Other Fiction - Treasure Island
My brothers thought I was mental to go to school each day but I fancied Miss.
Miss Clarke was the first love of my life. She was young and beautiful with a tall slender figure. She wore lovely smart clothes. She had long flame coloured hair she wore in a bun.
She told us that she was from London but she didn't have a Cockneyfied voice. Her voice was a London voice but softly spoken.
I was glad I was in the B stream just so that I could have her as my teacher. All our family was in the B stream at school. We're all thick in our family.
If I had to say what school subject I liked best, apart from football that is, I suppose I would have to say Geography. Learning about the foreign places on the map. Far, far away from Bourne End.
'You like adventure, don't you Darren' she said to me one day just before morning break. 'try reading this. You can borrow it for as long as you like.'
She gave me a copy of Treasure Island.
Treasure Island. My book from Miss Clarke! Well I wasn't going to part with that. As soon as I got home I buried it at the bottom of the cupboard under the stairs underneath all the knackered old stuff that had sat there forever. Nobody ever opened that cupboard or used any of the stuff.
My very own bit of buried treasure...
The hardest thing about school was having to last till break without a fag. And then I had to share what I had. There weren't that many of us who smoked at primary school but Paul Barber and Geoffrey Short would always spy me out and force me to share my fags. And I didn't want to have to go to the trouble of nicking them from home or from the shop simply so that I would have to share with those two.
Sometimes you have no choice in the matter.
My stepmother Sarah had started me smoking on the occasion of my seventh birthday party. We celebrated birthdays in our family when we remembered.
'Go on,' she said holding out the packet of cigarettes with one pulled halfway out ready for me to take from her.' You'll enjoy it. You know you want one.'
I took it and she flicked her lighter and lit it for me.
My family were all sat in the sitting-room watching as I took my first draw of the fag. It was horrible. I started coughing as the smoke built up and choked in my throat and my eyes began to water.
'No Darren, not like that. You need to take it back.'
Sarah put her own cigarette to her scarlet painted lips and inhaled deeply. She blew rings of smoke that danced up and down the circular wallpaper patterns in our smoky sunlit sitting room and waved in a halo around her short spiky punked-up fair hair. Her laughter rippled through her round soft body. I could see her soft fair hairs on her tattooed arms. Her arms were bare apart from her black vest top.
I tried again and staggered around coughing and spluttering till I fell to the floor in a heap. All my family laughed their heads off. They found it funny.
These days I was ten and I couldn't stop.
I talked to Miss again a few days after she had lent me Treasure Island. It was by pure chance.
It was morning break and I had managed a sneaky draw of my fag in the corner of the playground at the side where they stored the empty milk crates ready to be collected. I was now trying to run to the far end of the playground that looked out onto Cox Street without Paul or Geoff seeing me and I almost banged into Miss.
'You're in a tearing hurry today, Darren' she said and she looked at me with her sky blue eyes. She smiled. She had a nice natural smile. Sweet and a little bit lost, if that makes any sense. Then she took a sip of her morning tea and walked into the middle of the playground ready to blow her whistle. Had break gone that fast? Then I noticed.
She was walking slowly trying not to show that it hurt her to move. And instead of her normal skirts that went down to her knees she was wearing grey woollen trousers with a matching grey and black diamond patterned jumper.
'Who hit you Miss? Tell me who did it. Fucking kill him!'
' Now Darren,' she said, with a hint of her sweet smile in her voice, 'you know we don't use that word at school.'
('But we do at home, Miss. We use that word. All the fucking time.')
I knew not to say that. Not to Miss.
'No Miss, I won't use that word at school again. Promise Miss.'
She looked at me. More of a smile this time.
'You smell of smoke.' she said. Then she limped on ahead and blew her playground whistle.
Secondary school passed quickly enough. Not that I was there much. I did remember to go in for our Careers week at the end of our last year.
'Darren Ayton your appointment's next.'
('Yeah, can't wait.')
'Well Darren', said the fat balding middle-aged stranger in the suit 'have you any idea what you want to do next? Any plans for the future?'
'Can't say I have. Sorry.'
'The Parks and Gardens department of Wycombe County Council are recruiting right now.You will get given the opportunity to complete a fully time-served apprenticeship. Well don't look so enthusiastic.Have you any reason why you should not take this job?'
('Because I'm thick. Because they'll know my family.')
I knew not to say this.
'Yes I'll take the job. It sounds like a good opportunity. When do I start?'
I can't hardly believe it but it's now thirty years since that interview. I'm still a gardener. The Council moves us around a bit. Usually I'm over in Princes Risborough heading up a team of three. But today I'm back in our little park in Bourne End. Andreas Andriou is back to Corfu for a week so I'm here on holiday cover.
And then I see Miss Clarke! First time since primary school. She's sitting on a bench. She's gained weight. Her clothes look alright but more like charity shop than new. Her long hair's gone grey and she is wearing it in a ponytail with a green scrunchie. Same style as Chloe, my youngest one. She doesn't see me, she's wrapped up in reading a book. As I get closer to say hello I notice that she smells of smoke.
'Darren! It is you isn't it.What a lovely surprise. You look well. Has life been kind to you?'
'It's been alright Miss. Can't complain.'
'Call me Pam. And you work here in the park? I've not done paid work for some years now. But I volunteer in the Open Door Centre three times a week, serving hot drinks in the cafe and helping behind the scenes in the office.'
' I see you still like reading.'
'Yes, that's right.I'm re-reading this one. Treasure Island. I always liked adventure.
'Treasure Island, you lent me a copy of that, remember. I never gave it you back.'
She remembered now. She looked up at me with that sweet smile she still had.
'Treasure Island,' she said 'oh yes.'