By Margaret McGoverne
The end of school was in sight. After the holidays, I was off to university. But for now, I had to do games. We had no money for sports equipment. Games were a distraction for me, I was a disappointment to sports; I had asthma, I was clever, I was weedy. I couldn’t sprint; a plodder. The PE teachers disdained me. But I loved cross country running, bounding over brooks and swerving to avoid nettles. I surrendered to the dirty pleasure of the run.
In the playground stood the games hut; musty, crusty socks, lost shirts and football boots. Each week I walked, shamefaced, to borrow a hockey stick. The gym mistress, a powerfully built Australian with a jutting chin and a tanned neck, always barked the same question;
“Why haven’t you got a hockey stick? It’s a compulsory piece of kit!”
More than a hundred sticks hung from hooks on the wall of the hut, leaver-bequests and lost property. Without looking, I would grab the nearest one. My kit was stuffed in my school bag; gym top washed and bleached to a buttery cream. I didn’t have hockey boots; I wore black plimsolls. Cheaper.
I ironed my gym kit the night before PE in my bedroom. My father was visiting, drunk again, and angry with me for locking him out the night before. He had banged on the front door, glaring through the letterbox.
“If you don’t let me in I’ll….”
Tonight he told me I was no longer his daughter; he would have nothing to do with me any more.
“Suits me!” I shouted, retreating to my bedroom to play records. I wrapped myself in scraps of beautiful words and music, a comfort blanket of art. I would escape to university, and never come back. I dreamt of taking my mother away, but she would never break her ties with him. They loved to hate each other.
My father would cadge when jobs were scarce. With his drinking, jobs were always scarce. He had just been in hospital; his lungs were bad, but he continued to smoke. It was a raw, cold spring, my birthday. I asked for a hockey stick but there was no money to spare. Inside my card, an IOU. Next week, mum promised.
Thursday morning; hockey today. I had a plan: I would hide in the school toilets with a book for an hour. My mother’s scream brought me to the kitchen; my father, face down on the floor, still and cold had bequeathed me nothing but bad temper, and relief.
Thursday. My first day back at school. He was cremated, dead and gone from the earth in seven days. Family travelled from far and wide for the funeral, all promised to stay in touch. An uncle pressed money into my hand, “Buy yourself a treat lassie; some records, something nice to wear.” I bought a hockey stick.
This Thursday, I was equipped. Joining the queue to board the bus, the games mistress brayed, “Where were you last week? Hockey season’s over! Leave that stick behind. Where’s your running shoes?”
I ran in my plimsolls, ruining them. It was alright. I was a plodder but that was alright too; I would finish the race. I was in it for the distance.
Author Bio: Margaret McGoverne is currently writing her first full length novel, while being distracted by short stories, flash fiction and her blog about all things writing.