A few weeks ago, I started a new slot for writers who’d like their work to be seen and read by others. I know how hard it is to make a name for yourself in the writing world, so if any of you would like a story/poem/article to be featured on my blog, please contact me here or by e-mail: email@example.com
This week, Donny Marchand is my guest writer. Here’s a little bit about him, in his own words:
‘I have only started writing for publication a short time ago, and been fortunate to have had some modest success, in the placement of my work.
‘I have had four short stories published in a magazine entitled ‘Dimdima’ whose main office is in Mumbai, India. Two articles published in a newspaper, ‘UK Column’ who are based in Plymouth,UK, and one short story in a magazine ‘Stories for Children’ out of the U.S.A.’
Daddy has a Brass Band
The Penelope Filmore-Rutlidge School for girls was nothing more than a convenient accommodation where the rich and powerful could stash their spoilt offspring, while they were busy out globe trotting and plundering the world. Purposely situated in the middle of fifteen hundred acres of rural land in the Allegheny National Forest in northwest Pennsylvania. With the nearest town ‘Warren’ fifty miles away, it was supposed to ensure that the innocent little darlings had no easy access to boys. But human resourcefulness being what it is, especially in teenagers, any hope of this ideal being adhered to was as realistic as believing in Peter Pan’s Neverland. In fact the challenges of forbidden fruit made romantic flings even more exciting and alluring. The cunning little delinquents always found ways to hook up with the local lads, usually after lights out. Within the vast space of the schools grounds, it wasn’t difficult to sneak out of their dormitories, rendezvous with their latest Romeo, and find a quiet spot amongst the trees to park and engage in some back seat smooching. It was no secret that the establishment’s authorities always turned a blind eye to this hanky-panky, as long as it wasn’t blatantly thrown in their face. After all why should they make waves when they made such a good living off of the pretentious opulent brats.
For decades only children of the elite were deemed acceptable as candidates for placement in this educational institution. Even if its enrolment policies had been more liberal, the enormously high fees were far beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest. But that was all before the Governments dogmatic politically correct Department of Education and Community Welfare, had forced its Equality Student Quota Registration Bill through Congress. The legislation required schools of all persuasions, whether funded by the State or not, to ensure that a certain percentage of students from underprivileged families were to be admitted each term, regardless of their academic achievements and qualifications. Each school would be responsible for calculating the percentage to be applied, by averaging the size of their last five years enrolments, then adding the total amount of its employees salaries before taxes, subtracting the overall square feet of its main building and dividing that number by six and seven eighths. A typical bit of convoluted nonsense, from the idiotic politically correct brigade. But as usual in the sleazy bureaucratic world of government institutions, if you had enough clout and leverage on the corrupt administration then the rules were not set in stone. A bundle of cash wouldn’t hurt your prospects either. Accordingly, in the case of The Penelope Filmore-Rutlidge School for girls, the percentage of students they needed to admit turned out to be one. So much for those opinionated do-gooders concept of equality.
And that single admission was one Alice Tompkins from Pimlico, Baltimore. On the latter side of thirteen, she was by all accounts very bright with grades above average. An attractive young girl with a trusting innocence that always saw good in other people, she was unfortunately also vulnerable to the cruelty of her peers. Still, she never failed to respond with kindness when picked on, mainly because she didn’t grasp what the spiteful perpetrators were up to.
The only child of Wilford and Matilda Tompkins, people of modest means but nevertheless loving and supportive parents, she was a happy and content progeny. Pops, Alice’s term of endearment for her father, made his living as a carpenter, but the good-natured nail banger was at his happiest when huffing and puffing on his tuba in his free time. A sizeable stouthearted man satisfied with the simple things in life, he rarely got upset. On those occasions that he did get ruffled he’d usually run his fingers through his wavy black hair, take a deep breath and head off to his practice room. Ritually, on the first Sunday of every month he would trot down to the local park and jam with other neighbourhood musicians. Alice and her mother knew that they could not detract him from this sacrament, so instead of trying too, they acquiesced and let him get on with it. In truth they really didn’t begrudge him his big moments at all, and quite often they even accompanied him on his day out with the band.
To help ends meet her mother took in washing, and did the shopping for the elderly and disabled who lived on their block. Always willing to listen to other people’s moans and groans, the diminutive Mother Teresa of Pimlico never turned down anybody in need. Whenever a calm hand was needed all turned to Matilda. She too played an instrument, the viola to be precise. Whenever she got some spare time, which wasn’t often, she would fiddle away. As for Alice, she was known to be quite adept at the piano. So all in all you could say they were a musical family, amateurs but nevertheless enthusiastic.
During her first month at the school, Alice had made a number of acquaintances. One particular pack of snooty two-faced provocateurs she mistakenly considered to be among her best friends. One of the rare unspoilt girls at the school Margaret tried to tell her not to trust the ratty crew, as they were known, but she refused to believe that, and insisted they meant her no harm. To her detriment, discernment was obviously not Alice’s strong suit.
Lunchtime was always a particular opportune occasion for the taunting bunch of troublemakers to exercise their cynical prowess. And more often then not, Alice was the target for their backhanded remarks. The three chief antagonists of the ratty crew where Jacqui, a self-centered snob in the first degree, and her two loyal cohorts Prudence and Monica. Jacqui of fairly tall stature, that made it easier for her to look down her nose at everyone, constantly wore an attitude of airs and graces. Her long blonde hair about as natural as a plastic Christmas tree, conveniently covered part of her oblong noggin that sat upon her robust chassis. The piercing tone of her voice she used as a tool when being sarcastic to her peers, and smirking was undoubtedly her favourite expression. All in all she was a nasty piece of work.
Prudence, cut from the same cloth, revelled in her roll as vice-fuehrer. Always on hand to follow her leader, she merrily joined in on the undermining of any poor soul who had the misfortune of being their latest mark. It was easy to imagine her growing up to be a stern sadistic warden of a girl’s reform school.
Short and roly-poly, the freckled faced, red headed Monica was the odd one out of the vicious triad. Always wearing dresses that resembled togas to cover up her obesity, she always took the back seat to her fellow antagonists. She could be sharp-tongued as well but never was the one to choose the victim or lead the charge. Her motive for being part of this den of vipers was undoubtedly a desperate need to feel secure, and have a sense of belonging. Of the three she had the best chance at becoming a human being.
On any given day they were ready to pounce on the nearest available victim. The rest of the clique, a superficial pack if ever there was one, sheepishly followed the antics of the main trio.
Carrying her tray and searching for a place to sit, Alice heard Jacqui call out to her, “There’s a spot for you over here Alice, come and join us.”
As she sat down at the table Prudence immediately remarked, “That’s an interesting dress your wearing Alice, did you inherit it?”
“My grandmother had one like it,” Monica snidely added.
“No my mother bought it for me recently,” replied Alice, “she’s so thoughtful and always doing things like that for me. I love it and I’m glad you like it too.”
“Really stylish,” quipped Jacqui, “ reminds me of the outfit Little Orphan Annie wore.”
“I’m mad about Annie.” answered Alice, “After I saw the musical she became my hero. I found lots of the comic strips on the Internet, and read them over and over.”
“I think you should wear it to the dance next Saturday,” advanced Monica, “I’m sure you would be the center of attraction.”
“Do you really think so?” an elated Alice asked.
“Absolutely,” Jacqui chimed in, “You’ll need a bodyguard to keep all the wolves at bay.”
The ringing bell signalled the end of the lunch period, and never the one to be late, Alice immediately got up to head on to her next class. But before leaving she thanked the girls for their kind words about her dress. As she walked away Jacqui and her cohorts sat sniggering behind her back.
As the weeks passed by, the snooty brats never resisted the temptation to ridicule and tease poor Alice when any occasion presented itself. But as always every dig and snide remark went completely over Alice’s head, and she continued to respond to them with kindness and gratitude. And the more this benevolence continued, the greater Jacqui and her savage band became perplexed. They weren’t sure whether she was just plain stupid or being sarcastically coy. It was ironic that Alice’s innocence became her most potent weapon.
End of term was closing in and everyone would soon be heading off for their summer vacation. With only final exams left before the school break, leisure time was in abundance. And it was just such free time that acted as the catalyst for the ratty-crew to stir up more trouble.
Jacqui and her retinue spotted Alice and Margaret sitting on the bench the moment they stepped out of the dormitory. Resembling a pack of hungry Hyenas, they encircled the chosen prey while waiting for their leader to move in for the kill. Like the hot plains of Africa during the latter part of spring, this late May evening brought its inhabitants out to relax in the coolness of dusk. But alas, it also offered the opportunity for the predators to prowl and remorselessly seek out their victims.
Without a moments hesitation, Jacqui headed straight for Alice and Margaret and asked them, “So, what exciting things have you girls got lined up for tonight?”
“What makes you assume we’re not already enjoying ourselves, Miss know it all?” replied Margaret.
“Sitting on a bench is fun?” retorted Jacqui.
“For those who are content within themselves, it can be,” quipped Margaret, taking a sharp dig at Jacqui’s pretensions.
“We have all been invited to a party in Warren,” said Jaiqui in her usual pompous manner.
“Well whoopie-doo for you,” retorted Margaret.
Ignoring Margaret’s answer, Jacqui came back with, “And some boys are taking us to it in their cars.”
“And once they get to know you better, you’ll be walking back to the dorm,” Margaret retaliated.
Jacqui sounded a big huff, signalled to her cohorts to follow, and without another peep abruptly turned tail and walked away.
“Well, you certainly stopped her dead in her tracks,” remarked Alice.
“Sticking it to that snooty piece of Warbler-dung is one of the pleasures of life,” trumpeted Margaret.
For the next couple of hours they passed the time gabbing, mostly about the things they intended to do in the coming summer break. They were very happy about the adventures that lay before them, and both felt quite excited. The blind exuberance of youth never ceases to amaze its elders. The only negative, was the fact that they wouldn’t see each other again until mid-September. But they diminished the impact of this unfavourable consequence, by agreeing to phone each other at least once a week.
Suddenly, the thought of all the juicy tales they would be conveying made the problem seem more like a blessing. So occupied with discussing their forthcoming plans, they hardly noticed that darkness had rolled in. When it dawned on them, they decided to go back into the dorm. In a couple of days they would say their goodbyes and head for home.
A major positive to the upcoming hiatus was the certainty that once back in their native domains, there would be no Jacqui.
Alice felt like she hadn’t been away at all. Everything in the Pims was exactly the same as when she left it months before. There were some differences; actually to be more precise they were events not changes.
And her mother wasted no time in filling her in on all the news that happened while she was at school. “You know Mrs. Rosenkrantz who lives down the street at number 79, well she had another baby girl. That makes four girls against one boy. The poor lad is totally outnumbered,” said Mrs. Tompkins. “The fruit and vegetable guy in the corner shop, Munio Denozzio had a mild heart attack the day after his son Louie’s wedding, but he seems to be okay now. That troublemaking teenager Sean O’Brien from the next block got hit by a moving van. He was showing off on his bike and wasn’t looking were he was going. Must have travelled twenty yards in the air before he crashed back down onto the asphalt. Still, the little rabble-rouser was lucky and only suffered some bruising and a broken leg.
“I really like it at Filmore-Rutlidge,” replied Alice, “ but nothing beats being home.”
“Everyone in the neighbourhood has been asking about you, and said they looked forward to seeing you again. Your father and I missed you a lot, and wished you didn’t have to be away still, we had to put our own feelings aside and do what was best for you. When the opportunity came for you to attend such a select school we just couldn’t pass it up. We don’t want you winding up like us.”
“You and pops always look very happy to me, so I don’t see what else could be better than that.”
“Yes, we’re quite content with our lot, but you will have the chance to have so much more, good job, nice house and lots of money.”
“Money doesn’t guarantee happiness though, does it?” posed Alice.
“No, but believe me it helps.”
“Not always. In fact it strikes me that most rich people who have everything, incessantly crave for more and are never content.”
“That’s because they listen to the evil one’s lies in their minds. He whispers to them that power and wealth are all that matters.”
“Someone should tell them, that truth can only be heard in the heart.”
“Alice, sometimes you have wisdom well beyond your years.”
“All I want, is to be like you and daddy.”
“Speaking about your father, tomorrow morning he’s off to the park to make a lot of noise with all his musician friends, and I know he would be thrilled if you were there watching him. It would also give him the chance to brag about you to his cronies.”
“Oh yes, I’d love to go. But your coming too aren’t you?”
“Of course, you don’t think I would let you have all the fun do you? Don’t tell your father though, let’s make it a big surprise.”
“I can’t wait. We’ll knock his socks off !”
As always in the summer months, the park was bursting at the seams with the community mortals. Alice never failed to wonder where all these souls went in the winter. The streets of Pimlico were a bit thin on the ground with people during that time of the year. Perhaps like bears they hibernated, she thought.
The ensemble was in full flow when Alice and her mother arrived at the bandstand. In Alice’s opinion she had never heard them sound so good. In some of their past gigs it sounded like they were each playing a different song at the same time in varying keys.
An empty stage is a lonely place; still lonelier is an empty audience. So the full house gave these old coots the inspiration to cook like a bunch of pimply-faced rockers dreaming of fame and fortune while rehearsing in a garage. Yesterday, daddy’s group were a bunch of plonkers, but today they are the Boston Symphony.
Wilford spotted his girls straight away, but pretended he hadn’t noticed them. A fruitless exercise as Alice and her mother could see through his guise easily because of the animated gestures he had suddenly augmented to his puffing. They hoped he hadn’t seen them giggling, as they didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He could be very sensitive at times, especially when it came to his beloved band.
Running through the mishaps of the days set, is a favourite hobby of musicians who play together. Things like, can you believe Harry’s atrocious solo in the “Departure of the Queen of Sheba” stood as a fine example of the customary cutting remarks. The addiction to this pastime seemed to be a necessary requirement to assist them in packing away their instruments. However, on this occasion Wilford used his allotted dialogue time to crow about his daughter. As he rabbited on about her he couldn’t help but notice that his fellow performers had finished their stowing in no time at all. Before long, he found himself talking to himself and the last one to leave the stage.
“My beautiful ladies!” Wilford exclaimed as he approached Alice and Matilda, tuba in tow. “Did you like the concert?”
“I thought it was fabulous,” replied Alice.
“One of the best I’ve ever heard from you guys,” added Matilda.
“It was so crowded out there today, I didn’t notice you both until the last song,” said a beaming Wilford.
Alice and her mother bit their tongues and smirked. If this little white lie made him happy, why upset the apple cart, they mused. Besides, knowing that he thought he was pulling the wool over their eyes gave them their own little satisfying ruse. Wilford’s girls loved keeping secrets from him.
Unaware he had been twigged Wilford continued, “Why don’t we go on down to Mamma Leonetta’s and grab some pizza?” Mamma’s was one of those fabulous Italian family restaurants, whose pies made the chains like Pizza Gluts fare, taste like cardboard.
“Great idea,” replied Alice. “Can I have anchovies on mine?”
“I’d prefer the pepperoni,” said Matilda.
“You can both have whatever you want, the treats on me,” answered pops. After hugs all around, they merrily trotted off to the fat Italian lady’s place.
The summer break was full of wonderful days for Alice. There were the shopping excursions with mom, that dad always found some feeble excuse to abstain from. The July fair provided Alice and some neighborhood friends plenty of entertainment for a whole week. The cinema filled in some of the weekends that were otherwise empty of definite plans. Those that had been organized were usually trips to the museums or the zoo. On those occasions father happily accompanied them.
She also enjoyed doing the grocery shopping for her mom, as she got the chance to talk to the local storeowners, who had all kinds of questions to ask her. Cooking the supper with mom was another favourite pastime that filled the hours. Sometimes she just hung out with friends gladly doing nothing in particular. Then of course there were the many lengthy intoxicating phone conversations with Margaret. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and as the saying goes “Tempus Fugit when your having fun.” So, before she could say Penelope Filmore-Rutlidge she’d was back trundling the halls of learning.
The third day into the new term Alice once again found herself sitting with Jacqui, Prudence and Monica during lunch period. Caught in their clutches without Margaret to protect her, the ratty-crew decided she was ripe for the taking. Typically, their demeanour was a reasonable facsimile of the ugly sisters in Cinderella.
“So Prudence,” asked Jacqui, “what did you get up to during your vacation?”
“I spent my time staying with my father in Paris. You know he’s the ambassador to France, don’t you?”
“Yes Pru, you’ve told us many times.”
“Well it was fabulous, all the best restaurants, invites to parties at grand palaces, and meeting all kinds of very important people. One weekend this charming Frenchman took me to Monte Carlo. We went gambling at a casino one evening. I believe he was a count or duke I can’t remember which, but that doesn’t matter because he was somebody with a title and loads of money.”
Alice was entranced by Prudence’s account of her holiday. It all sounded very grandiose. But she was surprised that her father had let her go on a weekend jaunt by herself with a man, who must have been quite her elder, or with any man for that matter. It never dawned on Alice that it was more than likely a load of bull. Smirks around the table still didn’t alert Alice that all was not kosher, and she continued to believe in the validity of the story. In her mind it was all like a wonderful fairy tale, which is exactly what it probably was. Jealousy or any other negative emotions didn’t enter her thoughts; she was just in awe and actually felt very happy for Prudence. The snots were sure she would never cotton on, and they were close to the mark.
Jacqui then pointed her next question toward Monica, “ and what did you do during the summer months princess?”
“I sailed around the Caribbean on one of my parents cruise liners. They have the biggest fleet in the world you know.
“You must be so proud of them,” interjected Alice.
We stopped at many ports along the way,” continued Monica, “and I got to see places like Haiti, Honduras, Venezuela, and many others in the area. It was very enlightening, and I learned a lot about different cultures.”
“How marvellous for you darling.” Jacqui answered.
By this time Alice was entirely enthralled. Thinking, how fortunate these girls are, but then she had a good time as well, and there’s nothing shameful in making the best out of what you’re given.
“And you Jacqui, how was your summer holiday?” asked Monica.
“My mother being the president of the IMF has to travel all the time, and I spent the season accompanying her. We visited so many places it’s impossible for me to name them all. However, the highlight of my journey was when she threw a birthday party for me underneath the Pyramids. All the nobles of Egypt were there and I was treated like royalty. I can’t imagine what could be better than that.”
Alice interjected, “All your parents seem very considerate, and extremely prestigious as well.”
Having the door opened for her Jacqui came in for the kill and replied, “Tell us Alice, what do your mother and father do?”
This question caused Alice some confusion at first, as she wondered why on earth they needed to know that. And what kind of answer could she possibly supply that would sound as spectacular to her schoolmates, as their narratives had to her. One-upmanship was never a tact she ever employed or thought about, nor considered necessary when communicating with others, so it was difficult for her to know what to say. Trying to think of a polite answer, she puckered up her lips, and scratched her head. Then suddenly it came to her, and she proudly exclaimed, “Daddy has a brass band!”
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