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The History Girls

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Posner chewed on the end of her pen, the page of her diary blank. No, not a diary, that seemed so trite and overdone. This was her journal, her place where she documented things, where she worked out her thoughts. Writing stories about other people’s lives seemed to be her only skill. Sure, she could sing, she could give a monologue in English or French, possibly even Latin, but mostly she knew about History. If it was another person’s story she could write all about it, yet she was having a hard time filling her own journal.

Hockey was abysmal today. I’m not sure why we need physical education whilst studying for Oxbridge. Apparently it’s to make us well rounded, though I’ve never actually met anyone well rounded. Does anyone remember these things once they get on with their lives?

She huffed out a low laugh, tapping her pen on the edge of her book. Free study was a farce, as per usual. Dakin was hanging out a window, her skirt rucked up about her waist as she blew the smoke from her illicit fag away. That would bring the teachers in, and the very rare free study period they had would be gone. Timms and Rudge were flipping through OK! looking at some sort of worst or best dressed list. Only Scripps was actually studying, looking up only when one of the other girls tossed a ball of paper to tell them to bugger off.

Posner sighed and went back to her journal.

Whatever the reason, the other girls all do well enough at it. They’ve never had issues with being sporty, that’s only me. Whomever came up with the game is mad. The short skirts, the candy cane sticks and that stupid ball. I took it to the shins twice and nearly had an asthma attack.

Really, it’s rather like a bizarre and somewhat homoerotic fantasy. It’s probably been dreamed up by the same sort of man who thinks we all have slumber parties and pillow fights.

There’s something so undignified about being forced to run about and play sport. It’s different for Rudge, Lockwood, for any of the others really. They’re not small or ‘lacking constitution’ as Miss Wilkes is so fond of saying. The others all breeze in and out of the showers, smiling and laughing. I hate even taking my shirt off, I’ve barely a reason to wear a bra other than my pride.

"Posner!"

Her name rang out from too close, and Posner started. “What?”

She cringed when Dakin plunked down on her desk. The laughter of the girls echoed through the room the same way her name had, she hadn’t realised they were watching. It was too late to hide what she had been writing. Especially with Dakin bent over to read what she’d written, her mass of dark curls falling over her shoulder in a way that distracted Posner far too much. Posner closed her eyes and tried to breathe evenly hoping Dakin didn’t notice her distraction.

Closing her eyes wasn’t the best idea, she realised as the book was plucked from her fingers. She jumped up even as Dakin tossed it to Lockwood. “Dakin, give that back. Please.”

“Settle down.” Dakin blocked her way easily, jumping down off the desk and holding the smaller girl back. “It’s only a bit of fun.”

Fun for whom? Lockwood climbed atop a desk, her voice high as she read a page in an imitation of Posner’s voice that made her cringe again. “I wonder sometimes if Dakin notices me. Surely not with all the boys swarming about her-”

“Stop it! That’s private!” Posner was panicked, her attempts to duck around Dakin thwarted. Why would the floor never open to swallow her up when she needed it?

“Lock, stop that.” It was Scripps who finally intervened, her stern look silencing the calls and laughter of the other girls. Hand out, she gestured for the book. “Give it to me.”

“Fine,” Lockwood jumped down, rolling her eyes as she handed it over, “There was nothing interesting in there anyway.”

“Except that Posner’s in looooooove with Dakin,” Timms stage whispered to Rudge who giggled in response.

Scripps ignored them as she handed the book back to Posner. “Here you go.”

Posner clutched it gratefully, the sympathy in Scripps’ eyes harder to take than she’d like. It seemed sympathy was her lot in life, along with being teased by her friends. Book tucked back in her bag, she slouched into her chair, surprised when Scripps sat down beside her.

“They’re jerks sometimes.” Scripps shot a dirty look at Dakin, holding court across the room seemingly having forgotten about the incident with Posner already. Their chatter and laughter only served to make Posner sad. She felt all the more outside of things.

“Girls,” Scripps continued, “can be exceptionally cruel. The fair sex indeed.”

Posner shook her head, pushing back the wisps of ginger hair that always seemed to escape her braid no matter what she tried. “It’s alright, really. I know they don’t mean anything by it.”

“Unintentional cruelty doesn’t make it hurt any less, and don’t give me any bollocks about how you don’t mind.” Scripps wouldn’t let Posner get a word in, determined and charging forward as was her wont. “She does notice you, you know. She’s just selfish when it comes down to it. Dakin’s world is all about Dakin and yes she’s pretty and charming and a bit lovely, but she’s too wrapped up in her own life to be any good for you. She’s my best friend and sometimes I’d like to throttle her.”

“It’s fine, I’m used to it.” It’s Posner’s turn to talk now, holding a hand up to stop Scripps from interrupting. “I’m not like you or the other girls. I’m smart enough, but I’ve never been the one who thinks outside of the box the way some of the others do. I’m not the pretty one, I don’t like boys, or clothes or any of the people in the glossies. Remember in Home Economics when everyone made skirts and I made a plush elephant?”

It had been just another time she’d felt left out and behind. Only then she hadn’t been so used to it, remembering running home in tears after the class, the poor purple elephant abandoned in a bin. “I can’t think of how many times I’ve heard ‘Oh Pos won’t mind, don’t worry it’s just Posner’. It is what it is. They tease you about going to church, Akthar about being Indian, Rudge about being too into sport. They just tease me about everything.”

“Pos-”

“Don’t. It’s my lot in life, I suppose. I really don’t mind anymore.” The thing was she didn’t, most of the time. Posner knew that they all knew of her crush, Scripps especially aware of it. “Dakin, she’s on top of things here. It’s her kingdom, everyone loves her. She’s funny, smart, pretty. She can get away with nearly anything. I’ve never had that.”

Posner knew that when she went to uni things would change for her. Dakin would just be another pretty face, a fish in a bigger pond used to getting by on charm and good looks and being able to flirt her way through everything. Posner was used to having to work for everything, and that would put her in good stead. She had more of an idea of just what was ahead of them, a group of precocious girls from a small school in Sheffield suddenly thrust into the man’s world of academia.

Miss Hector was all too fond of telling them how much had changed, how when she’d been at school everyone had expected women to simply teach until they got married how girls these days were so lucky. It was the type of conversation most of the girls glazed over during, writing each other notes and passing them surreptitiously when Miss Hector’s back was turned. Posner always listened raptly, meaning to take every advantage that she could of this changing world. It was 1983 now, but even Maggie Thatcher as PM couldn’t make the world change overnight.

Not that a woman PM had done much for England, or for the North. Miss Hector said that she was worse than a man, trying to prove that her balls were bigger, that she’d betrayed her sex and feminism. The girls would moan then, and Hector would finally stop, going back to French declensions or a dramatic recital.

If anything she’d just made things worse as far as Pos could tell, too many of their fathers laid off as the steel mills and mines all shut. They’d spending the nights home, drunk, and the days out drinking as there weren’t any jobs to hunt for. . Pos was one of the lucky ones that way, her family unaffected. Dakin was less lucky, not that she’d ever talk about it. Strange what the surface could hide.

“In the end we all just want to get out of here. We need these exams, these scholarships.” The other girls were still laughing, their things gathered up as they got ready to head off to class. Posner watched them enviously, wishing still that she had their ease of things. Sighing, she stood and shouldered her bag. “It is what it is.”