My A-level English teacher died recently.
We weren’t close. I don’t think I’d spoken to him once since leaving school 25 years ago, but he was one of those teachers who I can say had a definite and direct impact on the course of my life. So when I heard that he’d gone, I felt strangely bereft. Bereft of the opportunity to say thank you I suppose.
As well as teaching me how to appreciate Shakespeare’s metaphors and Andrew Marvell’s metaphysics, he also gave me confidence in my ability to write. It was Mr B who awarded me the Lower Sixth English prize for a ‘Pinteresque play script’ I wrote. Which was probably the moment I believed I might have a bit of talent in that department.
So the other day I dug out the script. Luckily it was printed in the school magazine that year, otherwise it would have disappeared along with my dad’s old IBM word processor, the vessel for all my ‘early works’. I suspect the literary world didn’t lose much the day that machine died.
Now don’t laugh, but I cried when I read my script. Was that down to the quality of the writing? Or just me feeling the emotion of spending time with my younger self?
It brought back memories of how I had struggled with that piece of homework, not knowing what on earth to write about. But then I had experienced a proper bolt-of-lightning moment of inspiration – the first time that had ever happened to me.
One evening my big sister and I had been having a conversation at our bedroom windows, while the rain was coming down in that kind of hard, determined way that it does at the end of summer. I don’t recall what we were talking about (neither of us was praying or grieving at the death of a child) but later that night I woke up knowing what I wanted to say, and how I was going to set it. So I got up there and then, sneaked into dad’s study and let the whole thing pour out. I remember knowing that the words felt good; they felt right.
The words aren’t all good of course, and it’s been hard resisting the urge to nip and tuck as I typed them up. But resist I did, so here they are, unabridged and punctuated exactly as the 16-year-old me wrote them.
As the late, great Mr B would say as he sent us off with our set texts at the end of every English lesson: enjoy!
RAIN One Act Scene: Two bedroom windows looking out over a garden and a park. The rooms are on an angle so that a conversation can be held between two people – one at each window. It is late evening and it is raining softly. Enter Jane at left window. She throws up the sash, puts her head out and takes in a deep breath. She looks around her and stretches out her hands to catch the rain. Looking up to the sky, she tentatively clasps her hands. Pause A light is turned on in the room on the right. Jane (Whispering) Anna! Pause She clicks her fingers and almost immediately the sash in the other room is thrown up and Anna leans out. Jane Isn’t it a beautiful night? Anna It’s wet and freezing. Jane It isn’t. Anna Yes it is. Jane Well it may be wet, but it isn’t freezing. Pause Jane It smells lovely – all damp and refreshing. Pause Anna It does smell nice, I’ll give you that. Pause Jane Why is the sky orange? Anna Street lamps. Jane What? Anna From the town. Jane But it isn’t usually orange. Mostly it’s blue. Anna Well the clouds are low and the light’s shining on them isn’t it? Jane Oh – of course. Did you work that out for yourself? Anna Yes. Jane I’d never have worked that out. Pause Jane I love the rain, don’t you? It smells so nice. Anna Yes, so you said. Jane It helps me to think. Anna About what? Jane This and that. Anna Like what? Jane Anything. Whatever comes into my head. Anna What were you thinking about when you called me then? Pause Jane I can’t tell you. Anna Why not? Jane You wouldn’t understand. Anna I would. Jane You wouldn’t. Anna Try me. Pause Jane You’ll laugh. Anna I won’t. Jane You might. Anna Go on. Tell me. Jane No. Pause Jane I was… it’s personal. Anna Forget it then. It doesn’t bother me. Jane I was saying a prayer, that’s all. Anna A prayer? Since when were you religious? Jane I’m not. I was trying it out. Anna What for? Jane I felt like it. Anna Did you get a reply? Jane No. Anna I knew you wouldn’t. It’s all a load of rubbish. You don’t want to waste time being religious do you? Pause Anna Do you? Jane No. Pause Anna What did you pray for then? Jane I didn’t. I was asking. Anna What for? Jane Not for anything. Anna Not for anything? Jane No. I was asking Him to do something. Anna And you thought He’d do it? That’s a laugh. As if he’s got time for you. Look out there. The whole world stretches out in front of you, full of people and animals and creatures, and up there is the whole massive universe with millions of stars, and then there’s you – tiny little Jane – kneeling at your bedroom window, and you reckon that God or whatever is going to hear you and do whatever you tell him to do? Jane I didn’t tell Him, I asked Him. Anna Same thing. Jane It isn’t the same thing. Anna What did you ask him to do then? Jane To look after Jessica. Pause Anna Why are you crying? Jane I’m not crying. Anna You are. Why? Jane I’m tired. Anna Why? You hardly did anything today. And you slept most of the afternoon. Jane It was a tiring day. Anna You didn’t do much. Jane The funeral made me tired. Anna It wasn’t very long. You were back in a couple of hours. Jane I was tired. Anna That’s what you keep saying. Jane Well I was and I am now. Anna Go to bed then. Jane No. Anna Why not? Jane I’m not sleepy. Anna I don’t understand you. Jane Don’t bother trying. I’m too mixed up. Anna Are you alright? Jane Yes, I’m fine. Pause Anna Did you enjoy the funeral? Pause Jane Enjoy it? Of course I didn’t enjoy it. It was a funeral. And a girl’s funeral too, not some old person. She should have had a long life ahead of her. And that was the last time I’ll ever see her. And I couldn’t see her anyway because she was inside her coffin. And I watched them throw her in the ground where hopefully she’ll be forgotten about because she’s dead and she doesn’t matter any more. I can’t believe you asked that. Pause Anna Sorry. You knew what I meant. Jane I didn’t know what you meant. Anna Sorry. Jane It’s alright. Anna Will you miss her? Pause Anna Sorry. Jane Yes I will. Let me show you something. Jane disappears into her room Pause She returns with a glass bowl Jane Jessica’s mum gave me this. I always loved it. She said she thought Jessica would have liked me to have it. Anna That’s nice. It’s a nice bowl. Jane It’s got flowers carved in the side and Jessica’s name engraved here. Anna That’ll be nice to remember her by. Jane (Softly) Yes. Pause Anna Dad’s back tomorrow. Jane Yes. Anna I think mum’s looking forward to seeing him. It’s been a long time. Jane Yes. Anna He’ll have a tan. Pause Anna He might bring us presents. Jane Perhaps. Anna It would be nice if he did. To show us he thought of us. Jane Yes. Anna Of course that’s not the most important thing. It’ll just be nice to see him again. Jane It’s been a long time. Anna Too long, mum says. Jane Yes. Anna It’ll be nice to see him again. Pause Anna I missed him. Pause Anna It’s getting late. Jane Yes, I’m going to bed. As she stands she knocks her head on the window and drops the glass bowl. It smashes on the stone terrace below Pause Jane kneels down again, staring at the bowl. Anna looks at Jane and then the bowl, unsure of what to do Jane (Without moving) Goodnight. Anna Yes. See you tomorrow. Anna closes her window and draws the curtains Pause The rain falls harder. Eventually Anna’s light goes out. Jane stretches out her hands again to collect the rain, then she washes her face with it. She remains where she is, but raises her head to look at the sky. She allows the rain to fall freely onto her face. Pause She ducks under her window and closes it. A few seconds later her light is turned off. Olivia Jones (L6)