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.

Mrs Calbreath – Various Books

I am so very excited to tell you all about the books I am reading…I can’t put them down! There are 4 books in the series and I’ve already read two!

They are all stories about a group of children who belong to a running club. They all have different personalities and very interesting stories to tell. I have just started book three today called Sunny and it’s already a fab read. I do hope you’re all enjoying your reading as much as me at the moment.

Mrs Calbreath Kestrels

Part 16: The Only Girl in School

Frankie bit her lip as she watched the figures walk past Miss Taylor, who had not moved from her spot, hand on her hips and shaking her head, despairing at children nowadays. As she watched the stern teacher turn to follow them, she wondered what unsuspecting class of children were going to have to face Sergeant Major on Monday. The thought only distracted her for the shortest time, and as she watched her friend disappear through the doorway and saw it close behind Miss Taylor, she turned to Spike pleadingly.

“Let’s go after them Spike! Billy didn’t say goodbye and he’s going to feel awful when he realises.” Spike, who had been sitting at her feet watching the same scene, shook his head sadly. “He’s gone Frankie. He’ll be okay though– he got what he needed. I think you did too.”

“Well, I got to play with someone else and find out a bit more about the school in the olden days,” Frankie replied, nodding her head in the direction of the building. “But I feel worse than ever now! He just left – gone – not a thought for anyone. I think we could have been proper friends too – we had such a laugh.”

“That’s what you needed then. You made him laugh too and made him feel less alone. I reckon Monday’s going to go absolutely fine for Billy now. He’s had a good chance to talk it all out, and you listened, Frankie. That’s what he needed and that’s what he got.”

Frankie thought about this, but wasn’t completely satisfied despite Spike’s best intentions. “But…” she started, and let the word hang there while she tried to find the right words to show Spike how disappointed she was that the story had come to an end. She didn’t need to think any further– Spike seemed to read her mind and continued. “You found each other, Frankie. You gave each other hope, not just a good laugh, but that was important too. That’s all it can be though Frankie. You can’t stay here, stuck in the past. This bit of your story’s over now and it’s time to get you home.”

Frankie sighed. She absolutely got it, but she thought that if she didn’t sigh, Spike might think she was completely over it, and she really didn’t want him to think she could bounce back that quickly. The truth was, she felt a surge of happiness at the mention of the word home, and although she would never forget Billy, the thought of her mum worrying as much as Billy’s dad clearly had, made her want to get home, and fast. “Okay, so now what? I mean we ended up going through that door when we got to the end of the tunnel thing, but where’s the tunnel now?” A sense of panic overwhelmed her and the dryness of her mouth rendered her barely able to get her next words out. “Oh no Spike! I didn’t even think about that before… I mean, I didn’t really notice it wasn’t there. We were just too busy playing. Stupid, stupid, stupid!” Frankie’s face was in her hands as she ran out of words and stared all around her, willing the appearance of a door, a bump in the ground – anything that looked even remotely like a way back. “Calm down Frankie. You know you can trust me. Do I look like I’m worried?” Before Frankie had the chance to reply, and reply she certainly would, making sure that Spike knew just what the difference in their emotional states was, Spike had once again set off confidently across the field. “Where are you going Spike? Why are you going back to the door? I thought you didn’t want us to go after Billy!”

Spike didn’t break his stride, calling behind him: “I didn’t say I didn’t want us to go after Billy. I said he’s gone.” Frankie muttered to herself, but knew from experience that there was little point arguing with the dog once he had decided his next move. Reluctantly at first, and then with growing curiosity, she followed Spike towards the door. “Gone, is he?” she said out loud, but too distant from Spike’s earshot to get any reaction. “He’ll have to get his stuff first, plus we would have heard a car go.” Happy that she was about to be proved right, Frankie picked up her pace and the two arrived at the door no more than a second apart. “Ready?” Spike asked, looking for Frankie’s approval and waiting for her to answer the door. “Ready,” replied Frankie and pulled at the door.

It didn’t open. Frankie pulled at the handle, a bit harder at first, and then with both hands holding on and her heels dug into the ground, with as much strength as she could manage. Nothing. “What’s going on?” she asked no one in particular, because in her freshly panicked state she was thinking not of Spike, but suddenly and more than a little anxiously about her mum. How was she going to get home now? “Spike! Do something! Bark or something while I yell! They must still be in there!” No reply came. Frankie looked to the ground on both sides, and then behind her. “Spike! SPIKE! Where’ve you gone now? It’s not funny – I need you!” Moving away from the door now, Frankie looked across the expanse of the field, putting her hand on her forehead the way she’d seen people do, as if it would help her locate a small, faraway ball of black dog. “Spike!” she called out once again, even though she knew that as he was clearly not on the field, he would be too far away to hear her cries.

She turned back and tried the door again, hoping that in the topsy- turviness of her world, some kind of magic would have taken over and it would open with ease. The door still stubbornly refused to give in to any sort of witchcraft, and looking around, she realised why. There on the wall was the code pad which the teachers waved their security passes at to open the door. Just for a minute, she felt relieved that she wasn’t stuck out here forever, that someone would eventually appear from inside or out, and let her in. But then she took a second look. What was a code pad doing on the wall? Were they around when the school was first built? Frankie wasn’t an expert, but forty four years was a long time ago and Billy hadn’t even heard of cable TV! As she tried to process this latest observation, the whole situation started to turn into a tidal wave in her head, and as it threatened to rise further, her head decided to reduce the pressure. Frankie began to cry. Fat tears tumbled down her face, and then she heard herself sob, at first softly and sadly and then urgently and loudly, as she banged and banged on the door with small determined fists. “Let me in! Please! PLEASE!”

She stopped. If her ear hadn’t been so close to the locking mechanism of the door, she would never have heard it click. But by then, her face was leaning on the glass as she continued to thump despairingly at the wooden frame. She stepped back, and noticed for the first time that the dark blue blinds were closed. Why hadn’t she spotted them before? Again, they had no place in 1976, and although she didn’t remember seeing any loud floral curtains on the door, they would certainly be a better match for the rest of the school.

She felt her heart lift as the door began to open, slowly at first as the blinds were pulled back at the same time, and then wide enough for her to see who was behind it. “Miss Williams! What are you doing here?”

Part 15: The Only Girl in School

Some parts of the school grounds seemed unchanged and timeless, and others left Frankie puzzled, as she struggled to see what was missing from open spaces, and what now stood where this hedge was growing, or that bicycle shed stood. Without a camera to record the images, she knew that she had to commit all of the differences to memory. But who would she ever share them with? Who, in 2020, would ever believe her? They would look at each other and wonder whether she had banged her head or something. Frankie decided that now was not the time for those questions and concerns, and equally, she banished any fear of not being able to return to her own century to the very back of her mind. Now was the time for play.

Minutes turned into hours, and exhausted from chasing each other, climbing trees (Billy seemed to have no regard for his safety, Frankie thought, as he moved ape-like from branch to branch), and cutting their way through the knotted hedgerows with unprotected arms, the children at last slumped to the ground and stared at the impossibly blue sky. Spike had declined the invitation to enter the unknown, and had left the children to their own devices as they explored. He had chuckled to himself as he heard Frankie talk about the Forest School, much to Billy’s bewilderment. “What are you talking about? It’s a hedge, Frankie. No desks here!”

Now Spike trotted over to join them, a book clamped between his teeth. He dropped it, and carefully smoothed its cover with a gentle paw. “One of my favourites, this. ‘The Tiger who Came to Tea.’ Read it out loud Frankie – I’m hopeless at turning pages!” Both children smiled at him. “Good taste, Spike!” said Frankie, looking at the cover of one of her own favourite books. Billy nodded furiously. “I love that one too! I mean, I know I’m a bit old for it and everything, but Dad still reads it aloud when I’m feeling down.”

The years between them melted away, as Frankie read, and they each gazed at the familiar illustrations of the smiling tiger and the little girl who loved him. It led to talk of other books, and characters who had clearly stood the test of time, and jogged Frankie’s memory of the sights she had seen on the field as she walked out with Spike for the first time.
“The school has been alive with all these books and pictures and everything ever learned, Frankie,” came Spike’s voice as he caught her staring across the field and guessed what she was thinking. “Years of children’s wonder and questions and feelings just can’t disappear, can they? They have to soak in somewhere.”

The afternoon passed quickly, with the children gradually joining the pieces of the jigsaw in which they found themselves. Billy struggled to grasp the enormity of the time travel part of the story, when Spike and Frankie finally decided the time was right for it to unfold.

“So you’re here, but not really here?” Billy asked, his question giving Frankie pause for a lot of thought.

“I don’t know! Thing is, I was getting upset about where my life was disappearing to, but I don’t know – I don’t feel worried any more. I think I should be but I’m just not.”
Billy’s disbelief didn’t last long, as he was fully aware that a talking dog was sharing the explanation, and his questions rapidly fired in every direction, some not even waiting for an answer before the next one shot forward. “Wait, what? How can you have hundreds of TV channels? What’s a laptop? The Queen’s still the same one? What’s Brexit?” Forty four years of history was difficult to compress into one short afternoon in the sun, and eventually the conversation returned to the here and now and the many different things they actually had in common.

So much talk and so much sun, following the miles of running and climbing, could only lead to one conclusion. Tucked up under the shade of dense green branches, all three companions drifted off to sleep.

Minutes or hours later, Frankie’s dream were rudely interrupted by an anxious voice which she thought belonged her mum, calling out for her. “Are you out there? Where have you got to?” And then, more angrily, “Billy, for goodness’ sake! Your dad’s been looking everywhere for you!” Frankie sat up quickly, eyes wide and worried. The friends’ closed world had just reopened to let the grown-ups in, and they weren’t happy.

“Billy! Billy! Wake up! That woman’s looking for you! Look – she’s at the back door now, I think she’s spotted us!”

Billy was a few seconds behind Frankie in his alertness, but as he caught up, his face seemed to return to the anxiety setting Frankie had seen before. “Oh no! What happened there? What time is it?” The tension evaporated as Frankie’s explosive giggles filled the air. “I don’t know! 1976 or something – that’s all I’ve got!” Her own words tickled her further, and Frankie continued to laugh – momentarily forgetting there was a strange woman building herself up to a furious tirade, and she was getting closer.

“It’s not funny Frankie! I’ll be in so much trouble if Dad’s been looking for hours! He’s a real worrier!” Billy stood up quickly, his sudden awakening and movement produced tiny dizzying stars, and as he stepped back to regain his balance, a high-pitched voice signalled Spike’s return from his nap. “OW! That’s my tail if you don’t mind! What are you doing?” Billy whispered an apology as he looked down at Spike, but his eyes soon returned to Miss Taylor, who by now was striding across the field as quickly as her shoes allowed. “BILLY THOMPSON! Have you the faintest idea how much grief you’ve caused? Your father thought you’d run away – he’s beside himself! If you were mine, well, I don’t know what I’d do!”

The words continued, getting louder and more bitter with each step, and they fell on the children’s ears too rapidly to make sense. They just knew she was pretty cross, and Frankie began to wonder if standing there waiting for a closer encounter was perhaps not the wisest decision to take. Just as she was about to shout “Run!” at the top of her lungs, another figure appeared at the doorway and began to sprint towards Miss Taylor, ready to slow her march. “Janet! JANET! It’s fine, go back – I’ll deal with it!”

Billy’s dad now chose to overtake Miss Taylor, as nothing in the teacher’s body language suggested she was about to go anywhere but forward. He ran towards the children, the sheer speed alarming Frankie and convincing her that escape was the only option. But as he got closer, she caught the look on his face and felt her shoulders drop with relief. Billy’s dad wasn’t angry at all. He was smiling, and Frankie thought she could detect a wateriness about his eyes. He was just happy to see his son again. As he almost fell against his son’s body, Mr Thompson picked him up in a tight hug and spun around, laughing. “You’re playing on the field! I should have known! You must have been bored out of your tree with your old dad and Sergeant Major Taylor!” Billy’s laughter rang out in appreciation of a shared joke, and Frankie just knew that this name had been used before – several times.

Frankie found herself smiling and happy once again, and looked to Spike to share the moment. She found him at her feet, spinning in a tail- chasing expression of his own joy – the little dog really did enjoy happy endings. Looking back to the family reunion, she wanted to clap her approval, but as she prepared to do just that, another thought crept into her head. Something wasn’t quite right and she couldn’t for the life of her think what it was.

And then it dawned on her. Billy’s dad still couldn’t see her – his eyes were on Billy the whole time, and absolutely no questions were being asked about the new girl and the strange dog. By now, Mr Thompson had set his son back on the ground and Billy was telling him how daft he had been to worry, that he wouldn’t have done anything silly and that, yes, he was ready to set off home. That was all fine, Frankie thought, we were invisible before so why should that have changed?

But what bothered her was that Billy himself seemed unaware that she and Spike were still there. When both father and son set off together, back towards the school building, Billy didn’t glance back. Instead, he continued to share some private joke with his dad, who ruffled his hair and carried on laughing as Billy pretended to fight with him, his feet dancing and his small fists raised.

“Spike, I don’t think Billy can see us any more, can he?”