What Good Looks Like

Photo by Moyan Brenn (copied from Flickr)
Photo by Moyan Brenn (copied from Flickr)

Wednesday 22/3

“If Sally has a Burger and @Jason has five Burgers and zainab has no Burgers, how many Burgers could they each have if they share? Show your working.”

This question is easy of course. I am only putting it down to show you what I have to answer now I am in Sparrow table. Sparrow table is for people who hide the fish so they run out of battery and people who throw their Burgers at lunch and now it is for people like me. I think in this question I must be a zainab.

I am not obviously. I am Ruby Clancey, I am eight (nearly nine), and I am going to be a vet when I am old enough and can find a sick animal. I checked out Sparrows at freetime on my picturetable, they don’t look so dumb. After lunch today we did Describing, so here is a sparrow Description: they have funny claws like a wild chicken and a too-long tail and the one on my picturetable has a boggly eye like nathan when he puts pens up his nose. So not that great you might think. But Diary, I have missed the key features! A sparrow is more like:

These Five Things Will Make You Love Sparrows

  1. Tiger Stripes
  2. Beak is like a Snail’s shell
  3. Always Concentrating
  4. Flies
  5. Etc.

Etc. means “and so on”. This is the last of the handy tricks Mrs Pointer told us before the smiling man came and said we’re going to let you go. Mum once said that if you love something you let it go, so Mrs Pointer must be very happy. [private]


Wednesday 29/3

“What is the next number in the sequence?”

1       3             5          7          9          ???

What a mystery! How can you predict the future? It is very simple, because a ‘sequence’ is a hidden pattern. The answer is of course 11 (ELEVEN) because it is the next of the odd numbers. What is an odd number, Ruby? An odd number is a number that doesn’t fit in with the even numbers.

We have had one week of being in the tables now. It happened so fast. The smiling man read out each of our names, and the grade we have so far this year. When he read mine out to everyone I got the hot feeling on my cheeks because it didn’t sound good, but I don’t understand some of the lessons even though I do try. I do drawing and thinking and Describing okay, but I’m better at thinking in shapes than numbers. That’s why best friend @Tobias Beaumont sits with the Owls, and I sit with frankie and lucy and nathan and whatever he has put into his nose each day. But a sequence goes up and up, forever! The smiling man said that now the school is an Academy and expensive teachers like Mrs Pointer have been let go, there is more money for nice things like multi-touch picturetables and a new fish tank with upgraded fish and Biometric Scanning, which is very grownup. I told Mum we are getting Biometric Scanning like happens at her Assignment and she didn’t say anything, which I think is the sign of understanding and respect between two grownups.

When we came in on the first Monday after it happened, it was like a different Willow Prime, a brand new one. Someone had painted over all the rude drawings on the walls, including the one of the boy’s thing which made us girls laugh, though when @Quentin had tried to show us his we said no thanks like it says to on the picturetables, though very politely because he is an @. We sat on the swings, and they were not rusty. And when I got into the classroom, a cartoon bear said to me, Welcome to Sparrow table. So everyone would know exactly where their place was. At lunch today, @Tobias sat with us and told us his mum said it was about time too. But I think it is more about numbers and things.

P.S. the next next number is 13, which Mrs. Pointer once said is unlucky for sums, or something.


Serveday 5/4 (Thursday really)
Question Of The Day:

How are you doing today?

It’s Work Week! I mean Hi, welcome to Work Week, how may I help you? On Monday the cartoon bear told us all to check out under our picturetables for a very special present. I love love love presents. Yesterday, Mum made flourcakes with the butter she’d been saving all quarter. I took the last one into school to split it with @Tobias. I think @Mrs Beaumont prefers @Tobias eat the sushis and stuff she gets made for him, but he really liked it. He wanted to have another, so I shall have to hope Mum can get more butter this season. Would she be angry if I split our food? No, because I would be Sally, splitting her Burger with poor @Tobias/zainab.

Anyway, presents. Everyone pulled out little packets with their names on, just for them! All the @s had dark suits like the smiling man and heroes on TV. Some of the other tables had jeans and shirts, jumpers, and leather satchels, the sorts of things Mrs. Pointer used to wear. @Mary said her suit was too boring and told Sarah she had to swap her flower-pattern dress with her, but just as they were about to a loud buzzing noise made all our eyes vibrate so @Mary decided to wear what she was given. Inside my packet was a beautiful red-and-white striped apron, a little paper hat, a metal spatula, and some metal Burgers. Even nathan got some green-brown patchy overalls like a forest, though I do not know if he will make more mess or less in them.

We have to wear our outfits all week, and learn how to use them. Whenever I flip a metal Burger at the right time, my spatula makes a little ping noise which makes me feel really good in the back of my head, like when Mum tickles me just right and my little forearm-hairs stand up. nathan has to bang a block of ice outside into little cubes and sometimes he bangs the floor instead, but overall he seems contented.


Wednesday 12/4

It has been another week but we have to keep our outfits on now, and the cartoon bear tells us to do more things. I quite like my stripy apron, but more surprising is how much the Owls love their suits. While we are flipping our Burgers or sweeping the floor etc. they have to stand around a big screen and do Brain Storming. I am far away and my spatula does a buzz that makes my hand shake when I stop so I can’t hear them very well, but it sounds like Brain Storming is when you make up a story together about toothpaste or deodorant or in sewer ants, and then when you can’t decide how it will end, have an argument. It must be a lot of fun, because sometimes the bell goes for freetime and @Marcie and @Godric or whoever will carry on Brain Storming at each other right the way until Content Hour. @Tobias does not do this though, sometimes he does not take part in the story at all, but looks over like he wants to play with the spatula. But if I let go of it, it buzzes.

Today, we started Interaction. Robin table had to come and each buy a Burger from me while the bear on my picturetable told me what to say. So I will say oh my epic gosh did you see the dress Philomena Saturna wore on the red carpet, I mean wow! to which the Robin will reply I know, right? and both of our things will ping and we’ll get the nice back-of-head feeling. I don’t know what to call it. It was fun to start with, like being in TV, but then saying the same things over and over was weird. When the bear told me to say to Sarah that her new yellow badge was very her even though it’s not very Sarah and Sarah is very mean, I told it I didn’t want to and it started growling and made me think of dead animals. That’s why I am on the rubbish pile behind the estate, because when Mum gets home I don’t want her finding me until she has taken off her overalls from the ChickenFac.


Thursday Morning(!) 20/4

Ruby’s Good-Behaviour Spelling Test Practice:

  • Shrimp
  • Credit
  • Super-size
  • Department
  • Artisanal



At free period, everyone on Sparrow and related tables is supposed to stop in the afternoon to check out music videos, so I am entering additional content to you, diary, to add value. I still have to wear my greasy stripy apron during video time, but it has one pocket in the front for order tickets and tips, and now for an extra page of you!

So the oddest thing happened earlier. @Tobias broke off from the other Owls and @people at freetime, and we played together like we used to, up by the front gate. He was being the lazy union worker and I was the supervisor, and we were rolling on the tarmac ‘til our outfits got dirty, when @Tobias stopped fighting.

Come on tobias, you workshy freeloader, I shouted like they do on TV.

No, look at that, he said, and he pointed at the school sign.

It’s changed, he said. I checked it out.

It still said Willow Prime, but it had a kind of logo behind it and lots of companies’ names all around. And it looked like underneath somebody had written something. A bit like the writing on the walls they painted over, only this was very neat!

Passionate achievement of individual excellence.

What does it mean, I asked @Tobias. He checked out his shoes and said, it doesn’t mean anything. Then he told me to be careful, because I didn’t have to do what I was learning all the time even though I am really trying to get good like the bear said, and then things went quiet so I thought of my learned Sparrow Content and the videos and asked him, did he know The Seven Signs Of Hair Stress?

The sign started buzzing at us in this high pitch that you can only just hear, so we walked back down to the big grey class building. The buzz means end of freetime, but nathan gets to stay outside now. Break or not break he only does one thing, and that is breaking bigger and bigger chunks of ice. They must have had to bring special ice down from a Fac or something, this was bigger than him and nathan is actually big when you see him swinging the hammer they gave him in his brown-green suit. And it is good that nathan has something he is good at like how Mum is so good at the ChickenFac that they make her stay ‘til after I am asleep sometimes, but does he have to make such a noise, I asked @Tobias? Because nathan was shouting at this ice like the shout could kill it, and when his hammer made a big crack down the middle I have never heard a boy scream quite like that, except on the TV shows where something gets killed.

@Tobias said, don’t go near him. I said why not, he looks happy, and @Tobias didn’t say anything.


Friday 24/4

In the morning, I was getting ready to do Burger Practice and watching nathan get ready for Smashing Practice (the block of ice had a scary person’s face on it, wearing a bandage) when the bear came on all our picturetables and said, it is time for a celebration. I wondered if maybe Mrs. Pointer was coming back and I could serve her a Welcome Home Burger with candle, but the bear said Sarah, stand up. She jumped out of her seat like it had given her the don’t-do-that-again shock, but she looked happy. The bear said Sarah, congratulations, you may join Owl table, please collect your new outfit. Everyone went silent except for nathan smashing ice and screaming outside. Then @Sarah screamed yes, yes, slammed her fist on her old picturedesk, glared at the Robins she used to sit with and ran over to Owl table, nearly crying, which made the Owls shuffle awkwardly. Nobody said anything, then an old voice said, you see?

We all jumped, because the smiling man had come in without anyone knowing. He was smiling more than ever, then he said, you see, all of us can become the people we were meant to be if we try. Even that boy nathan has found his true calling. We heard another whoop from outside, and then I noticed that every time he whooped, some people on my table would flinch. frankie and lucy, they shuddered like he was smashing them into pieces outside.

In the afternoon we were all doing our table things, when @Tobias brushed past me and whispered, did you notice?

I whispered, notice what?

The smiling man, he said. He was older. They replace them just like that.

I thought about Mrs. Pointer, and the hurting buzzer sounded. The man, a man, had come in. Interaction, he said. @Tobias and ruby isn’t it, since you’re talking why don’t you start?

I picked up the metal spatula and pulled down my sticky apron, which is now even greasy in my dreams. I have always tried to do Interaction right, but my words come out in the wrong order, and none of them are things I want to say to my friends. My picturetable flashed the message, and I tried to forget who I was talking to.

Hello sir, I said. How can I help you today?

@Tobias sort of smiled but he couldn’t keep it up. Like the last time I asked Mum how her day was and she said I manage, and then didn’t say anything all night.

Hello, he said, can I have –

No hello, said the man. She is serving you.

I held up my spatula and managed to look like service.

– a burger please, said @Tobias. The buzzer went. No please, the man said.

You won’t believe what happens next.

I am not supposed to look directly at the @s for Interaction, but from under my paper cap I saw him stare at the man. Then he looked at me and said, Hi ruby. How’re you doing?

All the Owls gasped. The other Sparrows went ummmm.

I looked at him, and I got this hot feeling behind my chest because he’s never said my name out loud in the classroom before and he’s not meant to, and it was like I wanted to be crushed from the outside so I couldn’t be found by anyone, but I also wanted to expand forever from my middle and fill up everything. The two things pushed each other for a long time, and then I was saying a thing before I knew I was saying it.

Hey Toby. How are you? I missed you.

I felt the tingle behind my neck, but I hadn’t flipped a Burger or swept the floor or recited my Sparrow Content. So I think it must have been another feeling I don’t have a name for. The spatula felt very heavy, all of a sudden.

Everything slowed down, then sped up. The Owls shrieked, @Sarah most of all, and the buzzers buzzed and nathan smashed his ice and the smiling man screamed about disobedient little etc’s but Toby and I didn’t hear any of it until we were already running past the Biometric Scanning and cameras, over the tarmac and under the Willow Prime sign, passionately achieving our individual excellence, jumping and flapping our wings, and I saw in his brown eyes something between a brave little sparrow and a strong, angry bear. [/private]

James Mitchell

About James Mitchell

James Mitchell is, mostly, an advertising strategist and copywriter in London. But when he'd rather tell the truth, he writes speculative fiction, and is currently finishing a Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck. His stories have appeared in The Mechanics' Institute Review, Kill Screen and Universe among others. His novel, The Here And Now, is nearly there. Hurry him up @jamescmitchell.

James Mitchell is, mostly, an advertising strategist and copywriter in London. But when he'd rather tell the truth, he writes speculative fiction, and is currently finishing a Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck. His stories have appeared in The Mechanics' Institute Review, Kill Screen and Universe among others. His novel, The Here And Now, is nearly there. Hurry him up @jamescmitchell.

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