She came to me in ‘88. I, the headmaster of a local school, more used to the excitement of a bulbous, dripping globe of filtered coffee, gently purring and gurgling away in its steamy corner, the condensation cloud drifting up the cold window like a speech bubble.
But I was left speechless. Me, myself not what you would call a stranger to the linguistic arts, always ready to perambulate gently through the verdant fields and forests of our mother toungue, rustling through the foliage of metaphors as similes and adverbs fall like the crisp first leaves of autumn, that foretell only of decline.
And then rebirth. The prefect sash, a green, frayed accoutrement, made of the very lowest of cotton grades, darned like Father McKenzie’s socks by multitudes of council housewives, vowing that whatever slouches from their frowzy dwellings may at least speak of pride, of hope, of the steadfast belief that they are moving towards something, something good.
I knew I was. I trembled as I took her gentle hand, it felt like flowers. The sunlight cast my mind away, shipwrecked my very self on her shores. With eyes the same azure as the Umbrian firmament. Shattered, I leaned closer, a radiant glow, reminiscent of peaches, a wave of healing warmth, perhaps of my own generation, lulled over me. I raised my stick-like arms to the sky and held apart the halo of her sash, all lens flare and flickering eyelashes before descending gently to the island of her shoulders, light grey bobbling in the fine woolen cardigan, beside the shore of the shadowy darkness within the pool that formed as her collarbones shrugged to accept the sash.
And the school applauded. I couldn’t get the taste of liquorice out of my head that day. I was ready for something to happen, my eyes wandered my calendar continuously, wary of missed meetings, and my ears kept a vigilant watch on the ticks of the clock. I opened the window, frosted glass which reflected back a multitude of eyes, like I was about to face some gargantuan arachnid, yet all that greeted me outside was the tarnished aluminium of the canteen refuse bins, and a low tang of tar, warmed to a glister in the bake of another, truly God-given day.
“This is the day! This is the day! That he rose again! That he rose again! We will rejoice! We will rejoice! And be glad in it! And be glad in it!” I love this hymn, I can hear my voice alone, wallowing out as the foundation, nay, keystone to my young charges’ shrill chant. I stand by the Roll of Honour board and sidle my eyes to the back of the hall. As the pool of compliance engendered by their gaze fires lungs into song and straightens backs, I scan for her with heart thumping ahead of tempo. I see her by the canteen menu – red and white gingham, white collar, Spag. bol., Railway sponge, Hymn number 247, Mrs Allen, EXIT, climbing bars, billowing curtain and her, her, of course, HER.
“I visit a restaurant a few times a year. It is in the countryside near a garden centre that me and my wife like to visit. It is in a small car park, behind a brown picket fence, just after a long, dark tunnel. It serves such lovely food, my favourite is their omelettes, and their home-made bread. Well, one day we had finished eating, I had paid, and left a tip, but I had such a feeling of complete satisfaction; a state of wanting no more, nor no less, mind, that I felt thanks should be given to the chef, the person that made this gustatory divinity into life and soothe a traveller’s soul. Yet it was perhaps said satisfaction that left me no more able nor indeed motivated to speak to the chef, than I am to speak to Our Father Himself. Of course, I speak to Our Father in prayer, but I do not believe the chef has access to that patripassianistic channel! Of course, he does, in one way, one direction… The point is, what I am conveying to you, is… this:”
The chef was not there. The restaurant had closed. The building was locked, and no one knew what had happened. Maybe if I had got over my slight shyness at expressing a human emotion, I could have shown the chef his little kitchen was wanted, and appreciated, with a smile, some words. Instead it is gone, and I never even knew his name. I won’t let this happen again.
“Carly. You are going to Bedford School, I hear? Very nice! I’m sure you will have an excellent time there, and get an absolutely top-class education, of course you will, you will continue to grow as you have done these past four years. It has been a privilege and an honour to see you through these times. And I’d just like to say…”
I love you! I love you! I fucking love you and want you, and want you here, now on that old wooden desk, thrown out in the corridor, inkwell, graffiti and all! I want to tear that dress apart and cup your small breasts in my hands while I breathe in the air you exhale.