Hidden Talent. (Winner of trophy – February 2017)
Sam entered the dusty theatre foyer. The carpet was a dull, worn, mustard yellow with intermittent spots of red and white. A smell of damp clung to the air like fausty washing. A feeling of nausea hit her stomach like a boulder. How could her career ever take off when she was subjected to forever hosting quizzes in dumps like this? Where were the gastro pubs, the shining lights of the big city, the posher than posh ‘exclusive,’ darling, manor houses?
No, the crumbly Vic would have to do. The name Vic resonate of the era this theatre should have stayed in.
Sam adjusted the strap on her bag over her shoulder and made her way into the theatre’s business room. She was met by a sea of expectant faces, their pens poised, their chatter subduing as she made her way over to the podium.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Sam and I’m your quiz show host for the evening. Are we ready for the first question?’
A chorus of ‘yeahs’ punched the air.
She worked the floor firing questions of knowledge at a rate of knots until it became clear two teams were in with a chance to win the top prize: the knobbly-kneed ruggers; (a team bursting with six, strong, muscly, rugby playing men) and the protective mums; (a team of tired eyes, wide yawns and smiles that sang: thank goodness, we’ve got a night out. Crack open the wine!) The leader, Tracey, she recognised from school, as the girl who had bullied her.
‘And now for the final question: What crystal is……………?’
‘Ruby,’ offered the knobbly-kneed ruggers.
Sam shook her head in decline.
‘What!’ The team leader Matt said, swatting the pad he was writing with, down on the table with a thud.
‘We’ve got it,’ squealed a protective mum.
‘Go on Trace, say it,’ urged her team-mate, bouncing in her chair like an excited kitten.
Tracey took a pause. A triumphant look in her eyes as she teased the rugby lads with her answer.
‘Diamond, like the diamond rings we’re going to buy now we’ve won this trip to London, baby.’
‘Congratulations,’ Sam said. ‘The protective mums have won!’
Her words were lost as the women screamed like a gaggle of geese. Tracey snatched the microphone from her hand.
‘Oi!’ Sam said. ‘I’ve got to sing.’ The protective mums weren’t listening, huddled together screaming with laughter and general happiness.
‘We’ve won!’ Tracey squealed into the microphone, a cackle of noise splitting her voice as the pitch of her tone interrupted the microphone with a synthetic crackle.
‘Right everyone. Please stay.’ Sam clapped her hands to try and gain people’s attention over the general hustle and bustle of people chatting and putting on their coats. ‘There’s singing and entertainment.’
‘Sounds lovely, love but there’s karaoke at the Pack Horse. Come on everybody, celebrate with us!’ said Tracey, the microphone switched on catching her voice at full volume. People nodded and began to dissent.
‘No… o!’ she wanted to scream. This was why she did the Quiz nights so she could indulge her passion and dream of becoming a singer, with the hope, one day, someone would recognise her talent.
Matt, the team leader for the rugby players whispered something in Tracey’s ear. She giggled. Great, not only had Tracey bagged a London trip, she was now flirting with a hot rugby player. She hadn’t changed much since school.
‘Cheer up.’ Matt stood in front of her. ‘Here’s the microphone.’
‘Thanks.’ She flashed him a smile. She was grateful, she really was. ‘Everyone’s gone,’ she smiled, noting only a couple of tables were still occupied.
‘Better to be heard by a few than by nobody.’
She sang her set. The atmosphere quiet but her audience clapped and listened, which was more than some crowds did.
Sam had just finished her last number: ‘On The Run.’ ‘You stayed.’
Matt shrugged his broad shoulders. ‘I was curious. I’ve never heard the song, ‘On The Run.’
‘I wrote it,’ she admitted shyly. ‘It’s about being on the run from the negative parts of your life until you strip it all away; the bad words and the unkind actions, believe in yourself and your talent. A little idealistic, I know.’
‘And in the end, being proud of yourself and your passion in following your dreams: wherever they may take you. I don’t think it’s idealistic. It’s honest and pure.’
Sam blushed with pleasure. He got it. He got her song. Tonight may not have been a waste of time after all.
He accompanied her outside into the night air. Their breath puffed in the cold air and the beginnings of a frost, sprinkled like icing sugar on a cupcake, began to appear on the ground. Her foot skidded. That would teach her to wear high heels.
‘Whoa, steady.’ A strong hand balanced her, stopping her from falling to the floor like a rag doll.
‘You keep on helping me out tonight.’
‘We all need people to lean on.’ He walked her to her car and passed her a card. She switched the indoor light on in her car. The light spilled over the embossed writing on the cream card.
He leaned his head into the car. ‘If you’re interested. Ring me. I have a feeling I may have found a fresh, new talent. Am I right?’
This was one question she didn’t need a quiz answer sheet to answer.
‘Too right,’ she replied, bubbles of hope floating in her tummy like silky champagne drops.
Tonight, her voice had finally been heard.
Karen Rodgers ©️2017
What a gift!
“What does it do?” Pat twirled the strange, plastic contraption in her hand. She surveyed her friend, Jo, who was perched on the staffroom chair.
“Not like that, like this,” instructed Jo, pressing her hand down on a button. “Of course, we need some fruit.”
Now, it was placed on the table, she could see its purpose: a juicer. Jo knew she was following a new healthy eating regime cooking with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
“Like I’m going to spend my mornings juicing fruit,” said Pat, with a laugh.
“You’ll have plenty of time. What are you going to do with yourself every day?” said Jo, concern in her friend’s voice.
“I don’t know,’ Pat replied. She had an important role in the school. She didn’t want to blow her own trumpet but what would they do without her?
“They always want help in the kitchen at the homeless shelter,” said Jo, passing her a leaflet. “Volunteering would be good for you,’ instructed Jo, in her best teacher voice, taking a sip of tea. “You can try out your new juices.”
Pat glanced at the leaflet and folded it in her pocket. It had taken all her courage to decide what she would do with her free time, next week. She couldn’t think beyond that.
“I’m going to Yorkshire to see my sister,” Pat said.
“That’ll be nice,” said Jo.
Pat hadn’t seen her sister in a while. A cosy catch up and a walk in the moors rated high on her to-do list. She loved the wild flecks of purple heather in Haworth and the comforting flavour of Yorkshire tea followed by dark, sticky parkin. She looked forward to
the company. It was something she missed since her divorce. Moisture clouded her eyes. She wouldn’t cry. Not today. Her last day at Oak Primary School.
“I don’t know what we’ll do without you,” sighed Jo. “Remember that little horror that ripped the earing…? What was her name again? Oh yes, Beth.”
Pat could. She remembered the name of every teacher past and present and nearly every child which had passed through the doors of Oak Primary in the last thirty years.
“Beth’s mum was livid. Tried to blame the teacher. Said it was her fault. No wonder, Beth thought she could behave any way she wanted,” said Jo, with a tut of disapproval.
“I spoke to Beth’s mother like I would want to be spoken to as a parent. Mother to mother. Simple as that,” Pat could feel the heat creeping up her neck. Anyone would do the same. She liked to help and she didn’t do it for the praise. “I think with a little understanding most people see reason.”
“Do you remember when Beth poured paint all over the N.Q.T?” said Jo, giggling.
“She had spirit,” agreed Pat.
“Beth followed you around though. Always helping you pick up litter, at the end of the day.”
“Her mum always picked her up late. Beth had a heart of gold, really.”
“You always see the best in people. I’m sure you’re ready for a change,” said Jo. “The new girl, your replacement is very keen and willing to take leadership of the role, which is what we need.”
She hadn’t even left and her shoes were already being filled. “Isn’t she a little inexperienced?”
“Comes highly recommended,” Jo drained her tea and patted her on the arm. “You’ll be missed. It won’t be easy to fill your shoes but you need a rest, especially after the year you’ve had. See you later at your retirement party.”
But was she ready to move on? This place had been her second home for so long. Pat ran the rim of the tea towel around the mug, drying the droplets of water. She opened the cupboard, turning the mug face down so it joined all the other identical mugs in a neat row.
She clicked the door shut and took the J-cloth, breathing in the satisfying smell of bleach as she wiped down the sides so everything was perfect and clean.
The staff-room door burst open. A young woman stood there with a familiar-looking face. She might be ten years older but those beautiful green-grey eyes she would recognise anywhere. Although the girl, now, wore an elfin style haircut accentuating her high cheekbones.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m your replacement.”
“Sandra hired you? Sorry I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“The Head didn’t recognise me, at first. I’m a reformed character, these days.”
“And you wanted to work here?”
“My dream. Ever since you stuck up for me, I’ve wanted to do your job. You were a role-model to me when I came here. I saw how hard you worked but you always had time for us kids. It meant a lot.”
Touched, Pat pressed the keys of the school into Beth’s hands. “These are for you. Being the caretaker of this school is a huge responsibility but now, I know, I’m leaving the keys in safe hands.”
“Thanks,” Beth clutched the keys.
Suddenly, Pat was looking forward to her retirement and she knew exactly how she was going to fill her days. She slipped the leaflet that Jo gave her, from her pocket. She would volunteer following her natural path in helping others. When the new school term started, she would be back in school. They were always short of people to listen to the children read and she could help raise money for the school fundraising. They were always having their budget cut. In fact, she could organise a healthy-eating cook off. She would be first in the queue with her new juicer.
Suddenly, retirement looked exciting. Pat cradled her new juicer and looked at Beth, already tidying the staff room. She didn’t need to worry. She had made a difference to Beth’s life. She could make a difference in her own time too, both at the homeless shelter and here at school.
Now, all she needed to worry about was, which dress to wear to her retirement party…
Karen Rodgers ©️2017