Part 17: The Only Girl in School

Miss Williams stared at Frankie with all the disbelief she could manage to fit on her face. “What am I doing here? Err, that’s a fine question coming from you young lady – where have you been?”
Frankie stared back, partly because she was trying to figure out just where to begin, and partly because she was deciding whether or not it was a good idea to say anything at all. “Just….out,” she replied in a small voice, choosing to keep the longer version to herself.

“Well, come in now. You know, this really isn’t acceptable Frankie. I know you’ve had more freedom than usual with all this business, but as far as I was concerned, you were sorting out your artwork in the corridor, and then you were just …gone!”

Frankie stepped through the door, quickly looking around and taking in the surroundings. Yes, this was definitely the school she left behind in 2020 – not a floral curtain or swirling mustard yellow carpet in sight. “Sorry, Miss Williams. I didn’t mean to make you worry – I was just out looking for…a dog. Yes, I thought I heard a dog barking.”
“A dog? How would a dog have got into the school? It must be from one of the houses, Frankie. There was nothing to look for and no excuse to disappear for the last ten minutes! You know you have to stay in sight if you want to be trusted!”

Frankie felt herself staring again, but this time, although her eyes were wide, her mouth was firmly closed. Ten minutes. All of that in ten minutes. There were no answers that could satisfy the questions she had. Come to think of it, she didn’t even have the questions yet – just a big cluster of question marks which she imagined were circling her head like curious vultures. All she could do was apologise again, (a follow up was always a good idea), hang her head in obvious shame, and wait for Miss Williams to forgive her and move on.
“Ok Frankie. Well let’s say no more about it for now, but this cannot happen again. Right, back to class with you, come along.”

Frankie’s feet trudged back towards the year six classroom, behind Miss Williams and her determined strides. Clearly, for the teacher, normal service had been resumed, and the next decision would be whether to set story writing, arithmetic or design of a handwashing poster. Frankie was in no mood for any of the options, and Harry’s face, as he looked up from his grammar and punctuation worksheet, reflected the same. “Where have you been?” he whispered, pleased for any distraction from subordinate conjunctions. “I’ll tell you later,” Frankie replied. But as Harry returned to his work, after pointing to the blank sheet waiting for Frankie’s responses, she knew that she wouldn’t. As she went in for a full deep sigh, she caught herself just in time and decided instead to flash a broad smile as she looked towards Miss Williams for approval. “Ooh! Fronted adverbials! I remember them!” Right answer, she thought, as Miss Williams returned the smile before busying herself with the afternoon’s flipchart agenda.

“Where’s Miss Coghlan gone?” Frankie asked within twenty seconds of her plan to keep her head down and do her work. “Disinfecting the whiteboards,” came the reply. The sigh could be suppressed no longer. Normal service had well and truly been resumed.

The day passed without a single other remarkable event. Sandwiches were eaten, footballs kicked, and hands were washed, washed and washed again. As the latest Disney offering was downloaded, Miss Coghlan, smelling faintly of Dettol and liquid soap, made a reappearance carrying an enormous bowl of popcorn, and a smile to match its size. “Get your popcorn here you lucky, lucky people! It’s show time!” Frankie grinned, despite her best efforts to remain gloomy, but as she thought about her own recent and more spectacular show time, the corners of her mouth dropped once again. She couldn’t share a single part of her story with a single person, and by far the most important thing that she was desperate to describe, was how much she missed Spike and Billy. At several points in the day, she had looked across the playground, along the Woodland Walk and, through each window, the huge expanse of the field. But the small black dog and the tall thin boy of her imagination, failed to appear anywhere except the privacy of her own head.

As the end credits rolled and the last strains of the film’s music faded, so did the longest school day of Frankie’s life. “Time to clear up! Everyone wash your hands and then gather your things together for home time.” Miss Williams took up her usual spot for door watch as the children followed her instructions, and Frankie took one last opportunity to look for Spike as she wandered up the corridor to the toilets. No sign. No surprise. The school was depressingly quiet and still.

As she returned to the classroom, Miss Williams called Frankie over. The teachers were sorting through the children’s work, and Miss Williams held out a sheet of paper for Frankie to collect. “Your mum’s going to love your picture, Frankie. It will be great to have this on display but first let your mum see what a budding artist you are!”
Frankie looked at her rainbow picture. It already seemed faded, as if all elements of magic had evaporated and blown across the field, never to be at her fingertips again. Her fingers traced the arcs of colour and her eyes searched for Spike’s image.

But he wasn’t there. In his place sat a smudged unicorn, looking almost embarrassed to be on the paper – waiting to be replaced by something more real, more meaningful.

Spike was gone – just as he had disappeared from Billy’s picture. If there was one thing that Frankie had learned from this, it was that if Spike vanished from a picture, he was well and truly gone. Was he with Billy now? Racing round, trying to work out which century to inhabit, who to keep happy? Did he feel guilty, and if he did, would he return? So many questions, but just as before, Frankie realised that no answers would ever be forthcoming, and maybe it was better to accept that as a fact, and start to cherish the very precious memory of Spike and Billy, however short-lived their friendship had been. She smiled, her mind made up, and just as she was about to remember her manners and thank Miss Williams for her compliment, the teacher called both her and the boys over to the art table. “No name! You know that’s my pet hate children – thank goodness there’s only three of you!”

She held up a large picture so the children could work out which one of them was responsible for its creation. All of them duly approached to take a closer look.

The first thing to jump off the page for Frankie was a small white house, nestling in bluish green hills. The next thing, or rather things, was a series of odd looking birds, pecking at the ground. But the final thing Frankie’s eyes took in, sitting amongst a scattered range of dogs painted in all shapes and sizes, was a small spikey ball of dog-shaped fur, his eyes dancing as Miss Williams waved the picture in front of the children. Beside him was a tall thin boy, spindly legs planted in deep grass, one arm at his side and the other reaching above his head, two wavy lines carefully pencilled in, signalling movement.

“Spike and Billy,” Frankie whispered, her heart almost beating out of her chest.

“Sorry Frankie, what was that?” Miss Williams looked at Frankie and then at the picture. “Ah! I wondered where your little dog had gone! It’s been a long day, but I could have sworn he was on that first one you did. Well this is a lovely one too, but please remember to sign your work like every good artist!”

Just as Frankie was about to tell Miss Williams that it wasn’t her work – not her dogs, her rainbow, her funny looking birds and out of place eagle, but the work of the first boy to ever paint a picture or walk through the school’s classrooms, a thought stopped her. This picture did not appear by accident. This picture had been delivered for a reason, and its message was simple. Spike and Billy were waving goodbye.

“I will, Miss Williams, thank you.” Frankie took the picture, her eyes never leaving her friends’ faces, even as they blurred out of focus as the tears welled. “Frankie, are you alright?” came the concerned voice of her teacher. But the words were all but drowned out by the rising giggles of the only girl in school, as she hugged the picture to herself and nodded her reassurances back to Miss Williams.

The circle of hope was complete once again.

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