This is the fourth of our Mighty Pens/Herald short story winners. The final one will be printed tomorrow. Today's is by Monica Callan, who is 61 and was born in Northern Ireland. She's lived in Scotland since graduating from Glasgow university with a post grad diploma in Computing Science in 1983. She has four children and lives in Stirling with her husband Greg. She says: "This story is a bit harrowing, but was inspired by a true childhood event."


‘Why can’t I come with you?’

‘Because you’re a girl.’

‘No, that’s not a good enough reason.’

‘Look, I want to be with my own friends, without you always tagging along. We’re going to play football and climb trees, boy things. Go and find some girls to play with. Look there’s Whatshername and all those girls from school. Now go.’

I looked to where he pointed. The girls, in their pretty sleeveless dresses, sat outside McKinlay’s farmhouse, comparing their dolls and chatting. All white socks and black patent shoes. Their brushed and braided hair adorned with clips and hairbands. I looked at myself in last years t-shirt and cut-off shorts, my scraggy hair flailing round my face. Wriggling my toes I saw them peek through holes in Alex’s old canvas shoes. I didn’t have a doll.

‘But they’re boring, Alex. Can I not play football with you?’

‘No, there’s no girls in our gang. Now bugger off.’

‘Oh I’m telling mammy that you said a bad word.’

‘See, that’s the other thing, you’re a wee clype too.’

The word took my breathe away. Surely he knew I wouldn’t tell. I was never a clype. Using my shocked silence to gain his freedom he took off down the field. His friends, dangling from the trees, egged him on to hurry up and he sprinted away, afraid I would follow. I tried, the breathe catching in my chest, nettles and brambles hooking my legs, leaving stings I would feel later. I stopped when they disappeared into the dark woods. Panting and crying, I watched until they reappeared again, crossing the flooded field to the football pitch.

With mum at work, Alex was supposed to be looking after me, and he usually did. He showed me where the mice lived in the hedges and which ponds had the most frog spawn, which trees were easy to climb, and where the birds nested in the barns. But the fun always ended as soon as his friends showed up. Then I was dumped.

The sun had dried up all the puddles in our garden so I wandered to the pond in McKinlay’s orchard to check for frogs, but only water boatmen skated there. Lying in the shade, with my face almost in the stagnant water I watched them slide around.

‘Hey! I see you. You leave my apples alone and get out of here.’

‘I’m not going near your apples – they’re not even ripe yet, moron.’

I kicked up the dust as I fled along the lane to see the cows. It was cool under the trees at the gate where Tilly and her sisters sheltered in the soft mud. They mooed, watching me with interest as I climbed the metal bars and sat surveying the open fields and wide countryside.

‘It’s a grand sight, eh?’

I turned to the voice. A man with greying hair, in a dark brown suit and matching city shoes, was standing just by my right shoulder. I shuffled further along so he could see better.

‘Suppose it’s alright.’

‘You probably see it every day so you don’t realise how lovely it is.’

His voice was whispery so I had to lean towards him. He smelled like the village boys on a Saturday night. I shrugged. I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers.

‘I sell tractors and I was just leaving the farm over there,’ he said pointing to where I had come from, ‘but I had to stop when I saw this view.’

‘At McKinlay’s farm?’


‘But they have cows and apples. They don’t plough fields.’

‘Funny, that’s what he said too.’

He licked his lips. Beads of sweat had appeared on his face as he scanned the countryside.

‘God it’s hot, eh? Know what? I think I’m going to drive on into the village and get some ice cream. Do you want to come? I’ll get you one too.’

‘I can’t. I’m not allowed to go beyond the boundary wall.’

‘What? A big girl like you not allowed to go into the village just down there.’ He pointed at the church spire poking up through the distant trees. ‘How old are you anyway?’

With his eyes darting about he reminded me of the weasels that lived in the dark woods, sitting up on their hind legs with their necks stretched, heads turning, always alert, always checking. He sidled nearer to me.

‘I’m nine and I can go, just not on my own.’

‘Well now, you won’t be on your own. I’ll be with you.’

‘No, I can only go if my big brother is with me.’

‘You have a big brother? Where’s he then?

He stepped back and looked up and down the lane.

‘He’s about. He’s supposed to be watching me but his friends came over.’

I sighed and looked at the ground.

‘And I bet he left you all on your own to go off with them. Well that’s not very nice is it? But imagine when you tell him that you had an ice cream and he didn’t. Won’t he be jealous. It’ll serve him right for leaving you alone.’

I thought of what he said. It was true, for once I’d have something that Alex didn’t and I’d have my own adventure story to tell him too.

‘So what’s it to be then, a nice big strawberry ice cream?’

‘I prefer chocolate.’

‘Well, chocolate it is then. I’m sure they’ll have that.’

‘Baptiste’s? They have every flavour. They’re the best. We went there for my birthday and I had the biggest ice cream ever.’

I could see the ice cream, in the long heavy glass, topped with nuts, whipped cream and runny caramel. At the bottom was that thick sauce that was really just melted chocolate. Swallowing hard, I could almost taste it.

‘Well, let’s go then. What are we waiting for?’

Little trails of sweat ran down his face and I thought he probably needed the ice cream more than I did. His dark car sat low under shady trees. Its long nose facing up towards us. Imagine, me in a fancy car! I would roll the window down and wave to everyone. I was just swinging my leg over the gate when it dawned on me that his car was facing the wrong way if he’d come from the farm. I stopped climbing. He stared at me and I thought, no it wasn’t the weasels he reminded me of, but Sally cat when she had a mouse in her sights just before she pounced. I jumped backwards into the mud beside the cows.

‘Sorry, mister. I can’t. I think I hear my brother and his friends over there.’

‘Oh. That’s a shame. But hey, maybe next time. Anyway, don’t tell the boys that I’m buying ice cream or they’ll all want one, and I’m not made of money. And don’t be getting me into trouble with your mum either for wanting to take you down to the village. I was only going to get you an ice cream after all’

‘I’m not a clype mister,’ I shouted back to him as I ran across the cow field.

JUDGES' COMMENT: Very good – the story line is well thought out and delivers a strong point as well as a protective warning.

Tomorrow: Read our final short story winner