The school bell had rung, sounding the beginning of the afternoon’s lessons. English first. Not one of Lisa’s favourites, but as her mother had often pointed out, a necessary evil. At least Mrs. Winters was a nice teacher, supportive of the children who struggled a bit with their work. Lisa wasn’t bad at English; she just didn’t seem to have the same knack for it that the other students had. She had been told by her first form teacher that she used "A plethora of colloquialisms instead of Standard English." Lisa had apologised politely and then had to look up her crime in the dictionary. But now she was in the second year, and the huge concrete comprehensive wasn’t quite as scary, she’d made plenty of friends, was doing OK in most of her subjects and at least Mrs. Winters set interesting homework.
The class’s last assignment was to write an essay describing what life would be like in the year 2000. Lisa had spent hours thinking about what the world would be like in the future, but it seemed like such a long way off. It was only 1973, by the year 2000 Lisa would be, like, 40 or something, how could she possibly imagine what it would be like to be older than her own mother? Surely Mrs. Winters was asking the impossible?
Like the conscientious student that she was Lisa had started writing that night. But everything that she came up with sounded as though it had been taken straight from an episode of Star Trek. Man had made it onto the moon several years ago, so it stood to reason that by 2000 people would enjoy regular holidays up there under some huge green house type thing. Cars would fly, clothes would be made out of sparkly, silver stuff and robots would do all the housework. It had been fun to dream up all those weird ideas and exciting too, to think that the world would be such a fascinating place to live in. Not like her own dull world of cars that were noisy, smelly and made her feel a bit queasy, itchy school uniforms and embarrassing PE kits, and the dreaded washing up!
Lisa had completed two sides in her rough book and asked her mother to read it. It seemed prudent to get a second opinion on spelling, punctuation and grammar before she copied it, in her best joined up writing, into her exercise book. She had looked up at her mother expectantly as she sat at the kitchen table of their small flat reading her work.
"Very nice darling" her mother had responded.
"That all?" replied Lisa, disappointed.
"Much improved from your last piece. There were hardly any spelling mistakes. I’m terribly proud of you, Lisa, of all the work you’re putting in." Lisa beamed as her mother got up and went to put the kettle on the hob. Lisa’s finger absently traced out the pattern on the Formica tabletop as she thought about her mother’s comments.
"But do you like what it’s about? The… um… content?"
"It all sounded very futuristic, darling but…"
"But what? You don’t like it at all, do you!" She furrowed her brow, and stared accusingly at her mother.
"Of course I do. It’s just that the whole class has been set this and I’ll bet you’ll all come up with exactly the same things: robots and rockets. Why don’t you write about your life? What you want for your future. I think that would be a lot more interesting." Lisa had thought about it, maybe her Mum was right. She turned over to a new page in her book and chewed the end of her pencil thoughtfully.
She hadn’t asked her mother’s opinion on the new piece of work. Somehow it felt too private to share with her. Lisa had written a very different piece, about her hopes and aspirations. She knew that she’d have to hand it in to Mrs. Winters to mark, but at least she wouldn’t have to sit opposite her as she read through it, and wouldn’t have to answer lots of difficult questions about what she’d written. That morning she’d tucked the book safely into her satchel, knowing that she’d made a good effort.
She took her seat next to her friend, Lisa Thomas, on the middle row of the room. They were good seats, far enough back so that you could get away with a bit of note passing but close enough to the black board to see what was going on. The really popular kids sat right at the back, more interested in their own little gang than in the lesson. The school swots sat eagerly at the front. So the middle was, as far as Lisa was concerned, the best place. It was the best of both worlds.
"Done your homework, Lise?" Her friend asked as she pulled the relevant bits and pieces out of her bag.
"Yeah, course. I wrote about how kids in the future would spend their summer holidays on Saturn, and there would be these little rocket things that you could race ‘round the rings. What d’you write?" She pushed a section of thick dark curly hair behind her ears as she spoke only to have it spring back to where it had started from a second later.
"Mum said I should write something more personal. I hope it’s all right" she fiddled with the end one of her long red plaits, twisting it around her index finger nervously.
"It’ll be fine, Old Winters likes you. You’re never gonna get in trouble with her"
As if to prove her wrong Mrs. Winters looked straight in their direction and shouted:
"Miss Thomas, Miss Duffin, have you two quite finished?" the two girls sunk into their chairs and mumbled "Yes Miss".
"Good. Right, now I hope you have all written your accounts of the year 2000 because I’m going to use today’s lesson as a chance to hear your communication skills." The class looked at her blankly.
"Today, you are going to read out your work in front of the class." The class let out a collective groan.
"Do we have to?" someone shouted out. Mrs. Winters pinpointed the voice immediately, fixed them with a stare and nodded at them.
"In the interests of fairness we will proceed in alphabetical order." Gemma Abraham rested her head on her desk dramatically. "Yes Gemma that means you’re first, and we’ll see how far we get today" Lisa Thomas grinned, and leant over to her friend conspiratorially.
"We’ll never get right down to ‘T’ today!" Lisa Duffin groaned. She hated reading things out loud at the best of times but this time the work was much more private. She didn’t want the whole class laughing at her, telling her she was mad to think that she would ever achieve her goals. She contemplated reading her original essay.
Gemma finished, then Oliver Alexander did, then Mary Burke did, and then Gordon Davies did. Lisa was out of time: she had to decide.
"Lisa your turn" Mrs. Winters called. For a moment she didn’t move.
"It’s no good pretending you think I’m talking to Miss Thomas. ‘D’ comes before ‘T’." Lisa looked vainly over at her friend, who smiled encouragingly back.
"Good Luck" she whispered.
"Lisa Duffin come on." Mrs. Winters called again. She looked slightly exasperated, hardly surprising since she’d just had to listen to four practically identical essays and was facing another twenty-five.
Lisa drew her chair back across the floor, trying to avoid making it squeak and drawing more attention to her self. She made her way to the front of the room and stood facing the class. The room looked so much bigger than usual, as though she were facing an audience of thousands. She glanced at Mrs. Winters who nodded for her to start. But when she tried to read, no sound came out.
"Come on Duffy" one of the kids called. She took a deep breath to try to calm her self, smoothed down her grey pinafore and flicked her plaits over her shoulders.
She held up her book again and started to read:
"I don’t know what there will be in the future. If we’ll be able to go to the moon or if we’ll meet aliens. I don’t know if there will be lots of robots doing our jobs for us. I do know that in the year 2000 I will be 39, until November when I have my birthday. I expect that a lot of things will have changed by then and the world will be very different but adults have always had certain responsibilities and they don’t change much from one generation to the next.
When I’m 40 I‘ll probably have a family and a job and be living in a house of my own. I don’t know who my husband will be or what job I’ll get but I have thought about this a lot and I know what I’d like to happen so that is what I’ll write about.
When I grow up I want to be a nurse. I want to be able to help people and make ill people better. I would be proud of myself if I could introduce myself to new people as a nurse, because then they would know that I had worked hard and passed my exams and did an important job. Being a nurse is a good career because I would get to go up the ranks as I got older and got better at my job. By the time I am in the year 2000 I would like to be a Sister or a Matron and be in charge of a ward in a hospital, and the other nurses and the doctors would respect me and ask my opinion about things.
Once I started working at the hospital I would meet lots of people, members of the public and also other medical professionals, like doctors. One day I would meet a really handsome doctor and we would fall in love. Then we would get married and start a family of our own. In the year 2000 I would have two children. Then they could keep each other company and always have someone to play with and to talk to. We would all live in a nice big house with a pretty garden, instead of a council flat, like where I live now. We would have a car, and I would drive to work in it, and a colour television and a washing machine and everything.
If all this was true when it gets to the year 2000 then I would be very happy and I wouldn’t need to visit the moon or have a robot to tidy up after me because I would have everything that I wanted."
Lisa looked over to her teacher for approval. For a second there was a stunned silence in the room and she started to get nervous. She’d got it wrong, as usual, and made a fool of herself in front of everyone. She stared down at the laces on her shoes, waiting to get told off.
"Lisa that was lovely! It’s clear that you put a lot of effort into that, well done. It was nice to see some original thought rather than the plot synopsis of last nights Doctor Who. Lisa, I certainly hope that you get what you want from life. Thank you for sharing that with us."
Slowly she looked up at the class. They weren’t laughing at her; in fact some of them even looked impressed. She felt herself start to blush as she made her way back to her seat and slid quietly into it.
"You really want to be a nurse, Lise?" Lisa Thomas whispered.
"Yeah, I do" she whispered back.
"Psst" the girls heard a noise behind them and turned around surreptitiously.
"Duffy, that was great" said Karen Waterstone.
"Yeah, Duffy that was really good" chipped in Sarah Forbes.
Lisa grinned to herself as she closed her exercise book. They didn’t think she was mad, they really believed that she could do it. Now she was certain that it would all come true.
Duffy sat and looked at the letter in her hand, the memories of her school days flooding back to her. It hardly seemed like yesterday that she’d been standing up in front of her class telling them how she was going to be a nurse one-day. She read through the reunion invitation again, it certainly would be good to go back and tell them all how she had eventually achieved her ambition. Not to mention find out about what they were all up to. Andrew sat himself down on the sofa next to her.
"What’s that?" he asked, indicating the invite.
"St. Leonard’s, my old school, is holding a reunion in a few weeks time. What a horrible reminder of how old I’m getting." She gave a wry laugh.
"Do you want to go?"
"Yeah, I suppose. Let them know that the nickname they stuck me with has lasted… what? Best part of thirty years now!"
"Nothing to do with showing off what a perfect life you lead these days then?" it was more of a joke than a question and Andrew didn’t expect a reply. He leant back into the sofa and concentrated on the television. It was a documentary on tarantulas, hardly the most exciting of subjects. Duffy settled back herself, but to think about her ‘perfect life’. It was true that she had made Sister, twice in fact. But she wasn’t in charge; not really. When Charlie had been off sick she was well aware that things weren’t going as smoothly as perhaps they ought to have been. She doubted whether she would have got the promotion if he hadn’t have come back. Then there was her home life. She had married a doctor, and a handsome one at that, but he had cheated on her, and might well still be doing so, and she had cheated on him too. Hardly a perfect marriage. She hadn’t even got married and had kids, she’d had a kid, then got married. And that wasn’t to mention all the other things that had gone wrong for her over the years. She didn’t even feel that nurses got the respect that they deserved anymore, they certainly got little recognition. The rest of her class were probably all ‘something important in the city’ millionaires by now, living in luxury and not being the slightest bit interested in her.
"Actually Andrew I don’t think I do want to go" she decided, and folded the invitation back into it’s envelope. Andrew wasn’t even listening to her anymore. She dropped the invite into the bin, and went to make dinner.