Are you all right, Sir?
“It was a dark and stormy night.” Sir stopped reading, and crushed Smedley’s essay into a ball. We shifted in our seats and waited for the throw.
No joking, Sir is a wicked shot. Last week he hit B-Boy between the eyebrows with a stapler from across the room and knocked him out of his chair. That was because B-Boy had called Shakespeare a paedo. When B-Boy got up, Sir explained that fourteen was normal back in the day, and told us to stop being disgusting. B-Boy had to write “Shakespeare is not a paedo” two hundred times before he could go home. B-Boy can barely write his name.
“Laser swords. AK-47s. Space pirates. Jesus fucking Christ.” Sir walked to the corner of the classroom and dropped Smedley’s essay into the bin. He faced the class with this mental expression. It looked like he was trying to smile and scream at the same time. It’s amazing how many emotions you can pack into one face.
“And you call yourselves a fifth form,” he said. “Lasers and lightning. You apply them like a whore’s mascara.”
I wondered if Sir really knew about whores. I worried if he was as angry as he looked.
“These devices merely hide the inadequacy of what lies beneath. Japanese monsters. Superheroes. Huge packages, with tiny contents. Why not a fight in the sunshine? Or amongst the daff-o-dils. Why not, a fight in a classroom? If your underdeveloped frontal lobes contained enough real feeling, enough heart, enough humanity, none of this would be necessary.”
I knew what he was getting at. Nobody else had a clue. In a bit of a panic, the rich kids of the front row tried to do their ‘calming influence’ thing.
“Yes Sir,” they said together, like clones or something.
I wondered why Sir had pronounced daffodils so funny. The Rock, who was sat next to me, picked his nose and ate it. The Rock is a fat fuck. More like an island. I kicked him under the desk.
“You are young men. You live in a world I no longer inhabit. So why not share honestly. Allow me to see through your eyes and try to see through mine. Use your hearts. Connect. You don’t need these dark and stormy nights, just your own lives.”
“Lightning is cool,” said Cohen.
“I don’t give a shit about cool,” Sir shouted. “I don’t give a shit about swords. I want to know about youth. What’s so special about it?”
That was when I knew something was going to happen. Sir never says ‘shit’. We’re not allowed to say it either. Sir says, ‘Shit is vulgar, in both senses’, whatever that means. Fuck was OK though. According to Sir, ‘Fuck is liberating’, which was funny, given the circumstances.
Sir threw his tweed jacket behind his desk. He practically tore his tie off. Then he pulled his shirt apart. That was cool. Like the Hulk. One of the buttons hit Sharad square in the eyeball. Sharad squealed like a baby. That was even cooler.
“Are you all right, Sir?” said the front row.
“Does this look like a young man’s body to you?” Sir shouted.
“No Sir,” said the front row.
The problem with that lot is they think they can agree their way out of anything.
It really didn’t. Sir’s tummy was hairy and round. I noticed some fluff in his belly button. I imagined Mrs. Jenkins lying next to that body, and felt a bit gross. Sir began to hop about on one leg, trying to take off a shoe.
“What kind of a woman would want a body like this, when they could have one like yours,” Sir said.
The front row said nothing. The front row has a good nose for a trick question. Sir hopped about a bit more. B-Boy laughed at exactly the wrong moment. The shoe hit him in the mouth. I think I saw a tooth bounce off the window.
“Forgot how to be young, did I? Is that it?”
Sir started working at his trousers. He already had his belt off. I shook my head. Don’t do it, Sir, I thought. I willed him to stop – I really did. This was getting worse than drama classes, when Mister Perkins had been to the pub at lunchtime.
No bum, Sir. No meat, I thought. That would be crossing a line. That would be bad for all of us. Very bad.
“Come on then, tell me. What’s it like to be a young man. What’s the secret? What’s so special? Remind me what I’ve lost.” He looked at me then, for the first time in weeks and it was proper scary, even for me. Made me glad I was carrying my knife.
“Maybe it’s better if some things stay secret,” I said.
“Your art teacher doesn’t seem to think so. My wife doesn’t seem to think so. But she’s ten years younger than me, isn’t she. Closer to your age than mine. Got a foot in each camp.”
I said nothing then, mainly because he was down to his boxer shorts, and I didn’t want to encourage him. Marks and Spencer’s. I saw the label as he pulled them down.
“Got one of these, have you.” Sir began to spin his thingy round and round, like a helicopter. Massive. I have to admit it. Mine is big, but his was bigger. That was a surprise. It went round and round. The class groaned. The bell rang for break.
Normally everyone rushes for the door when that happens, but nobody moved. Even the back row was transfixed. Sir stopped spinning. The bell had done something – brought him back. I had a thought.
“It was all a dream,” I said.
“What?” Sir said, looking confused.
“You said stories should never begin with storms, and never end with it being a dream.”
“Maybe this one’s the exception.”
“What do you mean?”
“It never happened. All of it. We just imagined it. Then we woke up and got on with our lives.”
“Lived happily ever after.”
“Whatever,” I said. I turned to the class. They looked scared. “You keep your mouths shut.” I opened my blazer and showed them my knife.
Sir put his clothes back on. He was shaking all over. I guess he was thinking about what he’d just done.
“It was all a dream,” I said to the class, proper menacing.The front row repeated me.
“It was all a dream.”
© A.M. Steiner
School was different in the eighties.