Playing the field #shortstory #carrotranch

Charli’s prompt this week is

August 24, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an empty playground. Is it abandoned or are the children in school? What is it about the emptiness that might hint of deeper social issues. It can be a modern story, apocalyptic or historical. Go where the prompt leads.

There’s something about playgrounds in the summer just after it has rained. That combination of tarmac, dust and water creates one of the smells that, for me is a strong memory trigger. Most smell-triggers for me aren’t so pleasant – either the smell itself (incubating feces in a long drop toilet takes me right back to scout camps for instance), or the occasion itself holds ancient terrors (the combination of antiseptic and anxiety that overwhelms me each time I visit the dentist takes me back to days of waiting rooms, sticky magazines and that awful drilling noise).

I hadn’t been in a playground in decades when I went to my son’s new school back in 1993. For sometime my visits didn’t coincide with the right combination of ingredients. Then, one afternoon I walked up the slope to the collection area to one side of the playground and, wallop. I was whirled in a  time-machine back to circa 1966.

05 BOX-021

me in my Maple Road primary uniform with knees like artisan cheeses

To girls in woolly tights and boys with knees like fossils, To ip dip sky blue who’s it not you and stuck in the mud. To a metal climbing frame and monkey bars that regularly humiliated me. To being separated from the girls who sneered at us across a thin white line.

To my best friends Paul and Graham and Christopher and our plans for a newspaper. Was it there I first felt a creative writing urge stir?  I haven’t thought about that broadsheet for years. The Maple Road Telegraph (showing my politics even then, courtesy of my dad) comprised stories about school, about lessons and about a fox who we were sure got into the playground every night and left messages from aliens. I’m making that up. I have no idea of the content after so many years but I can see the three of us editing – ie arguing about what went in.

I also recall Mr Hole, our form teacher, smiling his encouragement and gently discouraging us from trying to read the whole publication to the class who clearly didn’t have such an enthusiasm for our golden prose as we three did.

I didn’t try creative writing again until 2006 but perhaps that moment in that South London playground waiting for my little boy stirred something that had lain dormant in decades.

Playtime isn’t always fun

Paul sipped the wine. ‘I was the only kid who hated break.’

Mary blinked. ‘What made you think of school?’

‘Jerry’s death. He couldn’t wait for break. Me, I always felt safe in class. No-one picked on me there.’

She rubbed his hand. ‘You were the kid on the outside?’

‘It was like I was the only kid.’ His eyes saw only the past. ‘Jerry led the games. He decided. I was desperate to be included.’ He laughed sourly. ‘Maybe he helped. Maybe that made me self-sufficient. Jerry always struggled afterwards if he wasn’t the one in charge. My turn on top.’

Here’s where you’ll find the previous instalments in Paul and Mary’s lives

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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23 Responses to Playing the field #shortstory #carrotranch

  1. Ritu says:

    Good one… nothing too sinister today Geoffles… I needed no Malteasers!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Erika Kind says:

    Such lovely memories. I know what you mean with that special smell. Oh my… thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Whoa! You took me right back there Geoff!! Great writing – and that was before I got to the story! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. jan says:

    I used leave messages for aliens too! Mostly “beam me up please.” The scene between Paul and Mary is quite believable – well done!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sacha Black says:

    Geoffle – I’m disappointed – you don’t remember the content of your paper? I thought you remembered EVERYTHING! :p

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Did you ever use candle wax down the slide in the playground so it aided everyone getting down to the bottom at a very fast pace? It was my fault that there were many cuts and bruises, but it was great fun. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Annecdotist says:

    Never mind the reminiscences, Geoff, I thought you were going to tell us you had a sneaky shot on the swing or monkey bars!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. How sad, the discouragement of reading your newspaper. Though he probably thought he was saving you some teasing. ? Well, I’m glad you resumed your writing. Oh, and thanks for the scout camp anecdote. Awesome.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Charli Mills says:

    You must have written some doozies in that broadpaper! Actually, I think that’s such a formative time for creative writing and that your teacher gave you the chance, you’ve been able to access that path without the smell-trigger. That’s a deep reflection Paul has. So complicated, those memories and triggers.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: And the Playground Was Empty « Carrot Ranch Communications

  11. Norah says:

    I wasn’t sure where we were headed with that first sensory memory! But what a great post, Geoff. It is interesting the things that trigger our memories. I’m so pleased you re-found your urge for creative writing. What a loss to the world if you didn’t.
    Your flash paints a picture so clearly. Recess can be kind to some, but not to others. I have hinted at the same in mine, but you do it well.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. trifflepudling says:

    Must have missed this! Very evocative playground description which I guess most of us experience. To the tarmac I’d add the metallic smell of the play equipment and that of cypress trees. Plus the floury smell of the kitchen I was taken to when I bashed my head doing wall springs. Am glad I never went to guides camp 😦 .
    First thing I wrote was a menu, offering such goodies as sossijes and blammonge.

    Liked by 1 person

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