Digital Ischemia

04/08/2018

Eye of the Storm: part 2 of 4

Follows part 1

When my gawping continued beyond a natural period of surprise, he lunged at the piano stool, swivelled with practised showmanship, and launched into The Beatles – When I’m Sixty-Four. I composed myself by taking in the marvellous plastic veneer of the school upright: one of those mustard efforts with unrealistically textured panels and waxen slab keys. It was at least tuned. He was teasing me with my sixth year ‘light relief’ project. How the hell did he remember that?

He ended with irritatingly cocky embellishment. Two students cheered weakly. Jamie sprang up and flourished a bow. Mr Broadwood caused my chest to flip again. Not just in awe of his appropriately post-apocalyptic skills. Of course he noticed my collapsing dissemblance. I’m sure he took advantage of that idle amusement by volunteering the pair of us to chaperone those unfortunates who were assigned to the assembly hall dormitory.

As the night buffeted and lashed on, everyone else babbled away in their emergency blanket forts, even the reticent ones, and sleepiness seemed as unlikely as sleep. Our guardians’ post by the windows suddenly seemed foolish – what with gale-force gusts, sheets of water, and electrifying forks of lightning.
“Does it strike you as daft to be right beside eighty square metres of single-pane?”
He laughed. “Not keen on striking.” Always the ready quip.

The musty quilted rug I was perching on was suddenly a magic carpet, slaloming toward safety in the lee of that sturdy, serviceable piano. We made our own fort from empty blanket boxes and let the inevitable cheeky comments bounce off. So long as they were enjoying mocking us, they were enjoying themselves.

“Do you remember that other storm?” He asked tentatively, as though counselling me through trauma. Don’t be ridiculous: whenever the weather was wild I thought of him. That particular meteorological event had been all about wind. We had emerged en masse afterward, under-slept and under-informed, and had milled about like zombie ants. Everywhere had been tangled with strewn branches. Suburban tree-lined avenues had been transformed into queues of war-wounded amputees with weeping gashes.

One especially agitated member of the community had barked for assistance clearing roads and sorting usable timber. We had shrugged and let him shout instructions. The hilarious nature of the giant wheeze would all become apparent in due course. For the moment we had contentedly resigned ourselves to merely collecting mock-fodder.

After an hour dragging wet wood, the novelty and my energy had worn off like the skin on my palms. I had cunningly worked my way behind a conveniently large, damp, ready bonfire to obscure a skive. I gobbled half a packet of sugar and synthetic flavour lozenges and succumbed to the haze of an insulin spike.

“Do I know you from somewhere?” There he’d been, Mr Broadwood, the craft and design teacher, slouching among the debris. Somehow the residual hypoglycaemia gave me pique that came out not too shabby.
“I doubt it. I don’t usually do woodwork.”

For a terrifying long moment, he had raised his eyebrows and let me squirm. Had I just totally gone beyond the bounds there? Disrespected him and his profession? Of course not; we weren’t in school, I wasn’t in his class, plus he had started it, if that wasn’t too childish a retort. But that was how he kept the edge with his pupils, kept them teetering between triumph and ruin.

Somehow he roped me in to some woodcraft effort he had going with the primary school. It was fun. I never figured out how. I got to spend a whole Saturday swishing through sopping undergrowth, helping a few wide-eyed weans build a hut in some spare woodland. We all trooped home, mysteriously enriched by the experience. I was released at my road end before he deposited the last two fizzing forest folk at their respective homes. He had been careful that we were never alone together. That was how he kept the tension. Kept me teetering. They had planned elaborate activities for the summer; I would be gone.

Strange to think at that time he had been so keen to appear older, to fake the superiority he didn’t feel. Fifteen years on he was trying to be young still. Such as not quite getting around to telling me had a daughter. But that wasn’t an issue: she tactfully introduced herself after one of our classes, before I did anything daft. I like her.

Miraculously, the fifteen year old hut was still standing. You couldn’t call it a professional finish, but it was waterproof and private and securable – from the inside. Its furnishings and my arse will never be the same again. Still, it was quieter and more comfortable than a piano for succumbing to the effect of him with wet hair.

Now, here he is, another five years on, sopping wet again, seeming totally childlike in the face of adult problems. And I’m no help.

continues in part 3

1 Comment »

  1. […] …continues in part 2 […]

    Pingback by Eye of the Storm: part 1 of 4 | Digital Ischemia — 04/08/2018 @ 18:10


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