This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 724 words.
On the drive home, Constance was very chatty. “I like this car, Miss. It’s much nicer than my dad’s old car. I think that’s about fifteen years old. I know he had it before I was born because he took my mum to hospital in it when she was having me. Not that we ever go in it much these days, as he’s in the Army. At the moment he’s in Aden. That’s near Saudi Arabia. We used to live near Farnborough, and only moved here two years ago because he changed regiments or something”.
Diane drove carefully, having to force herself not to keep looking round at the girl. “Is that why you sit alone? haven’t you made friends in the past two years?” There was a considerable pause before she answered.
“All the others talk about is pop groups or boys they fancy. They read fashion magazines and stick posters of groups and film stars on their bedroom walls. That doesn’t interest me. I like books, and art. And they tease me for having ginger hair, so I keep myself to myself. I have to look after my little brother too. He’s only four, and my mum works some evenings at the village pub. You might have seen her behind the bar, Miss. Her name is Carol”. Diane shook her head.
“I don’t go to the pub, and I don’t have a television. Like you, I prefer to read. Have you ever read any Russian classics, Constance? They are not on the syllabus, but I think you would like some of them. Look out for Anna Karenina in the school library. If you can’t find a copy there, I will lend you my one”.
As they got closer to home, there was another question. “How old are you Miss? You seem too young to be a teacher”. Diane smiled. “I will be twenty-five next birthday. Next week in fact. It’s my birthday next Tuesday”.
The girl directed her once they got to the village, indicating the small row of houses that were the only council houses there. Stopping outside one in the middle of the row, Diane was surprised to see how shabby it looked. Dirty net curtains hung in the windows, and the front door was badly in need of repainting. She turned and looked at the girl, who was staring intently at her. “Miss, please call me Connie. Everyone does, and it seems funny hearing you say Constance”. As she reached over to the back seat for her bag and opened the door, Diane replied.
“Okay, Connie it is from now on”.
Relaxing in her cottage with a glass of wine, Diane stroked the expensive hardback copy of Anna Karenina sitting on her leg. She had known exactly where to find it of course, as organising her bookshelves was something of an obsession. She wondered what Connie would think of Count Vronksy and Anna, but had no doubt that the girl could manage the complex novel that ran to over eight hundred pages in her copy. It had also occurred to her how strange it seemed for the daughter of a soldier and a barmaid to become so invested in literature. That made her different indeed.
A true gem.
The rest of the week seemed to fly by. Having the car meant Diane was able to get in early and get things arranged before school assembly. The next time she had that class for English, she called Connie back into the room as the pupils were leaving at the end of the lesson. Producing the heavy book from her desk, she handed it to the girl. “Please be careful with it, I have had it a long time. But there’s no rush to give it back, as you can see, it is very long”. Sliding it into her school bag, Connie smiled. “Thanks, Miss. I will be very careful with it. It will be in my room, well away from my brother”.
The school bus didn’t break down again, leaving Diane with no excuse to offer Connie a lift home. Every afternoon as she finished at school and the kids had already left earlier, she found herself wishing that there was no bus service for them.
That thought always made her drive the car a little faster.