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Short story; Standing by the friendship bench

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Alison was stood next to the friendship bench. She was the only one in the playground that wasn’t engaged in conversation and this made her feel awkward.

Even so, she couldn’t bring herself to sit on the bench. It wasn’t possible to do so without attracting comment. Someone would stroll past and make a joke at her expense.

Alison looked around for another lost soul that looked interesting and approachable. She’d been here weeks now but still didn’t like the look of anyone. That one over there, she seemed haughty and above herself. As for him, eurgh, he was too old, she couldn’t be seen speaking to him. Oh, and of course he was male, so that just made it more difficult.

That one, Jane, she had a lisp. Being seen in her company wouldn’t be cool. The person next to her, Aminah, well, Alison had tried chatting to her once.

Unfortunately Aminah had such a strong foreign accent that Alison couldn’t make out what she was saying so made her excuses and walked off mid-way through the conversation. The two of them hadn’t spoken since.

Alison would make do with being in splendid isolation. Maybe one day she’d identify a kindred spirit in the playground.

Just then the deputy headteacher walked past.

“Good afternoon,” he said to Alison, “how are you today?”

“Yes I’m fine thanks.”

“Settled in okay?”

There was a pause. She was unsure whether he was referring to her, or her son, Simon. She decided he must be asking after Simon.

“Yes, Simon seems to be doing very well. In fact, here he is.”

Simon’s teacher had led a line of children out into the playground. It was the end of the school day and, one by one, she was sending the children off into the arms of their mothers and even the occasional father and grandparent.

“Ah, yes, so he is. Well my door is always open if you ever want or need anything. It’s very important our reception-class parents are made to feel welcome.”

At this he smiled, nodded and walked off.

“Oh sugar,” muttered Alison.

In the brief moment the pair had been chatting, Simon’s class teacher had released him from her care. Instead of running straight to his mother, he’d run over to a group of boys and girls and was engrossed in a game of tag.

The parents looked on as their kids played. They were chatting, making small talk and being sociable. Alison wanted none of it so stood in silence at the other side of the playground. After a couple of minutes she’d had enough and pretended to take a call on her mobile phone.

“Simon, come on my sweet. We have to go. That was daddy, he’s coming home early.”

Simon, unimpressed at having to leave the game early, sloped off to his mother. A couple of the other parents waved goodbye to Alison and she gave a half-hearted response, waving her left hand without a smile or saying anything.

She took her boy’s hand and walked out of the school grounds in the direction of home. After a short while, Simon spoke up.

“Mummy, what does antishoshul mean?”

Even with a four year old’s poor pronunciation, Alison knew what he was trying to say.

“Where did you hear that from?”

“Harry’s mummy said you were antishoshul.”

“When?”

“When I was playing tag. Harry’s mummy was talking to Tina’s daddy and she said ‘Simon’s mum is antishoshul and never smiles.’ But what does it mean? I want to know.”

“Oh, it’s a silly word. It just means they think I should smile more.”

Alison’s ears burned. She hadn’t felt this way since she was a teenager and had been spurned at school by the cool kids for having a goth phase.

Returning to the playground as an adult had been tough. The grown-ups seemed to play more games than the youngsters. Alison knew she lacked confidence, but maybe this was a sign that she had to make more of an effort.

For the sake of her son, she resigned herself to being more sociable. It would happen through gritted teeth, but tomorrow she’d return to school and chat about homework or the recent school trip.

Who knows, maybe she could even call in on the deputy head and ask about getting involved with the PTA. Actually no, that was a step too far. Best to take things slowly. Alison might admit to be miserable, unsociable and mad, but she wasn’t stupid.

Copyright, John Adams, London, United Kingdon, December 2014

This post was written in response to #theprompt linky hosted by the Mumturnedmom blog. The pormpt word was friendship. CLick on the badge below to visit the linky.

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Nikki Young Writes

14 thoughts on “Short story; Standing by the friendship bench”

  1. I liked the little twist in the middle! I found myself caught between feeling sympathy for Alison – it’s hard being the new girl, whatever your age – and frustration that she wasn’t making more of an effort. Wanting to keep yourself to yourself is one thing but she did seem a bit stuck up with it. In what way is she ‘mad’ though? Intriguing. #fridayfiction

  2. I’m guessing you have experience with playground politics then?! I can identify and it is hard to fit in at ‘school’, but she doesn’t help herself much does she?

    1. Ha ha, yes, I have a little experience, although I don’t consider myself an Alison. No, she doesn’t help herself, I didin’t particularly want the reader to be sympathetic towards her as she isn’t meant to be very nice.

  3. Wonderful writing again, John.
    I can identify with the story in some respects. The things about school is you think it will all go away once you’ve left but then you have children and you find yourself on the dreaded playground again.

  4. Great piece of writing John, you can’t escape playground politics, can you? It is hard being the new girl, even as an adult (having done it when we moved to the US), but you have to be sociable and get on with it don’t you! I felt for Alison, but also wanted to give her a good shake and tell her to just smile and say hello 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing with #ThePrompt x

    1. Yes indeed, you must make the effort or people will freeze you out, quite understandably. You’re right though, it is tricky being the new girl / boy.

  5. I can sympathise with Alison. I find this time of day is my headspace time! Planning food shopping in my head, brainstorming content in my head. I am actively involved in the PTA though… 😉 it’s true! #ThePrompt

    1. I have a certain sympathy for ALison, but she isn’t supposed to be a particularly nice character. As it happens, I am also invovled with the PTA. Thanks for commenting.

  6. I too liked the twist of discovering that Alison was a parent and not a child. I found her character quite stand-offish and wanted to tell her that she needed to make a bit more effort to be friendly. I have yet to experience playground politics though so maybe that made me a little less sympathetic towards her character. Great piece of writing.

    1. To be honest, I did go out of my ay to make her unlikeable, although I find the politics of the playground fascinating. Good luck when you eventually get there! TBH, I find you get what you put in. If you are stand offish, that’s what you’ll get in return.

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