PART TWO: The School Sports Hall
The school pantomime night arrived. He walked through the gates of the school, nervous that he would be rejected at the door. He held his ticket out in front of him prematurely, a few yards from the red framed doors. Kids, parents, friends and relatives arrived before him and followed close behind.
It was busy. The play had been on the day before for an afternoon matinée. This was for the reception kids and then again at half six for the holders of the first night’s tickets. The mayor, governors and friends of the school, social climbers and CV builders. The masses came a day later, when it was third hand but better all the same for all the practice the kids had got time after time.
The head and deputy greeted the various representatives of their pick and mix of pupils in their care. ‘Hello’ he said to the two ladies who greeted him with the polite front of professionals going through the motions. ‘Here’s my ticket’ he fumbled and dropped it in front of the two door ladies.
The head voiced; ‘Just give it to the year six on the hall door Mr…’ she paused ‘er… um’ she corrected herself like a politician caught by a reporter’s sucker punch of a question and recovered well. She had forgotten his name. ‘…just give it to them…’ she pointed across the foyer towards a kid on the hall door. There wasn’t much ‘them’ about him. ‘…that will be fine and go and perch yourself on a seat for a great performance from our wonderful juniors,’ the head answered, followed by an inferior echo from the deputy. As they finished, he pulled himself up and gripped the ticket more tightly in a clenched fist. His knuckles whitened.
It was all fine. He was in, past the possible prevention. He relaxed his grip and walked through the foyer to the curtained hall doors. ‘Tickets please sir’ said the boy in clean fitting uniform. He passed it over with a nod and a smile. ‘Thank you Sir you may enter the theatre’ said the rehearsed voice.
He walked into the hall and went towards the rows of seating in the middle of the small sports hall. All the sensible sized adult chairs were taken by the early comers. Left were the reception chairs in the front few rows. Little chairs for the littlest kids but could just about hold the weight of an adult. He side stepped along the row of chairs and took a little seat next to an old lady in an adult one.
The old lady squinted down at the dad. ‘Alright down there love?’. ‘Hello up there, I think my legs are a bit too long for this chair’. ‘Brings it all back don’t it’ she bristled. ‘Yeh, a bit… I’ll be numb later’ he replied in a polite friendly tone. The seat next to him was filled by a man of something like forty plus.
He arranged himself to settle down. The chair scraped and screeched momentarily on the hall floor, bringing back flashes of past classroom experiences for those who heard the noise close by. She tapped down on the dad’s arm, ‘I seen you in the burger place the other day with a little girl. You that little girl’s dad?’ said the old lady. He replied ‘yes’ and looked around the hall.
Year 6 Kids were dressed as trees, boulders and bushes. They clumsily carried out their production roles. Stage hands fidgeted props back and forth in exaggerated self-importance. She piped up again ‘she in the play?’ He replied with a ‘yes’ and politely asked if her kids were in the play too. ‘You are a one! I’m old enough to be a great grandma…’ the music came on, the gran’s voice trailed off momentarily. His daughter had pressed play but he couldn’t see her. Her voice raised and came to his ear again, ‘…oh get you. No I’m just a gran’. He put his hand to his mouth and coughed into his lightly cupped fist. ‘She’s in our Dylan’s class, he says she and him are trees’ said the gran helpfully.
‘Er no she is the prince I think and understudy to the main role too’ the dad tried to correct her. ‘Did you not get a programme when you came in? She quickly continued squinting down at the programme, ‘It says here, that a boy is playing the prince …not very pantomime really is it love’. She paused having a thoughtful moment and carried on again. ‘I’ve had some fun in the woods …simple pleasures, simple pleasures’ she repeated and sighed with a smile.
He half turned and dropped his gaze away from her face, grimaced, raised an eye brow and scratched his ankle under the height of his boot. She had pounced on his polite comment and took it as a light flirtation.
‘Can I have a look, I didn’t get given one’ he said trying to get back to the programme. ‘Yes love see here’ she pointed to the main cast list and down the page he saw his daughter’s name. ‘There she is look just there’ he said as she read it out loud ‘…is a tree and in control of the sound and music’. Sound and music just really meant press play and pause at the teachers’ prompts.
But it was an important role all the same. A behind the scenes production role, more stable than a jobbing puppet actor. He was still proud and clocked her moving around the stage placing props and running back to check the time on the CD player. She had been one of the year six kids he’d noticed busy on stage before but didn’t realise it was her.
‘She’s playing the music, a sound girl, she is’ he said proudly ignoring the brief flirtation or quirk of her personality raised on factory floor. ‘But she can’t see me’. He wanted to let her know he’d not let her down and he was there for her. Her plan had worked. He looked around to spot her again.
The guy next to him coughed a phlegmy cough and he could smell the stale tar and Tabacco that rebounded off the back of the lady in front. They battled with the lavender of the Gran’s perfume and the fry-up she had cooked her family for tea. It was all a bit close. He couldn’t turn his nose up, his jeans smelt mouldy and damp. His washing machine didn’t work well enough. He hadn’t had the money to fix it and the laundrette had burnt down because the owner kept repairing an old faulty dryer instead of buying a new one. It finally gave up, set the place alight and gave the DIY store guy, living above in the rented flat, a couple of nights in hospital with minor smoke inhalation. The poor, unlucky bastard.
The music was the same tune over and over again. ‘oh this song is boring, wish they would play something upbeat’ said the gran, forgetting it was his daughter on the buttons. Brushing the neat comment aside he thought his next question would get a normal answer, he asked ‘what sort of music would you put on?’ and without a pause for his own breath she replied ‘stripper music …with firemen’. ‘Right’ he said looking round to see if she had a care giver. She didn’t, it was just her, Gran. A cough and a tap came from behind and landed on the Grans shoulder, ‘Mum please, you’re embarrassing me’. Gran bushed off the accusation ‘just you mind the stage it’s about to start’. It was getting warm.
The lights went down and the spots on flimsy tripods lit up the stage. A bush controlled them and his daughter turned down and faded out the music. She was doing well although she really wanted to be in the play acting. The truth was that the grandchildren of one of the governors were at the school and one of them, the granddaughter, had the exploitable lisp and cute vomit inducing voice. She took the lead role and the lead was reduced to becoming the prince.
He had followed his daughter along the left side of the hall to her school hi-fi and PA system where she sat down. Throughout the pantomime he hardly looked forward just to the left to see if he could make some sort of contact.
The time passed and the play came to an end. The music came back on. It was almost over for his daughter, the Head came over to her and whispered in her ear. It was an order for a prompt, to fade out the music and let her make the final thankful words. The audience were now hot and uncomfortable. There was no room to take coats off without upsetting someone, even resting them on laps kept the holder warm. They were all ready to go.
‘Would all the parents please wait in your seats for the children to finish getting changed and friends and relatives wait outside’ He stayed seated as people got up and left the hall. The Gran got up, made some small talk, pushed passed him and gave a little wave. He nodded back to her and turned to look and find some sight of his daughter.
As people left, the hall became cooler. In the movement and thinning out of those exiting the hall he saw his daughter. A rush of joy filled him, it didn’t last. She was being ushered out by her teacher at the end of a line of other similar aged kids. It was the remnants of her class. He was going to miss her. She wouldn’t know he was there. In desperation he stood up and called across the hall ‘Sally I’m here …Sally Waters, Sally’ he raised his arm and waved. The teacher passed between them, briefly blocking his view. Sally had turned her head to see but the teacher got in the way.
The voice of her Dad came over again, frustrated in tone. She heard her name and recognised his voice. Looking around all the people she saw a man waving, sat down on an infants’ chair. He had become conscious of the attention he had drawn to himself. She laughed and smiled. Breaking the rules, just this once she broke from the line, ran to him and dived on him. Knocking him off the chair and landing on top of him. The kids that were left in the hall laughed, one lad shouted out, ‘fight’, and parents were shocked out of their boredom by the crash and slap of the fall.
‘I got in, I’ve seen it all …you were great. I saw you moving around doing very important jobs’. ‘Thank you Daddy, I’m super happy you liked it’ she was so excited ‘I was in charge of the music and I did some of the stage jobs and stuff …and don’t forget the tickets, I helped make them as well’. The teacher called over ‘excuse me Mr Waters, Sally come back over here and get in line and let your Dad up’. Pleased at the acknowledgement of who he was in front of everyone, he pushed Sally to her feet and got up himself.
The previously embarrassed mum picked up the chair for him and sat it back in line. Sally moved away telling him she loved him and thanked him for coming. She returned to the moving line. The teacher had a quiet word in her ear. Sally nodded and mouthed what looked like sorry. The teacher moved on and Sally turned her head to look at Dad who was sat back on the infants’ chair distracted by the Gran’s daughter. The line left the hall. His head hung, his daughter left but she hid a big smile. He’d missed his last chance to wave and say goodbye but he was satisfied and smiled too.
In the foyer was Sally’s Mum’s boyfriend. She couldn’t be arsed coming down to pick Sally up. Corrie was on and she was comfortable. They had argued in the house about who was going to do the pickup. In the end the boyfriend said he would go as he needed some cigarettes for the drive to work in the morning. He came to pick her up on the way back from the supermarket.
The boyfriend’s curiosity took the better of him. He wanted to glance in the hall to see if the fit year four teacher was about, using his false appreciation of the stage set as an excuse to try and check her out. He walked into the hall, a packet of twenty pressed the fabric of his back pocket. He looked around and saw Sally’s Dad sitting there, talking to the Gran’s daughter. Just then a year six boy pushed past him headed towards his mum who was talking to Sally’s Dad. Dylan’s Mum saw him coming, stood and said hello to her son, congratulated him and discussed if he was ready to leave. He said yes and they both stood and his Mum said goodbye to Sally’s Dad, ‘Nice to meet you, maybe see you round town sometime’. ‘You too, don’t worry about your mum, she made me laugh, a bit, I did get worried she was trying to pick me up but yes maybe see you around’ he smiled and said goodbye. They walked away and Dad just looked down at his hands now resting on his lap. He looked at his watch and thought it time to best go but the urge to stay and see his daughter was strong. It could all go wrong now. He had forgotten that someone else now was coming for her.
He sat there thinking of the other years when things were normal and he had naturally waited to take her home as a family. It wasn’t for him to do anymore but just sat there pleased now that he had made it. Two wet brown shoes came into view, stopped to his left and caught the corner of his eye.
‘You couldn’t help it could you’ said a voice above, now looking down at a grown man sitting on an infants’ chair. Dad looked up, dropped his shoulders, wiped his hand over his mouth and sighed. Boyfriend’s condescending tone continued, ‘you look a gift horse in the mouth and slap it in the face, don’t you David’.