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Winners: Fran Egan - Mary Schiller: School Girl

We really enjoyed this piece for a couple of reasons. It had a subtle complexity to it that felt well rounded and nuanced, and it made an otherwise ordinary thing -- a childhood crush -- something more. It cast an eye back at a childhood experience and drew us into it, and for that, it won a place on the shortlist.

Flash Fiction 500 - Shortlist

Mary Schiller: School Girl

Fran Egan

I can’t get her out of my head. Like an earworm for a memory. Her surname cropped up in an article: Schiller F, poet and philosopher. It’s not common. It’s German and so was Mary’s father. I never saw him, or the rest of her family, hidden away behind their 1970’s brown front door. I walked to school with Mary. Short cut hair, sticking out like cotton candy, her moon face tinged with the pink of a plum. Tall, a willow tree wavering yet robust. Or so I thought. Her navy gabardine mac with its familiar worn patch on the collar. Quiet but open, we had barely begun on our nascent friendship. First year secondary school, lessons, sports, exams awaited: futures to unfold.

Holding my nose, down dog shit alley, gobstoppers from the corner shop, turning right into her suburban terraced street. 8.10am, knock on that sludge-coloured door, stand and wait. Hear the scramblings of a morning family.

Hi. You ready?

Yeah. Let’s go.

We shared a love of netball. Defenders of the court, adolescent warriors climbing the local schools’ league. Away matches best: cakes and squash at the Convent for Sacred Tarts. Then Mary lost her place on the team. She rarely finished a game. As a stalwart goal-keeper, I forgot to check the score.

Trailing along, side by side, not a lot of chat, walking the mile to our girls’ grammar school. Smudges of blue edging down the page. Mary’s husky voice cutting through the silence.

Finished your Biology homework?

Yeah. Boring.

Choir on Wednesdays. Her alto to my descant; we practised on our daily trudge. “…And I have loved you so long, Delighting in your company. Greensleeves….” A fragile refrain disappearing in the traffic-loud air.

Crossing the road at the triangle of green, strong verdant trees faced a mish-mash of lack-lustre houses, cracks beginning to show. Calling to the boy on the bike, struggling up the hill, ‘Get off and milk it!’ Stepping out a rhythm, with the tapping of our regulation black shoes.

The geography field trip; a hike on Dobbin Hill, sketching the escarpments and noting down the tundra. Plans afoot for what to wear: jeans on a school day? A freedom away from double Maths. But Mary couldn’t come.

Spring term, there were changes. ‘Sorry, Mary won’t be walking to school for a while. She’s not well, she’s in hospital.’ I’ll see her after half-term. It never happened. I had no need to go down stinky alley, no need to knock on the sickly door. Straight past the house: eyes forward, don’t glance over. Move on.

Mary never came back. I don’t even remember being told. “I have some sad news” in assembly, perhaps. No funeral, no memorial, nothing. Get on with your schoolwork, take a different route to school. No social media ‘Love U forever’ or Twitter ‘Heaven gained an angel’. No book of condolence. Mary had none of these.

But, I remember her. Her battered violin case bumping against my shin.

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