I watched the droplets of rain cascade down the windscreen of mum’s silver Renault Clio. It hurt. It reminded me of tears, flowing down cheeks. It reminded me of the tears that flowed in the last few months, the ones that stung the bloodshot eyes of me and mum. The tears that hurt so much when dad said his final goodbyes and left us. The tears that hurt so much when the hospital called us and told us the news that grandma had died. And the tears when mum told me I’d have to pack my bags and move to the country so she could care for granddad. I wish that there was a windscreen-wiper in my life that could wipe away the past year and let us start again.
Mum turned up the radio slightly, to try and erase the awkward silence between us.
“I like this song, it’s cheery,” she croaked, the dryness in her voice a sign that she had been crying. I nodded. The trees flashed past the window, casting an occasional shadow over us in a rhythmic pattern. The silhouette of granddad’s cottage surrounded by the greenery loomed ahead of us. I sighed. Mum turned off down a muddy lane. When I was little, I would have trundled down here in my wellies and red patent raincoat with my older sister, Bella. I laughed at the memories.
“Is there a punch line?” Mum smiled at me.
“Not so much, just thinking about when I was little.”
“You were always so happy when you were little, what happened, eh?” She tried to joke with me. I grumbled back.
The car grounded to a halt just outside the blue garage door. I threw the car door open and opened the boot. The handle of my suitcase felt smooth and cold against my clammy palms.
“Here’s my girls!” Granddad appeared at the door of the cottage. He looked so frail, his hands shaking the wooden walking stick ferociously. Mum gave him an awkward, one-armed hug and then headed inside the house carrying two large holdalls. I smiled weakly at granddad.
“Aileen, how are you my dear?” The smell of soap was incredibly strong, it almost made me gag.
“I’m okay, its going to be nice living with you out in the country, grandpa.” I couldn’t help but to grimace slightly at the last part.
Walking into the old house was weird. The last time I was here was on my eleventh birthday and that was four years ago. The walls were still painted that same fainted red and the carpet was still the same mismatched dark green. The pictures showed me and Bella trying to cuddle sheep and feed the ducks. Another photo showed Bella as a cheeky six-year old smothering lipstick over Uncle Barry’s face when he was asleep. It felt strange looking at the pictures on my own. Usually someone would be looking over my shoulder and laughing with me.
“Do you want tea, Aileen?” Mum popped her head around the kitchen door.
“Um, yeah, please.” I followed her back through, I didn’t like being on my own in the house. It felt uncomfortable. The kitchen was painted a bright yellow. The room reminded me of grandma, she was always so optimistic. I took the mug of steaming liquid in my hands. I hurt a little but my hands were so cold I didn’t even care. I grabbed the local newspaper and skipped to the sports section. Judging by the paper, nothing exciting happened much around here. I did see a notice advertising junior players needed for a netball league and an article complaining about a proposed new football pitch. I threw it down on the glass coffee table. Life in Elgin, Scotland was going to be very different to living in London.
I woke up to a ray of sunshine streaming through the lace curtain. It highlighted everything on the left side of the room. I wriggled my toes underneath the covers. To my surprise, if I tried to roll over, I fell off the side of the bed. Ouch. It was only a single bed and I had a double at our old house. I missed the house. I peeled myself from the beige carpet and laid the duvet back on the bed.
“Morning Grandpa.” I stifled a giggle as he jumped at the noise of the toast popping out of the toaster.
“Hello Poppet, do you want butter on your toast?” I nodded as I sank in to the couch and picked up the TV remote. The presenter on the news rambled on about something I wasn’t particularly interested in. A cat sprang up onto the couch beside me and circled until it found a comfy spot on my thighs. It purred gently but the vibration was enough to tickle and make me laugh.
Grandpa placed the plate of toast and butter on the coffee table in front of me. I carefully lifted the cat up and put it on the floor. It meowed and the collar glinted in the sunlight. I took it gently and read the name. Lillian. That was grandma’s name. A silent tear ran down my face. I abruptly wiped it up before anyone else noticed it. Mum wandered across the room, rubbing her eyes and dragging her feet. She must have had a rough night. She sat down next to me and grabbed a piece of my toast. I grumbled a response and headed back upstairs.
I ransacked my suitcase, searching for clothes to wear for the day. I pulled the Tottenham football shirt over my head and peered in the mirror. Mascara from yesterday stained my cheeks and my hair was wet and hectic around my shoulders. I scraped my hair back into a messy bun with a large paddle brush, and then rubbed a cucumber wipe under my eyes to remove the black splodges. The wipes smelled fresh in the musty old room. It was a pale pink, with lace curtains and china dolls. It was mum’s room, when she lived here. I quickly realised how dull the room was and made a mental note reminding me to go B&Q and buy some decent paint. The kohl eyeliner jabbed into my eyeball, making it water and making me shout a lot of bad words. At the sound of the rude screaming, I heard a clatter and mum rumbled into the room where I was still only dressed in my football shirt and pants.
“What’s up sweetie?” She queried.
“Don’t call me that. I’m fine, I just poked the eye pencil in my eye.”
“Oh,” she picked up one of the china dolls, smiled a little, and placed it back on the shelf. “Hurry up and get dressed.”
“We’re going to enrol you into school today.”
I swear the further into town you get, the greyer it gets. The building we were now approaching had the title ‘Chaswick High School’ scrawled above the door in bold red letters. Litter swirled around my feet and the trees blew in the gentle breeze. Mum gave me a hopeful look, then gripped the chrome door handle. A friendly receptionist looked up from behind a book. She grinned and slid the glass panel across.
“Hello, can I help you?” I think if she leaned any further out the square hole in the wall, she would fall out.
“Yes please, I was wondering about enrolling my daughter to be educated here?” I cringed at mum’s terrible use of words. The lady kindly explained all the procedures and classes and handed mum some forms and booklets. A couple of girls sauntered past us, sneering at my jeans and football t-shirt. Each one had bleached blonde hair and a ridiculous amount of make up on, their school skirts were rolled up and their blouses were unbuttoned. They laughed and kept walking out the door. Mum stood up and thanked the receptionist for her help. We left quickly, returning to the frozen car.
"Well," Mum sighed, turning the heating up in the Clio, "How did you like the school?"
I rolled my eyes, and turned to face her. "Mum, seriously, what do i actually care? It's all school in some shape or form." She turned a corner into the Asda car park. This would be the first time I'd been shopping here since i was eight. The signs were all covered in graffiti and some had been bent. Mum scrambled out of the car and opened the boot to get some shopping bags. She had to do granddad's shopping now as he wasn't fit enough to do it himself. Then we entered the store.
We were shopping for about two hours, buying things we didn't necessarily need until the novelty wore off. I got myself a new denim skirt, a new set of hair products and a tenner top-up even though i already had fifteen pound in my mobile already. Mum ended up stocking up on sushi and anchovies, stuff we don't even eat. I enjoyed the shop, it made me imagine me and some new friends shopping around town, laughing and consulting each other for style advice. I looked forward to times like that. Making new friends would be hard for me. Letting go of my friends in London was extremely hard. I remembered each of their faces individually and smiled. Kelly, Harmony and Jasmine lit up my school days down south with our fits of giggles and silly sleepovers. The cat ran across the bonnet making me jump and waking me from my daydream. Mum was already in the house packing things away in cupboards when i got inside. Granddad was snoring on the couch with the TV blaring. I turned the sound down and pulled a fleece blanket over him. Mum handed me a plastic bag with clothes in it.
"What's this?" I took a peek inside the bag.
"Your new school uniform." She explained, putting a tin of beans in the cupboard. I groaned and trudged up the stairs.
Searching through an old chest of drawers, i found a photo album covered in brown leather. I flicked through the pages. all the photos were quite old, mostly of my great grandparents and my grandparents as children. There was photographs of birthdays, babies, new years, Christmas's, weddings, happy times, funny times, embarrassing times and some sad times. One picture in particular made me smile. It was a picture of grandma in a cream chiffon dress when she was about sixteen. Her hair fell down past her shoulders in golden ringlets and her blue eyes sparkled. The same ringlets hung down and were splayed across the book in front of me. The curls I had inherited from her were a blondish colour, faded because the colour wasn't natural. Chocolate brown seeped through my locks, even though i tried to disguise it as much as possible. I would usually straighten my hair till it was poker straight, everyone else did it back in London and I preferred it to my natural style. I looked into the rectangular mirror, and Dads brown eyes stared back at me. Something flashed behind me in the reflection. I spun round but nothing was there. I shivered. Something was on my bed. I walked over to find the picture of me, mum, dad and Bella at Christmas eight years ago. That's strange, it was usually up on the shelf above the bed. I must have shifted it and forgot about it.
I shoveled the Wheatabix in my mouth, chewing frantically. Typical me, first day at school and I slept in. The TV was playing some early morning adverts for stuff nobody actually needs. Grandpa sipped on his tea and bobbed his head lightly to the dodgy music played on the terrible adverts. Mum skittered around the kitchen holding onto her ear, I thought she was probably searching for a missing earring butterfly. I had rolled the waistband of my black school skirt up slightly, just to show a tad more knee. I had managed to keep my crisp white blouse buttoned though, unlike the staring girls at Chaswick the other day. Mum had filled a new pencil case with unnecessary stationary and had kindly bought me a grey leather shoulder bag for school. She picked her keys up off the side board and headed out the door, screaming for me to follow. I abruptly stood up, snatched my mobile and kissed grandpa on the cheek.
"See you later gramps." He frowned, he didn't like being called that.
Mum had already started the car and it was in the process of rumbling to life. Condensation steamed up the windscreen, mum growled angrily and turned the heater to full blast.
"What's up mum?" I questioned fixing the seat belt into the plug.
"Don't ask." She sighed and turned to reverse the car. I quickly assumed it would be something to do with work. We drove in silence, passing various shops and estates. I spotted the Asda we were at the other day and a B&Q sign peeked out from behind a large warehouse. The mental note to buy some paint popped into my head.
"Mum, can we buy some new paint to redecorate my room?" I tried to work the innocent look.
"We'll talk about after school," She said, pulling up in a parking space outside the school. "I need to speak to Dave and sort some stuff out." Dave was the guy who managed to get mum a transfer to Elgin working as a assistant to businesses. "See you later."
I climbed out of the car, dodging the muddy puddle on the tarmac.
The friendly receptionist was sitting at her desk again, she gave me my timetables and a map of the school. It wasn't very clear to read, it just about looked the same upside down. Waking into a class full of unfamiliar teenagers staring at you is the most horrible thing I have ever done. The music teacher, who I learnt was called Mr Brown, kindly greeted me and sat me down beside a boy at a window desk.
"Hey," He whispered to me and gave me a smile, "What's your name?"
"Aileen, and you?" I returned his smile.
"Darren." He seemed friendly. He had a kind face, soft but masculine. I liked it. Mr Brown explained the number of flats in a key signature to some kid at the front. Darren fiddled with his pencil, flicking it rapidly on our desk. He had 'rugby - 3:30' scribbled on the back of his hand.
"You play?" I grinned at him.
"What?" I nodded in the direction of his hand, "Oh yeah, training today, half past three. You?"
I giggled, "Yeah right, can you really picture me in a rugby strip?" He stuck out his bottom lip, thinking. We laughed.
The rest of period one passed pretty quickly, I did actually manage to learn about accidentals in between me and Darren's friendly banter. Period two was maths, and it dragged on for an hour. The class, which was lead by Mrs Kerr, was studying Pythagoras, while I struggled to write down the homework schedule the teacher had for this class. If all other classes end up with as much homework as this, I might as well not bother trying to make friends because at that rate, I'd have no time for a social life. After that, she handed me two textbooks and three jotters, ordered me to sit at a seat on my own and get on with my work. But now, I was standing with Darren from music, in the snack queue laughing at the small impish kid who weaved right up the line then got spotted by the janitor and hauled right to the back. Darren had found me stumbling around after maths, looking for the dinner hall. He kindly guided me down and promised me he would introduce me to his friends after we bought something to eat. I picked up an Alpen cereal bar and gave the large lady behind the till my money.
Darren grinned at me, "Are you ready to come and meet this mad lot then?" I gazed to where his thumb was pointing. I gulped and nodded.
"Guys?" Their heads jerked up and stared at Darren, then at me, then back at him. "This is Aileen, she's new here. I told here she could hang with us for a bit, is that alright?" Each one of the boys nodded and spoke a few mumbled responses. One got up and offered me his seat. He grabbed another one from the next table and launched into conversation, telling me everyone of his friends names, habits and scandals. His name turned out to be called Norman. Someone cracked a joke, making me laugh so much I elbowed the boy next to me in the nose, making it bleed and the rest of the lads praise me for making such a mess of his shirt.
Driving home at the end of the day, mum had endless questions for me, and she was surprised that I had actually quite enjoyed my first day. I told her about Darren, Norman and taking Jamie to get a shirt from lost property. She pulled the handbrake on and yanked the keys out of the ignition. She'd promised to take me to get some paint for my room soon and some new furniture. I vaguely knew what I wanted, something bright to liven up the room a bit. I pulled the plastic bag full of groceries out of the car and banged the door shut. When we got inside Grandpa welcomed us and thrust hot cups of tea at both me and mum.
"So, how was your day girls?" He smiled.
"It was pretty good, I got to know some of the boys at school. They're cool." Grandpa winked and took a bite of his chocolate biscuit. Out of the corner out my eye I saw something shift up the stairs. I swung my head round. Nothing was there. Mum shivered on her stool.
"Have you got any heaters on Dad?" She asked, pressing the steaming mug against her cheeks.
"I should do," He stretched out to grab the radiator, "Ow! That's ruddy hot, I tell you!"
I couldn't help but to laugh. My mobile phone vibrated in my jean pocket violently. I pulled it out. I pressed some buttons to display a message from Kelly, one of my friends from London. She asked how I was, what the new school was like and if there were any cute boys in my classes. I laughed. I text back a short reply, before rummaging around in the shopping bag for some chicken to make tea. I collected all my ingredients and placed them on the counter. The spices smelled delicious while the mustard seeds popped ferociously in the pan.
"Oh Aileen dear?"
"Yeah?" I faced Grandpa
"You've got mail."
I lay on my bed, studying the writing scrawled across the paper infront of me. The letter was slightly crumpled at the corners and had a crease down the middle where it had been folded in the envelope. My fingers traced over the ridges in the white paper, especially over the 'love Dad' written at the end. This was the first contact I'd had from my Dad since my parents split. I didn't quite know how to react. I felt happy that he had gotten in touch, but angry that it had taken so long. There was various scribbles and scratches on the paper, hiding words across the page. I snatched the phone from my bedside and dialled the familiar number.
"Hello?" a wave of comfort shot over me.
"Bella? Oh, did you get a letter? What did it say? Has he called?" Words tumbled out of my mouth thick and fast.
"Woah, calm down! Yes, I did get letter, but what did yours say?" I recited the letter word-by-word to my sister over the phone. She told me what Dad wrote to her and when she received her letter, today at lunchtime. She also arranged a time to drive up to Elgin from London with her boyfriend, Martin, so she could see us and the house. I would cook dinner and mum would clean out the spare room for the two of them. I looked forward to it, I hadn't seen Martin for about two month. He was a good guy, tall, dark hair and bright blue eyes. He treated Bella like a princess too, just what she deserves. They had been together for almost two years. I gazed up at the photograph of me and Bella at the Tottenham ground, White Hart Lane. Her dark brown eyes were identical to mine and her hair was a deep shade of red, she claims her inspiration was a female singer from an American rock band. I missed Bella, her presence was always comforting to me. I suddenly realised how tired I was, and changed into my pyjamas.
"Night!" I yelled down the stairs and retreated back to my room, where I got under the sheets and closed my eyes.
Two weeks later..
I waved Mum goodbye as I passed through the gates of Chaswick. She smiled and drove away. I spotted Darren underneath the Maths stairs. He looked up as I approached and his pale pink lips formed a crescent shape across his face. Sarah bounded towards me, her tight black curls bouncing like a spring.
"Hey Aileen, hows things today then?" I grinned at her.
"I'm okay, a bit tired I suppose."
"No change there then, come on." She hauled me over to the boys. They each nodded to acknowledge my presence, all absorbed in their mobile phones. The bell trilled, signaling us all to go to registration. We all filed into out separate rooms, chatting loudly as we went. The teacher slowly called out names out in alphabetical order, everybody obligingly responded. Sarah was glued to her touch-screen phone, her thumbs dotting around the screen as fast as lightning.
"Who you texting then?" I questioned.
"Oh, just some boy," she blushed. "His name's Nick, he's from Inverness."
"Oooh!" I crooned. She giggled before smacking my hand. The events flyer was passed over to us. On the front was a small purple bubble, with the words 'Midsummer Night Ball' in thick black text. I rolled my eyes and passed the leaflet onto Sarah. Her eyes lit up.
"Oh my gosh Aileen! We have to go to this!" I shook my head. "Come on! It'll be brilliant, we can get really fancy dresses and get our hair done and..."
"No Sarah, it's not my kind of scene." I abruptly stood up, predicting the bell to ring any minute. She mirrored my movement, slinging her retro style satchel over her shoulder. Her black curls seemed to droop. I felt bad for being so pessimistic. I hated dancing, I just couldn't get my feet to move around sophisticatedly enough to not land as a heap on the floor. I adored the long flowing gowns and the sparkly shoes. I loved the boys tuxedos and the heaps of gel in the their hair. But I could not stand the dancing. The dance was about a month away so I had time to discuss it with my friends. We swung round the door frame of room 46 and took our seats. I sat next to Sarah and Jamie, the boy who's nose I abused on my first day. Our chemistry teacher shrieked out some instructions in her unmistakable Glaswegian accent.
The school day dragged on for what seemed like days, until the final bell rang and the whole school rushed out impatiently. Sarah skiped along the sidewalk,
Feedback for Pineappleexpress
Pineappleexpress opens well with a comparison between weather and emotion and a good attempt at using repetition for effect.
‘I watched the droplets of rain cascade down the windscreen of mum’s silver Renault Clio. It hurt. It reminded me of tears, flowing down cheeks. It reminded me of the tears that flowed in the last few months, the ones that stung the bloodshot eyes of me and mum. The tears that hurt so much when dad said his final goodbyes and left us.The tears that hurt so much when the hospital called us and told us the news that grandma had died. And the tears when mum told me I’d have to pack my bags and move to the country so she could care for granddad. I wish that there was a windscreen-wiper in my life that could wipe away the past year and let us start again.’
I loved the windscreen wiper metaphor – she uses her setting to create mood. We understand the character’s regret. Pineappleexpress also hints at this regret in her description of setting by referring to shadows.
‘The trees flashed past the window, casting an occasional shadow over us in a rhythmic pattern’
Her use of metaphor in the ‘trees flashed past’ makes us see out of her character’s eyes and that makes us engage with her protagonist.
Pineappleexpress uses the senses well in her description of the suitcase and the soap, while her detail on old photos sets the scene nicely. Her use of vocabulary is original and effective: ‘my hair was wet and hectic around my shoulders’.
Another strength of this story is in Pineappleexpress’s showing of character which she does through her protagonist’s thoughts and feelings:
‘I think if she leaned any further out the square hole in the wall, she would fall out.’
The above quotation suggests the mischievous sense of humour of the speaker, while the quotation below makes the character realistic by showing a teenager’s resistance to homework.
‘If all other classes end up with as much homework as this, I might as well not bother trying to make friends because at that rate, I'd have no time for a social life.’
A teenage audience immediately feels sympathetic to her character.
Pineappleexpress also uses dialogue realistically and inventively to suggest the beginnings of friendship between two characters:
The music teacher, who I learnt was called Mr Brown, kindly greeted me and sat me down beside a boy at a window desk.
"Hey," He whispered to me and gave me a smile, "What's your name?"
"Aileen, and you?" I returned his smile.
"Darren." He seemed friendly. He had a kind face, soft but masculine. I liked it. …..Darren fiddled with his pencil, flicking it rapidly on our desk. He had 'rugby - 3:30' scribbled on the back of his hand.
"You play?" I grinned at him.
"What?" I nodded in the direction of his hand, "Oh yeah, training today, half past three. You?"
I giggled, "Yeah right, can you really picture me in a rugby strip?" He stuck out his bottom lip, thinking. We laughed.’
Targets for Pineappleexpress in her writing are to revise the rules of dialogue:
1 Remember a comma separates the speaker from the speech
2 Remember that the speaker does not need to have a capital letter unless that is their name because although the dialogue and the speaker must be separated – they are still in the SAME SENTENCE.
See the error below :
See you later gramps." He frowned, he didn't like being called that.
It is always a good idea to look though your work for errors in sentence construction too:
‘Condensation steamed up the windscreen, mum growled angrily and turned the heater to full blast.’
You cannot join two separate sentences with a comma you need to use a semicolon or joining word.
Overall - this piece of writing used the senses well. The descriptive detail was excellent as was the use of character and setting. This writing was successful in engaging our interest and sympathy with the character. This is ambitious writing. A great read. The direction of this story was not clear though, and I imagine that is because the length of the finished piece would have been as ambitious as the writing style. Unfortunately we ran out of time. I expect that in future Pineappleexpress will improve her very good storytelling skills by plotting events more tightly in advance.