had to feed a jelly into his soft wet lips. His teeth clamped on my finger.

‘Grr, grr,’ he went, like a dog with a bone.

I pretended to laugh. There were teeth marks on my finger.

A stone hit me hard in the back, the shock knocking the breath out of me. I whirled round.

‘You rotten lair, April! I hate you. I’ll never be your friend again.’

Ruby was scarlet with rage. She turned and ran up the lane.

‘Ruby, wait!’

I ran after her.

‘April’ came Mr Greenidge’s voice, Liesel dashed along beside me, jumping up, trying to bite my skirt as I ran uphill, barking as if it were a game.

‘Ruby, please wait.’

‘April, come back.’

I tripped and fell heavily on my hands and knees, and lay helpless as Ruby disappeared.

Mr Greenidge picked me up. He tied his handkerchief round one of my knees. The other knee was bleeding too, and my hands. He carried me home.

‘Put me down. Put me down. Somebody will see.’

I writhed, trying to escape but he strode on, carrying me like a big baby up the path to the Copper Kettle.

‘Got a poor wounded soldier for you, Mrs Harlency,’ he told the horrified Betty. ‘Not to worry though, no bones broken. Lucky I happened along when I did, eh?’

Betty fetched Dettol and cotton wool and tweezers to get the grit out of my hands and knees.

‘What a kind man, to bring you home. We’ll have to wash and iron his hanky for him, won’t we?’

She swabbed and tweezed. I screamed.

‘He’s a nasty horrible old man. I hate him.’

‘Now, now, I know you’ve hurt yourself but there’s no need to take it out on Mr Greenidge.’

I lay on the sofa with big bandages on my stiffening knees and plasters on the palms of my hands. Ruby would have to be sorry now. But she didn’t know I was hurt. She hated me.

There was a Labour Party meeting that evening, where the main item on the agenda was the forthcoming Grand Guy Fawkes Dance. Every time somebody knocked on out door my heart jumped in the hope that it was Ruby, but it never was. I lay awake late into the night, with my wounds throbbing, listening for the lone cry of the peewit.


In the morning the bandages had stuck to my pyjama trousers and my legs were so stiff I could hardly walk. I was lying on the sofa listening to Housewives,’ Choice, wondering miserably what Ruby would have thought when I didn’t call for her. Would she worry about me at playtime? Who would she play with? Who would be Milk Monitor? Betty came in and sat in the armchair with her feet up on a stool.

‘My back’s killing me. I wish this baby would get a move on. The thought of two more months of this…’

She hummed along with a request for ‘The Humming Chorus.’

‘I wish it would get a move on too. I wish it could be born tomorrow.’

‘Do you, sweetheart? That’s nice, well it’s not really that long now.’

If I had a baby in a pram with me, I need never be alone with Mr Greenidge again; I would push it in front of me like a shield.

The baby’s room was ready, smelling of pale-yellow and white paint. A new cot stood waiting and in the baby’s white chest of drawers was a pile of thick soft nappies and tiny vests and long nighties embroidered with rabbits and lambs and matinee jackets. The bottom drawer held bonnets, bootees and mittens and a pea-green woollen buster suit knitted by one of Granny Fitz’s regulars at the Drovers. The baby and flannelette sheets and cellular blankets edged with silk from the tally man, and a shawl of snow-white spiders’ webs. Mrs Vinnegar had tried to make Betty buy her old pram, which had survived several little Vinnegars including the twins and had been used latterly to carry firewood, shopping, and potatoes and strawberries home from the fields where Mrs Vinnegar helped out from time to time.

‘It’s all coach-built. A scrub out with Vim and a touch of elbow grease and it’ll come up lovely, good as new. Bit of sandpaper on the chrome.’

The thought of Doreen crowing ‘that’s our old pram’ was hideous. Percy had come to the rescue by saying that he had one on order from Swadlincote’s in Elmford.

‘On the never-never,’ Mrs Vinnegar sneered. ‘If some people are determined to bankrupt their selves.’

Percy, who had been in the tea-room, came through carrying a big box of Black Magic.

‘Present for the invalid.’


I had never had a box of chocolates to myself.

‘Don’t thank me. They’re from your knight in shining armour, Sir Greenidge, the Green Knight, not Sir Percival I’m afraid.’


I saw the pewter knights who stood in the hall at Kirriemuir.

‘Isn’t that kind,’ Betty was exclaiming. ‘But a pound box!’

‘The Green Knight was bad,’ I said.

‘Just a joke. Anyway, April, I reckon you should write him a little letter to thank him, don’t you?’

I held out elastoplasted palms.

‘Use your printing set,’ Betty suggested. ‘You could manage that and it’ll give you something to do. I can’t sit here all day. And I suppose we’d better soak those bandages off.’

Percy was singing to the wireless:

‘Just Molly and me

And baby makes three –

We’re happy in my blue Heaven…’

I couldn’t even be ill, injured, without Mr Greenidge poking his nose in. And it was all his fault in the first place.

‘You must be feeling poorly. You haven’t opened your chocs,’ Percy said.

I tried a feeble smile but my chin wobbled. I suspected that Mr Greenidge would have said nothing to Mrs Greenidge about my fall or the chocolates and a letter from me would get him into trouble.


I wanted to tell him everything then, about Mr Greenidge being in love with me and making me meet him but trying to speak was like pulling lint and bandages from a bloody knee.

‘What’s that, sweetheart?’

‘Nothing. It doesn’t matter.’

‘I’ll get you a comic later and I expect Ruby’ll be round to check up on you. Now d’you want me to open these for you? What’s your favourite, liquid cherry?’

Dinner time came and went, but Ruby did not. I didn’t want my spaghetti on toast or mug of milk.

‘I’m supposed to be Milk Monitor this week.’

‘Never mind. You can go back tomorrow.’

Where was she? Why hadn’t the come? She really must hate me. Well, I hate her too then. Perhaps she had told about seeing me in Lovers Lane with Mr Greenidge. But whom could she tell? Everybody at school. I imagined their taunts I know you now, April – April loves Mr Greenidge. It was chalked on the playground and scratched on the lavatory wall. Listen with Mother came on the radio with its sad signature tune: Nin a non, nin a non.

‘There’s something wrong, isn’t there? Besides the Professor, and falling over, you’ve been very moody lately,’ Betty said the next morning. It reminded me o the advertisement for California Syrup of Figs: Mother, when a merry child seems moody … I’d never tasted Claifornia Syrup of Figs but it sounded delicious.

‘Have you fallen out with Ruby, is that it?’

The tears that came to my eyes told her she had got it right.

‘Never mind, love, I’m sure you can make up again at school, it can’t be that serious.’

I didn’t answer.

A wire-netting run had appeared in Ruby’s backyard and some long-legged chickens were scratching in the dirt.

‘You’ve got some new chickens,’ I said when Gloria opened the door.

‘Pullets, They’re nothing to do with me. He bought them off some bloke in the bar. Ruby’s gone, if that’s what you’ve come about.’


‘You have been in the wars, haven’t you?’ She made it sound as though I’d done something stupid. I limped into the playground feeling sorry for myself. In my pocket was the note explaining my absence and asking if I could be excused PT. Miss Fay was always scornful of such requests and found the bearer of them some horrible job to do.

‘All in, all in, captain’s calling!’ Doreen shouted, and six or seven girls, Ruby among them, rushed over to her and got into a huddle. It was much worse than being a new girl. A football hit me on the head and one of the boys pushed me aside. ‘Out of my way, stupid.’

Thick, shameful tears rolled down my face. My head was buzzing where the ball had hit it. I wished we had never come to Stonebridge. Homesickness swept over me and I felt completely desolate on the edge of that teeming playground.

‘Cry-baby. Du zoo want oo’s mummy, den?’ came a jeering voice.

More than anything in the world.

Then I felt an arm go round me and heard Ruby’s voice. ‘You leave my best friend alone, come on, April.’

Miss Elsey was blowing the whistle for us all to get into line. Everybody was staring at my tear-stained face and bandaged knees.

‘Had your eyeful, or d’you want the ha’penny change?’ Ruby snapped. ‘What happened?’ she asked me as we queued up.

‘I fell over. After you ran way, I was trying to catch you up to explain.’

‘I followed you, why didn’t you tell me you were going to meet Mr Greenidge? You said you were going home; what did you go to meet him for?’

‘Why did you follow me?’

‘Dunno, didn’t want to go home, I suppose.’

‘I didn’t either. I just felt like going for a walk. I didn’t know I was going o meet anybody. I couldn’t help it if he gave me some sweets, could I? I never wanted them in the first place and he made me put one in his mouth. I was going to save the rest, honest.’

Miss Elsey’s whistle chirruped feebly. ‘Silence,’ she pleaded.

‘Don’t let’s ever quarrel again.’ I said.

Half-way through the morning terror gripped me, that Betty would be dead when I got home, but she wasn’t.

to be continued...