Saturday 15 June 2019

'College, 1957' by Alison Wassell

Visits home are forbidden for the first month. Her room-mate has been to boarding school and takes this in her stride.  Twin set and pearls seems to be the required uniform. She owns neither.

‘Everyone seems very nice,’ she writes home.  She feels as though she is on show at the zoo. Nobody has heard of the northern town that she is from.

‘I thought you were from overseas, when I first heard you speak,’ says her room-mate. People keep asking her to repeat herself, and her tongue feels enormous in her mouth as she tries to make herself understood. She practises stretching out her vowels in front of the mirror and ends up sounding like her mother, trying to impress at a parents’ meeting.

‘Oh my goodness, there are trees!’ says someone, when she sets a photograph from home on her bedside table. She wishes she could whip out clogs and a shawl to mock their ignorance.

She thinks of picking up her unpacked trunk and lugging it home, but she is the first person in her family to go to college and her parents are proud. She has come to learn how to earn a living. The others seem to be being courted by trainee doctors, lawyers and clergymen, and entertain no thoughts of teaching after they are married.

They notice her engagement ring. She twists it around her finger in embarrassment, but sees a chance and takes it. She describes her fiancée. He lives in a house with an outside toilet and no bathroom. Four adults and three children in a two bedroomed end of terrace. He struggled at school.  She neglects to mention that the school he struggled at was the grammar school.

‘Can he read and write?’ someone asks. She evades the question.

‘Some people might say I’m marrying beneath me, but I’m marrying for love.’

‘You’re like Cathy and Heathcliff,’ they say.  She borrows the book from the library. All term she plays the romantic heroine.

When she goes home at Christmas he meets her at the station with news of his distinction in City and Guilds. He talks of his plans for their future, and of the things he will lovingly craft from wood with his hands.  After tea he settles with the cryptic crossword.  He pats the place next to him on the sofa. She hesitates, shocked by the smallness of him. She has grown accustomed to the thought of him as hairier, musclier, and more stupid. She has to admit that she is a little disappointed.


  1. Cracking short fiction - all the essentials (characterisation, plot, setting) without being in the least formulaic. Brilliant.


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