A Postcard from the Past

by Anne Goodwin

I want to welcome this month’s author of Story Chat, Anne Goodwin. This month’s Story Chat challenges the main character beyond her wildest expectations. It may challenge your thinking as well.

Face to face with a blast from the past Ms Thompson questions her decisions in her controversial case of long ago. Did she do the right thing? Did she help the young teen? Did she even want to find out?

Ms Thompson – Ruth to her lover, colleagues and friends – has set aside the afternoon to sort through old documents. Her retirement is some months away, but decommissioning thirty-five years’ professional paperwork requires a string of afternoons. A secretary could dispatch it in an hour, consigning it sheet by sheet to the shredder, but Ms Thompson feels obliged to examine every scrap. She’s determined to disengage from social work as conscientiously as she began her career.

At the back of her filing cabinet, she discovers a buff-coloured file from the seventies. On removing the folder, a piece of glossed card slips out. The classic shot of five bridges across the Tyne reminds her of the case that shook her to the core. 

The city was shabby when Diana, her client, enrolled at the university. But the nineties brought a concert hall and gallery to the quayside, spanned by a stylish sixth bridge. Françoise once suggested going there for a mini-break, but Ms Thompson – Ruth – demurred. Twenty years after closing the case, she’d have felt awkward bumping into the girl.

Ms Thompson flips the postcard over. The message is bland, despite the spiky italics and green ink. Settled in nicely. Enjoying my course. Making friends. Best wishes, Diana. She’d scrawled the date above, perhaps to fill out the space: 15th October 1977. Ms Thompson isn’t superstitious – although she sometimes checks her horoscope over lunch – but it makes her pause. The girl wrote the card twenty-seven years ago to the day.

She was surprised Diana chose to read psychology. Ms Thompson thought she’d go for something impersonal, like librarianship or maths. But the social work role was redundant by that stage. Her task complete when the girl left boarding school at eighteen. Yet Diana had sent the postcard. Ms Thompson had hung onto the file.

Now, scanning her notes from their first meeting three years before that, Ms Thompson feels a swell of sympathy for them both. Diana looking shell-shocked in her ill-fitting uniform, refusing to admit she was struggling. Ms Thompson, with her newly-minted social work diploma, refusing to admit she hadn’t the skill or knowledge to put things right.

The headmaster hadn’t either. That’s why he’d called her in. But he had to balance Diana’s needs against those of the school community. He’d restore order, and avoid a scandal, more easily with Diana out of the way.

The parents seemed oblivious: the mother perplexed that the Social should interfere in her family’s affairs. The father distracted, gazing out the window when he wasn’t ogling Ruth’s breasts. The teenager was cagey, protective of her parents. Ms Thompson fumbled to find a resolution while, back at base, the upper echelons debated budgets and whether to involve the police. 

A new school seemed the only option. A girls’ boarding school where Diana could sever her ties to the past. Where bullies and gossip couldn’t follow her. Where no-one would know who she’d been before. 

Ms Thompson had hoped to do more for her; hoped, over three years of boarding-school visits, Diana would confide her concerns. But the girl was unforthcoming. How did she cope with such a radical change alone?

Nowadays, there’d be compulsory counselling. Nowadays, her peers would approve. A girl in Diana’s position would have team support from the beginning. A contemporary head teacher might make her head girl.

Ms Thompson stows the postcard in her handbag. A memento to take to the Dordogne. If she hadn’t met Diana, would she be retiring to France?

She couldn’t say if she’d helped the girl, but Diana had, unwittingly, helped her. Within the girl’s silence about her transformation, Ms Thompson had nursed hers. If a teenager could risk ridicule to embrace her true identity, an adult had no excuse to deny hers. Especially when the obstacles were relatively minor. 

By the time Diana started her degree course, Ms Thompson had cropped her hair, got divorced, met Françoise. She can only hope her former client is as happy with her choices as Ms Thompson is with hers.

Anne Goodwin is the author of two novels and short story collection. “A Postcard from the Past” is based on a scene from one of many drafts of her debut novel, Sugar and Snails. Sugar and Snails was published by Inspired Quill in 2015 and shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. You can read it for free during February 2021 by registering for her newsletter here

https://www.subscribepage.com/sugar-and-snails-free-e-book

Link tree: Annecdotist 

Website: Annethology

Blog: Annecdotal

Twitter: @Annecdotist

YouTube: Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel

Welcome to Story Chat

Now it is your turn. Pour a cup of tea or coffee, glass of wine, and sit back with your friends and dive into the story. This is your chance to ask the author questions, interact with each other. It’s up to you. What makes this story tick? What would you have done in Ms Thompson’s place?

Story Chat: “Out of Character,” A Cautionary Tale

Welcome to the third Always Write edition of Story Chat, “Out of Character” by Cathy Cade. 

What started out as a story of a young woman’s Christmas job in the mall and her inability to accept her given name, ended up a warning for parents whose children go unsupervised to the malls. 

Nine-Word Summaries for “Out of Character”

Christmas beaver who disliked children, hated her name, changed.

Parents guard your children at the mall, dangers lurk.

Christmas Workers at the Mall

Helen Troy, acting as Beaver Eva at the Mall, had never recovered from been teased unmercifully about her name. The narrator said that the children liked the Beaver Eva, but she didn’t like them. Neither did Santa Ron. 

Readers picked up more on the danger of characters acting as the beloved icons Santa and loveable critters giving away gifts than on Helen’s grudge against her childhood tormentors. Never mind that poor Helen didn’t have the confidence to correct people who called her by her Beaver name.

The reader’s remarks turned outside the main characters to concern for the children who came to the mall to see Beaver Eva and Santa Ron. Parents, not even mentioned in the story, came under the readers’ scrutiny and were given some cautionary advice.

Patricia Tilton commented, “I assume this story is for teens/young adults/adults — a great target audience. Bring up some important points — parents do need to be mindful of their teens at the mall. There may be more behind Santa (Ron), as Eva intuitively realizes that she needs to be careful because she really doesn’t know this Santa Ron and doesn’t invite him into her apartment.” 

Deeksha Pathak from Dee’s Platters said, “Parents are just blindly busy with money race and hardly any time to look up at their children’s activities.” 

She suggested “We grew up reading stories and exchanging story books from friends. Now children exchange video games.”

Fenlandphil picked up on Deeksha’s idea about reading, “Reading to children is one of the greatest gifts you can give them, it helps stimulate their imagination, helps them learn and strengthens a bond between parent and child.” He also suggested, “A good book for older children I recommend The Silence by Alison Bruce.”

A Name Changer

To me the heart of the story was the change in Helen. Even though Helen hated her name, she resented people for calling her by her Beaver name, Eva, making her feel invisible. She did not feel good enough about herself to correct people who called her Eva. 

Befriending Santa Ron over their common dislike of children changed when he displayed hostile aggressive behavior against her neighbor’s cat. She no longer wanted anything to do with him. It also must have made her realize that if he could scare a cat and think it was funny, he might do the same about her. He didn’t even know or ask her real name. Once she realized her value, she accepted herself and her real name and corrected him when he called her Eva. I think she became like Helen of Troy when she stood up to him.

Jim Borden said, “fun story; looks like Helen got the last laugh…”

Patricia Tilton said, “I do like how she claims her real name at the end — that caught me off guard. She was on to better things. And, it was clever to see Ron as the rump of Daisy the Cow –pun not intended. Not everyone is who they say they are.”

Patricia’s final comment seemed to echo in all of the comments, watch your kids and spend time with them. I don’t think that Helen became a beloved character even though she accepted herself at the end. We don’t know whether she forgave the children who teased her or if she ever enjoyed her job and the children around her. 

Donna from Retirement Reflections summed up the story saying, “This is a great story, with many different angles, that brings up very important issues.”

Book Chat 6

I am looking for more brave souls to send me their short unpublished stories to publish on my blog Always Write supporting hobby bloggers. Following the publication of your story and the discussion, I will do a follow-up summary of the comments – typical teacher -style. Hugh suggested that I include a pingback to your blog as well, which sounded like a great idea to me.

Stories should be no more than 750 -1,000 words. Please include a brief biography, a picture or headshot, and contact information. If you want to include a picture or photo with your story, please feel free to do that.

You are free to publish your story elsewhere after it appears here.

As always, thanks for visiting and commenting.

Marsha Ingrao- Always Write

Story Chat: Out of Character, A Christmas Story

Anything can happen behind the scenes in the malls and stores at Christmas time. But do we ever hear those stories?

Out of Character 

by Cathy Cade

Christmas ads had been filmed and it was time for live appearances in department stores, handing out samples of Glint children’s toothpaste as the jolly, padded, fur-clad Eva Beaver. Children seemed to like her. The feeling was not mutual. 

They reminded her of school, which had sapped what little confidence she had to begin with. If her parents had not given her such a stupid name, maybe teachers—and later her classmates—would not have sniggered at the contrast it raised with this mousy beige child with a mouthful of teeth. Her classwork was unexceptional. She was the last to be chosen for teams in sports lessons but, thanks to a sympathetic drama teacher, she participated in every school play. On stage, she could be anyone she wanted to be.

She had dreamed of an acting career. Once, she had believed her selection for the Glint toothpaste ads was a step nearer to her dream. But if that furry Eva Beaver costume sometimes felt like a straitjacket, at least she could pay the rent. Beggars with prominent front teeth and squeaky voices could not be choosy about their roles. 


“I want a strawberry one. Don’t like mango.” 

Eva rooted through her samples. 

“Best I can do is raspberry.” 

She thrust it at him in a take-it-or-leave-it kind of way. Santa’s elf shepherded the boy towards his father. 

“I hope Santa brings you everything you want.” 

The father leered. “I wouldn’t mind if he brought you down my chimney, love.” 

Santa’s elf maintained a smile until she had bolted the scenery door behind them. She turned to Eva and mimed a gag response. 

Eva smiled, “At least that’s something I don’t have to put up with in this outfit.” 

It was not something she encountered out of the costume either. Santa pushed back his hood to reveal a head as shiny as Humpty Dumpty’s. 

“That’s it for today, bless ‘em. Scott’s in tomorrow. I’m off for a week.”

“Lucky you,” she said, taking off the furry hood with its round beaver ears and furry cheeks that covered hers. “I start at Spencer’s in Warmington the day after tomorrow. I have precisely one child-free day.” 

“Oh, I won’t be child-free,” said Santa. “I’m at the children’s hospice tomorrow. Then it is my kiddies’ school Christmas fair and our church on the weekend. Busy month, December. Don’t you love it?” 

He headed for the cloakroom humming Jingle Bells. The girl in elf costume smiled. 

“He’s our nicest Santa. It has been good working with you, Eva. Have a great Christmas.” 

“You too,” she said to the girl’s back, not bothering to correct the name. 

She even received mail addressed to Eva Troy. Out of the jumpsuit, she retrieved a large bag from behind the Christmas tree. Pulling out her coat and flat shoes, she stuffed the beaver suit into the bag and headed for home.


Another day, another grotto, another Santa, and another brat. 

“Santa doesn’t exist. You’re just some out-of-work actor.”

“Ho, ho, ho,” said Santa. “Very funny, young Joel. Collect your present from the elf through that door.” 

The door closed behind the boy.

 “…Before I kick you through it.” Santa recalled he was not alone this week and glanced defiantly at Eva Beaver. 

She smiled. “Don’t you just hate the little… darlings?” 

He relaxed. “You know, I really do sometimes.” They gazed at the door in companionable silence. “All the time,” they said in almost perfect unison. 

An elf held back the curtain. “Eva Beaver is visiting Santa today. This is Shelley.” The elf handed over her charge and returned to the queueing goblins. 

Santa and Eva ate their sandwiches together in the staff room. She hardly noticed that his face was pinched and his hair receding. She laughed at his impersonations of spoilt princes and princesses and their powerless parents, pleased to have found someone who did not view her aversion to children as unnatural. She told him her dreams of acting, and he told her he would be rehearsing for pantomime over the weekend. 

The next day, she wore a touch of mascara on her pale lashes. At closing time, she did what she could to brighten her mousy beige complexion in the cloakroom before she and Santa, whose real name was Ron, went for a drink.


On Thursday morning, she left her door open so that Mewsli could come in while she packed. The landlady’s cat would greet her when she let herself in as if he had been watching for her. He probably did the same with any lodger that stroked him, but she liked the camaraderie. 

Tomorrow she would take her suitcase to work and commute home afterward, but she might be too busy to pack tonight.


Thursday was a late-night opening. After closing, Ron walked her back to her digs. Mewsli came to greet them and she bent to stroke the cat before starting up the stairs. At the sound of a yowl and a thump, she turned to see the Mewsli disappearing into the back of the house. 

Ron raised his eyebrows as if to say, “What?” 

“Actually, Ron… I have a headache. I’d better take a couple of pills and sleep it off, or I won’t be fit for anything tomorrow.” 

He stood blankly before turning with thunder in his eyes and barely refrained from slamming the door. 

The elves noticed the atmosphere the next day and were jollier than usual to liven it up.


Her friend Ginny worked her shifts in the pub whenever she worked as Eva Beavering. This week, she would cover for Ginny, who was in the chorus of Jack and the Beanstalk at the local theatre. 

Ginny wangled her a free ticket and afterward took her backstage to meet the repertory group. She hoped to join them. Her initial nervousness was banished on coming face-to-rump with the back end of Daisy the cow. The front end smiled at her, clutching Daisy ‘s head in his hands while the rear unzipped. 

“Eva!” 

Ron did not look pleased to see her. She restrained a giggle as she flung her taupe silk scarf across her shoulder. “It’s Helen, actually,” she said, taking Ginny’s arm to move on.


Cathy Cade Biography


Cathy Cade is a former librarian who enjoyed solving puzzles in retirement. She began writing to exercise the other side of her brain (the side that can’t find the word she wants) and now has little time for puzzles.

Most of the time, she lives with her husband and dogs, in Cambridgeshire’s Fenland. The rest of the time, they live across a fence from London’s Epping Forest.

Her story-verse, A Year Before Christmas, is available from Smashwords and your local Amazon. Her collection of short stories: Witch Way, and other ambiguous stories can also be purchased from Amazon, and Smashwords along with The Godmother, an alternative Cinderella, (Amazon, and Smashwords) and Pond People about the Mirlings that live in the fishpond (Amazon and Smashwords)

Find Cathy online at www.cathy-cade.com where you can read some of her writing. She is also an expert on commas, which tangle me in every sentence.

Cathy Cade

Now it’s your turn

Let’s get this story chat started. Sit down by the fire in your favorite chair with some delicious snacks and something warm to drink. Have fun with the story and each other.

Here are some questions to get you started, but don’t be shy. You don’t have to stick to these questions. Jump right in.

  1. Why do you think Eva refused to correct people to use her real name?
  2. What do you think happened between “Eva” and the cat?
  3. Why did she develop a headache and turn on Ron?
  4. Where do you think she got the courage to say her real name?
  5. Do you think the relationship between Ginny and “Eva” important?

Have fun and be safe during the holidays.

#Story Chat: “Jenny’s Bumpy Start” with the class bully

Nine-word Summary

Ten-year-old Jenny handles new school bullies with care.

The Story Chat

The discussion of “Jenny’s Bumpy Start” moved quickly from a story about a new girl in school into an agenda story about bullying.

Your last paragraph hit the nail on the head. Blatant bullying used to be more obvious years ago. I think it likely still happens in new ways such as cyber bullying or passive aggressive ways.

Erika

Then readers quickly turned their attention from bullying to reflect and postulate the causes of bullying, probably reflecting on their own experiences of contending with bullies in school and in the workplace. Possibly bullies are bullied because of disfigurements, body odor, or other differences. 

It does make me wonder if Jeremy is being bullied at home, so he takes it out on somebody else. I see bullies as insecure, unhappy people who often don’t want to help themselves, so they believe the whole world is against them. 

Then my thoughts moved to Jenny, and I wondered if she had been a bully at her previous school. Why? Because she seems to be handling Jeremy’s bullying quite well.

Hugh

Those who were bullied frequently at school or outside of the home carry the scars with them for life, but also wonder how their tormentors turned out. 

Most of those people who shared their thoughts publicly suffered abuse by peers. Is the abuse different when a child is tormented by an adult? Those who are bullied or abused at home or by an adult rather than a child rarely talk about it openly.

I often wondered what happened to him (a bully from Hugh’s past), given that the first bully I mentioned died in his late 20s.

Hugh

Do hard core, incorrigible bullies end up in prison, dead, or have they turned around and become caring, model citizens? What about those in leadership like fathers, judges, priests, teachers, principals, even presidents. What is their place in society? We usually stereotype bullies as males, but what about women? One reader wondered if Jenny might also have been a bully. 

I thought Jenny seemed to have a disfigurement, as she had been asked about her face before, but this wasn’t clarified. Jenny seems a discerning girl to realise that the unpreposessing (unattractive) Jeremy isn’t the only bully in the classroom, but it’s likely she has been bullied before if she has a disfigurement. Since she misses her former school, she must have overcome any problems there and made friends. She will probably make friends here as well, given time and her refusal to be provoked or intimidated – maybe even the unprepossesing Jeremy.


A well-revealed and perceptive story.

Cathy

This discussion alerted me to the way the teacher handled bullying in the classroom, which I had not thought of before. A minor character and possibly superfluous one, Sandy Lassiter, showed fear, maybe of the other children or maybe of Jeremy’s aggression towards Jenny. None of the other children stood up to Jeremy either because they agreed with him, were afraid of him, or were in the process of finding out if there was a new victim to torment. This alerted me to the possibility that the classroom was not a safe place for students.

Both Anne and Cathy foresaw that Jenny might become the friend that Jeremy needed, although Anne thought she acted much too maturely for her age.


I imagine she’s going to rescue Jeremy in some way. But it might be stronger as a story if we the reader can share in the process of understanding the bully. What if she was initially pleased when the teacher shamed him and then noticed something in his reaction that reminded her of herself?
You’ve sparked a great discussion on an important topic. 

A ten-year-old might have bursts of maturity and realization that there is someone important besides themselves, but it is rare, unless Jenny’s disfigurement caused her to learn to develop a thick skin. Based in my own experience, that was not the case, although in my case, most kids picked on something other than the disfigurement on my face. My mom taught me to try to ignore bullies and I argued that it was impossible. But it must not have been because I had few bullies at school or in the workplace.

Anne

When I taught elementary school, I tried to teach a heavy-set child in my fifth grade class to ignore bullies. Her mother called me on the carpet for not handling the situation. As a new teacher, I was at a loss (and intimidated by the mother) because I only knew from my experience what had worked for me as a student. I was not wise enough to work with the bully. As a follow-up, the victim student became a teacher and I have stayed friends with her on Facebook. I don’t know what happened to the bully or bullies. Like the girl bullied in my class, Jenny seemed to be recognized as good student. Even though the kids don’t know her, Jeremy steals her math paper.

Hugh brought up a point that bullies are often bullied. If Jenny isn’t a bully, then she probably hasn’t been bullied much, at least at home. Jeremy didn’t threaten her with bodily harm, he stole her paper. She might have gotten mad or at least indignant. Maybe, being new, she might have been intimidated by the teacher and didn’t want to make a scene. If she were shy, she might just sink into her chair and wait for the teacher to come back into the room. I like the idea of her enjoying Jeremy getting in trouble. Unfortunately, she would have to hold her gloating until she got home because there were no peers to share it with except possibly Sandy Lassiter.

Yes, I imagined her family being very supportive and maybe at ten Jenny’s not as self-conscious as she might become later when puberty strikes.
I love how reader reactions can help us delve deeper into our characters.

Anne

I love how (this story) turns the tables on the idea that bullies are always the villain. I love how perceptive and kind Jenny is, not siding with the teacher because although the teacher is trying to come to her defense, she’s going about it all wrong. I love the unwritten complexity in Jeremy’s character, that we’re able to sympathize with him despite his actions.


I don’t necessarily think Jenny is acting too old for her age, I’ve met some empathetic preteens. I also think it gives you the opportunity to explore how she got to be so mature. He (the empathetic child I knew) was bullied a lot in elementary school. Because he was such a sweet and kind-hearted (and sometimes annoying) kid, he was an easy target for bullies. I heard one day that one of the bullies was left out of something and this boy volunteered to be the bully’s partner (against his father’s advice). Even when he was very young, this boy would play games, but always change the rules to make sure everyone was scoring points and everyone was doing well! He never tried to outdo anyone. 

When I gave him a classic board game for Christmas, and I asked if he already had it, he replied, “yes, but that’s okay! It’ll be great to have extra pieces!” 

That’s just his nature. All these stories happened before he turned 12, by the way. Jenny reminds me of him.

Alexis


Alexis brought up a debate of the ages – are people kind or mean because of their given nature or because of the way they were nurtured. This takes us back to the idea of whether or not bullies that are bullied at home as well as school are worse than bullies that are only bullied at home. If they are bullied at home they have a double dose of bullying. They have the same genetic makeup as their family, but they are also nurtured to be bullies. 

Teachers and others in leadership at any age have the awesome responsibility and privilege to care and make sacrifices and suggestions that will change the direction of a young person’s life. 

Now It’s Your Turn

Do you have a story about someone who has made a difference in your life or in the lives of others you know? Even children who are not bullied can go father with encouragement than with criticism.

Upcoming Short Stories

  • December Story Chat: “Out of Character” A behind the scenes look at Christmas at the mall by Cathy Cade
  • January Story Chat: Anne Goodwin brings us a short story TBA next month.

Do you have a short story you’d like to submit for possible publication?

Past Story Chats