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The Other Side

by marjie_01 

Posted: 24 June 2005
Word Count: 2056

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Our house looks onto a motorway. On the other side of the motorway there is a graveyard. Mum says that the graveyard is full of the graves of little boys and girls who ran onto the motorway and were knocked down. She says that years ago – before I was born – there were many more children living in our area but that, one by one, they were hit by cars because they didn’t listen to their mummies and they ran onto the road.

‘The quickest way to get to the graveyard Irene, is to run onto that road’ she says. 'If you could see the graves Irene, you’d see that they all belong to little boys and girls like you. Aged 9, aged 5, aged 11, they all say. You are never to cross that road!’

But I have been to the graveyard and I have seen the graves. Most of them say things like ‘Loving wife and mother’ or ‘Rest in peace Dad’, so they can’t belong to children. There are some graves which I know must belong to children because they are usually smaller, but they are very old graves. One says, ‘1897’ and ‘Aged 2’. I can’t read the rest of what it says but I know that it can’t be the grave of a little boy or girl who ran across the motorway, because my teacher told us that the motorway was built in the nineteen sixties.

I know how to cross the motorway. I wait for a long time until there are no cars coming. I look both ways and then I run very fast. Mum says it doesn’t matter if you run fast because you could still fall and hurt your leg and not be able to get up. ‘Then a truck or a lorry will come Irene, and it won’t be able to stop in time and it will crush you, flatten you, and then you certainly won’t be able to get up ever again.’

‘But what if a car came mum? Could that crush you?’ I asked. ‘Yes Irene’ said mum as she stood next to the sink, shaking my inhaler. ‘What about a van?’ ‘Yes. That too.’ Sometimes I see people riding their bikes along the side of the road so I said, ‘Could a bike crush you mum?’ ‘Yes even bikes’. I didn’t think a bike could crush someone so I said, ‘But bikes aren’t heavy mum. I can lift my bike right up. I don’t think a bike could crush someone mum because....’ ‘Oh for God’s sake Irene! Yes a bike could crush you and a car and a van and everything else that flies down that bloody road’. And then she told me again that I was never ever to go near the motorway, and that it was my dad’s fault that we moved to this ‘stupid place’, and that it wasn’t safe and that it made my asthma worse living here. And then she shook my inhaler so hard that it flew out of her hand and landed on the floor, near the dogs bowl.

‘Oh Jesus Christ, now look’ said mum as she bent to pick my inhaler up from the floor, ‘It’ll be covered in germs’. ‘Why don’t you wash it under the tap?’ I said, because that’s what I always have to do if I drop something on the floor and mum shouts. But she said that germs could have gotten inside it. And even though I said that she had just washed the floor and the dog’s bowl and everywhere else in the kitchen she said that it didn’t matter. She said germs are everywhere, and even though you can’t see the danger – the danger is always there.

Mum thumped the inhaler down onto the table and went quickly out of the room. When she came back in she was holding my red winter jacket with the bells on the sleeves. ‘Come on Irene. We have to go to the doctors for another inhaler. Quickly!’. ‘But mum, it’s warm outside, and this is my winter jacket’ I protested. ‘Just be quiet. We need to go to the doctors’ she snapped as she thrust my left arm, then my right arm into the sleeves. She buttoned up my jacket tightly then took my hand and marched me out of the house. Mum didn’t wear her jacket. She didn’t even wear her shoes. She ran along in her faded, flowery slippers, tugging at my arm and always telling me to ‘Hurry up! Hurry up!’

At the top of the hill I could see my friends playing, just a few metres away from the road. They were waiting for me to come back from lunch so we could all go over to the graveyard together. I could see the fear on my friend Jenny’s face as she watched my mum and I hurrying toward her. Maybe my mum had discovered our plans? Maybe she would soon be visiting Jenny’s mum to tell her what bad girls we were?

‘Irene won’t be playing this afternoon’ shouted mum as we passed, ‘She has to get her inhaler’. Jenny’s face relaxed and she called after me, ‘Hey Irene! Why you wearing that jacket? It’s not winter you know!’ And suddenly my face felt as hot as the rest of me. Mum told Jenny to be quiet. She said that she was playing too close to the road and that she would tell Jenny’s mum. Then she turned to me and said ‘You are not to play with those boys and girls. You are not to play next to the road! I hope you don’t play next to the road!’ ‘I don’t, I don’t! I said, but she pulled my arm towards her so my face got closer to hers and she stared into my eyes. I thought she was trying to look inside my head, to see if she could tell if I was lying. She turned and hurried off again, dragging me behind her.

I felt like I could pass out with the heat. I tried to undo some of the buttons on my jacket but mum saw me. ‘Leave your jacket alone! You keep it on until we have been to the doctors and got your new inhaler’. I could see the Health Centre on the other side of the road and I so desperately wanted to get there so I could take off my jacket and sit down.

I said to mum ‘Can we cross the road here?’ but she said ‘I have told you before! You do not cross the motorway ever! Even if you are with me. The bridge is there’ she said as she pointed towards the big concrete footbridge with the hand that held my hand. I felt a pain under my shoulder as she tugged my arm upwards and almost lifted me off the ground. ‘There is a perfectly good bridge so why should we cross the motorway? It’s dangerous!’

I wanted to say it but I daren’t. I stayed quiet for a few moments and then took a deep breath. ‘But mummy, you said we have to get my inhaler very quickly. If we cross the motorway, we will get to the doctors more quickly. It takes ten minutes longer if we go over the bridge’.

My mum stopped on the grass and for a second I thought that she was thinking about what was the best thing to do. Maybe we would cross the road now. Maybe I had said a good thing? The cars whizzed past. Then my mum spun around and she seemed to move just as quickly as the passing cars. ‘How do you know that it’s ten minutes longer if you go over the bridge? How do you know that it’s quicker to go across the road?’ She pulled my arm again and put her face close to my face. ‘Have you been across this road Irene?’ she shouted. ‘Have you been across this road when I have told you not to – many, many times?’ She was shouting so loud. It made me scared. I thought that my friends would be able to hear her shouting at me. I felt hot and scared and all I could see was her face – red and angry and moving so fast. She kept shouting and shouting – about the road, about the cars, and I felt myself shaking and beginning to cry.

‘Don’t you dare start crying Irene’ shouted mum. ‘You shouldn’t be the one crying. Don’t you know how much I worry about you? I tell you over and over again not to cross the road and still you do it! You will make me have a heart attack Irene, I swear. You will be lying in that cemetery with all the other boys and girls who ran across the road. And I will have to go there every day to visit you, because you didn’t listen and I will be the one crying Irene. Me!’

I had stifled my sobs as much as I could and now I felt all my tears rising up inside of me. I wanted to burst and cry and cry but I knew mum would get angrier. My jacket felt like it was crushing me. I was so hot and the sun shone into my eyes so that I could barely see mum as she hurried off along the roadside. My chest felt tight and my body felt weak. I tried to suck the air in but it was hot and thin and wouldn’t fill my lungs. I looked at the back of my mums head and then her feet as I fell onto the grass. I heard her shout on me to hurry up and I tried to call her name as I lay with my head on the kerb, gasping and panicking and thrashing around inside my bright red winter jacket with bells on the sleeves. All I could hear was the jingling sound they made, the silly sound of sleigh bells in summer.

Mum must have heard the bells or the loud wheezing noise I had begun to make.
‘Oh my God, Irene’ she screamed as she came running towards me. ‘Oh my God. Oh my God’ she kept saying. ‘Your inhaler... the doctor...your inhaler!’ She picked me up and began to run. The warm air rushed past me. I was desperate to take in just a little of it, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t breathe at all. I felt I was going to die, but I didn’t want to. If I could take in just a little air – but my body wouldn’t let me. I thrashed about in my mothers arms that were wrapped so tightly around me.

‘Oh my God, I’ve got to get to the doctors, Oh my God’, screamed my mother, as she sprinted along the roadside in her slippers. ‘Please help me!’ she shouted into the hot June air. I struggled and gripped her arms and used every muscle I had to try to pull some oxygen into my body. My head bounced around violently as my mum ran and ran and I knew she was moving faster than I had ever seen her move.

Suddenly she stopped and I felt her turn her body around to face the road. The sun shone onto the side of her head and I saw her face in silhouette as I lay gasping. Tears trickled down my face. My body felt limp. And mums body seemed still too - so still - and I thought that perhaps I had died and mum had come to visit me like she said. She held me so gently and she barely moved. I forgot where we were, but I knew that the sun was shining and that I was in my mum’s arms.

She rocked backwards and then lunged forwards and I knew that her feet had left the softness of the grass and dirt of the roadside and were now slamming down hard against tarmac. All I could hear now, and all I was aware of was the slapping sound of her slippers on the road and the jingling of the bells on the ends of my arms.

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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 11:38 on 30 June 2005  Report this post
What a lovely, sad, moving story.

Two minor grammatical points, that might make a difference when you try to place this. When addressing someone in dialogue, a comma always goes before the name,i.e.:

'Don't you dare start crying, Irene'

Also, always start a new paragraph when a different person speaks. If this is awkward, you can change one part to indirect speech:

I suggested we cross there, but she said, 'I have told you before'..

Hope you don'tmind me pointing out these minor points. I thought otherwise it was a story that grabbed one's attention and had a masterly ending.


marjie_01 at 14:05 on 30 June 2005  Report this post
Thank you so much Sheila. I am going to make those grammatical changes that you suggested. I appreciate this kind of feedback because I am never quite sure about commas or how to include speech. I'm going to remember this from now on!

Thanks again for taking the time to read.

Marj :)

lang-lad at 22:06 on 08 July 2005  Report this post
Hi, Marjory,
Just came across this on a Random Read and I do like it. I had to read the end a few times to be absolutely sure I'd got what was happening - not that you should necessarily change it; sometimes reading on screen isn't quite as easy as on paper.

I'm just grabbing a minute to send you this quick bit of feedback.

I see you're not a member of a group yet. It took me a while before I joined one but I'm so glad I did. Hope you'll do that and get tons more feedback on this if you want it. It'd be good to see what others think about it.

I thought you captured the child's voice really well but, in the spirit of wanting more, I wondered where the child and the mother were from and where the story was set. I've re-read it and it's clear you can see the place but I could have done with a few more details. I looked up your profile but of course a story can be set anywhere so it's not relevant where the writer's from unless they make it relevant. Here, it's got an anywhere feel to it - which may be deliberate of course. Npt being sure if it is, I thought I'd ask.

Now here's the odd thing ... I know you didn't intend it but at the end I had a picture of them on a hot African highway or a big road in America's deep south and a mother in flowing clothes. Why? Well, the directness of the language here and there. Suddenly the speech goes precise and you sometimes do and at other times don't use contractions. I got transported to another continent! Ah the power of a tiny inflection! Reading it again it's probably no more exotic than Cumbernauld or Glenrothes, but may I suggest you might either relax the language a teeny bit more OR move it into another register altogether? (Or maybe I've been reading too much Alexander McCall-Smith or it's the Donna Tartt novel set in Mississipi I'm half way through and I've transferred their colours to you.) I do think the language needs a little crank up though to let us hear the voices a bit better.

Whatever you do don't touch its simplicity which is spot on. Very good piece.

Hope the above's something you can use.
best wishes,

marjie_01 at 00:44 on 09 July 2005  Report this post
Thanks Eliza. Your comments are very much appreciated. I know what you mean about grounding the story a bit more, because it could be set pretty much anywhere at the moment. 'Bland New Town' was kind of what I was aiming for - all concrete and roundabouts - like (as you mention) Cumbernauld where, funnily enough, I was brought up!

The only thing I am a bit wary of, is alienating readers by sounding too Scottish. I don't know why, but I am not comfortable with reading dialogue that is heavily accented. I found 'Buddha Da' a real struggle - even though it was written in the kind of dialect that I (supposedly) hear every day. I thought there were a lot of inaccuracies in the way Anne Donovan portrayed Glasgow people and the way they speak - there were a lot of words which I NEVER hear Glaswegians use. And I don't know anyone from the west end who talks like that. Of course Melvyn Bragg and the Sunday Times gush over stuff like that, but then these quaint images of Glasgow are very popular and probably what they imagine us all to be like. Anyway..... before I go off on one.....

Thanks again for your comments. I've joined a fiction group and hope to get lots more useful feedback like yours.

Kind Regards,


lang-lad at 13:17 on 10 July 2005  Report this post
Dear Marj,
Just a word of caution ... remember that everything you write here is preserved in an archive and can be retrieved by yourself or anyone but only removed if you delete the story it's attached to. It could be there for a long time.

I share some of your thoughts on alienation, but it does seem a shame to run from the challenge rather than towards it. (I'm not sure I quite buy this new town blandness thing - not with the rider about another writer's representation of Glaswegian Scots, irrespective of whether you're right or not. I don't know the work you mean so I can't comment.)

I reckon, it's a problem of orthography though, and I'm in constant discussion about this with a lot of writers here. (Scotland) Often we're representing a spoken language in a written form and grasping after a style and form that can be used for narrative. It's an ongoing debate.

I think what you're saying is perfectly valid - a piece can become so embedded in the language of the place it becomes a study piece about the language at the expense of the story. But in fiction, if we go the universal route and don't set a story in one place or another, are we in danger of missing a trick? Some may argue that setting might in fact be the whole point, being a wonderful way to communicate the general - through the particular.

Have you read Bill Duncan's Dundonian work? "The Smiling School for Calvinists" is cracking and comes out at such a lick at times it's like a fire hose of potent, powerful prose.
Now I don't know how universally it's read but I'd hate if, in attempting to make it more universally acceptable and accessible, his flow was stemmed. I heard a friend threw it away because to her, if it's not written in Doric, it's not good Scots. I don't know what her problem was. But I can guess.

I posted up a piece myself recently - a monologue in East Coast urban Scots and the South East English readers found it hard going but I'm still thinking about it and still working on it and the whole issue. I needed to know if it worked on the page or only if an actor read it. (It went out as a radio piece a while back but it hadn't been appraised in print.) It's an actor's piece still for the English readers but the Scots have no trouble with it on the page. The experiment was useful and it'll change over time and perhaps take many forms.

I see you have a strong opinion about this subject and you're tackling it your way. I'd love to hear your views some more, if you wouldn't mind.

Do reply - might I suggest on e-mail, if you feel the need to get specific.

Best wishes,
good to hear you've joined a group.

Becca at 20:56 on 11 July 2005  Report this post
Hi Marj,
I did like the way the horrid mother kept calling her 'Irene' every time she warned her about the .. dangers of being alive. Behind this story as well, I detected trouble with the husband who'd taken them to the Godforsaken place. You made a good characterisation of the mother just through the dialogue and the reflections of the child.
Another grammar point, and one that so many of our writers don't deal with: 'mums'--> mum's, [also should that be a capital m?]
mothers arms --> mother's. And 'dogs'--> dog's if there is one of them, dogs' if there are more than one. I think most writers here do know this, because I often read pieces in which it's used correctly sometimes and not other times. But it is one of the things that, if you are sending to a publisher, they'd spot and it would not be a good thing.
I'll bet you do know the rule. It's any time you are talking about something OF something else, as in the arms of the mother, the bowl of the dog.
Looking forward to reading more of your work, I liked the simplicity of this piece.

marjie_01 at 09:39 on 12 July 2005  Report this post
Hey Becca,
Actually (and I'm kind of embarrassed to say this!) I wasn't too sure about the apostrophe thing. And it's one of those things you kinda don't want to ask because you think everyones else knows. I have forgotten a lot of what I learned in high school English classes! Maybe some other folk are the same, so it's worth going over this type of thing.
But it was very sweet of you to say 'I'll bet you do know the rule' and give me the benefit of the doubt :)
Thanks very much for your comments everyone - it has been a nice introduction to the site and I'm gonna give this piece a rewrite, taking into account your advice.
Ta, again,

old friend at 15:56 on 30 July 2005  Report this post
Hi Marj,

Yes, I liked this story for it is a simple tale, simply told and in a style that does not try to be clever or pretentious.

There are a few points on grammar you will need to look at and also such words as 'got' and 'gotten'. The latter is American. However perhaps you might think of using another verb than 'to get'.

You paint an accurate picture of the concerned mum and you sustained the character of Irene very well. I found no difficulty with the location, it could have been very many places we know so well

If and when you have any problems on grammar and/or punctation there are quite a few Members to whom you can send an email and who will be more than pleased to help.

Anyway, a nice submission and I look forward to reading more from you. I wish you all the luck in your Group.


Prospero at 03:08 on 18 January 2006  Report this post
Hi Marj

I thought this a powerful and affecting story. I was impressed by the way you captured the mother's paranoia and the child's confusion. I won't enter the debate about the language, because I am not qualified to do so. But I will say, I was totally absorbed by the story and at no time did I trip over words or puntuation.

If you would value a quicker critical turn round and the challenge of literary minimalism may I suggest you join the Flash II group?

Best wishes


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