A Story to Enjoy continued

Continuing Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson – A story to enjoy.

Cynthia Mott discovered a body in her garden shed, but it was the day of the school play, so she shut the door and left it. She is now worried that ignoring a body might be a criminal offence. We join the story after the play, when the children are returning to their classrooms:

Andrew Smyth followed his class to their classroom. The children were almost running and began pushing to be first through the door. He entered the room, amazed at how quickly they could fill a space with noise and mess.

‘Quiet!’ he shouted. For a moment there was silence, then gradually the noise began again, quietly at first, quickly growing to the same level as when he had entered the room.

His teaching assistant was already there, helping the children to change. She was called Maddy Brown. ‘Mad Brown Cow’ is what Andrew called her in private, in the pub with his mates. She was a nice enough woman, old enough to be his mother and sometimes she treated him more like a forgetful child than the teacher, not that he minded.

He flung himself into the chair beside his desk and slumped against the armrests. He was tall, with a mass of sandy hair and eyes that twinkled when he smiled. He was slightly too thin, but with good shoulders and a confidence that girls seemed to like.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I think that went pretty well. We certainly gave them a show.’

Maddy Brown came across to ask him where he wanted the costumes to be put.

‘Let’s just heap them on that table,’ he said. ‘We can sort them out later, when the kids have gone.’

‘Do you think it might be better to put them straight onto their hangers?’ suggested his assistant. ‘It will be difficult to remember who wore what, and when we put them away in the costumes cupboard they all need to be labelled and back on their hangers, ready for next year.’

‘Oh, okay,’ he smiled. He did not really care. He was hoping that he wouldn’t be there next year.

Andrew Smyth was a teacher by default. His passion at school had been history. He was good at remembering dates, could argue causes and evidence and had loved the stories that explained why and how things had developed. Unfortunately he had loved socialising and having a laugh even more. His exam results were nowhere near good enough to read history at university and he looked destined to join his father in the corner shop, stacking cans all day and being polite to people who dropped litter and tried to steal bars of chocolate.

A careers teacher at school had taken him to one side and suggested he try to get a place on a teacher training course. Andrew had regularly helped out with the boys’ local football club and that would help his application and one of the minor universities, one that formerly had been a polytechnic, was sure to take him. They would take into account his working class background and the school would give him a good reference. He just had to perform well in the interview and that would not be a problem, he was an excellent public speaker and enjoyed an audience. His father was keen to have ‘someone in the family who went to university’ and Andrew decided it would be a good way to avoid shop work, so he applied. He had hoped to teach history but was told that he stood a better chance in primary education. The government was trying to encourage more men to teach the younger years, he was more likely to get a place.

That had been four short years ago. He had attended university, made friends with the sports teachers and endured regular teaching practices in a variety of schools. His grades were not great but they were good enough to graduate with a middling degree and, as promised, being male was definitely a bonus when it came to applying for jobs. He had survived one term at the school and was very much hoping to leave in September. He found Miss Mott, his mentor, to be a stressed and pernickety woman. She gave a whole new meaning to the word ‘pedantic’. Nothing that he did was right, from his wall displays to how his class sat in assembly.

The trouble was, he just did not care. He liked the children, enjoyed chatting to them and making them laugh. He liked being a mini celebrity in their eyes, the centre of attention in the playground. He just couldn’t bring himself to care if they ran in the corridor or knelt up on the carpet or (worse sin of all) played around in the toilets when they should have been outside on a freezing playground.

He watched them now as they struggled out of their costumes. They were all talking loudly, laughing about ‘the fight’ and saying whether or not their parents had been there. Maddy approached him with a stack of reading books.

‘Do you want to hear readers while I help them change?’

He took the books and read the name from the first card. Billy came across, wearing vest and pants and sat on the small chair next to him. Maddy draped a grey sweatshirt around his shoulders to keep him warm as he opened his reading book and started to read. He knew the story by heart and could say the words without looking. Andrew was not looking either, so sometimes what the child said did not match the words on the page, but neither of them noticed. He got to the last page and paused.

‘Can I have a new book now?’ he asked hopefully.

‘Not today,’ said Andrew. ‘I think we need to read it once more, to be sure you really know those words.’ The new books were stored in a cupboard in the corridor. He didn’t want to have to spend time looking for the next book. Not today. Today had been enough work already. He just wanted to get them all dressed and hand them back to their parents so he could leave for the day.

He called the next name and sent the disappointed Billy back to continue getting dressed. The boy meandered back to his place. He stepped over newspaper that was spilling from a bin in the corner, trailed his fingers through a tub of Lego bricks and walked past a display board where paintings drooped from their pins. They had all painted Christmas gifts and cut them out, and they had been stapled under a large paper tree. The paper had started to curl in the warm classroom, some of the shiny stars they used were now on the floor. Billy could see his picture, where it was pinned, near to the corner of the board. Mr Smyth had written ‘Lots of Christmas Presents’ in large paper letters and Billy’s painting was partially under the last ‘s’. He thought they would probably be allowed to take them home on Friday. Usually the walls were cleared before the holidays. He hoped someone had told Mr Smyth. Sometimes he forgot things like that.

Maddy Brown carried six laden hangers to the rack in the corner. She noticed a heap of props, the treasures carried by the kings, abandoned on the painting rack. They belonged in Miss Mott’s classroom, so Maddy scooped them up and went over to Andrew.

‘I think I’ll take these over to Oak Class now,’ she told him. ‘It’s not worth risking them being spoiled or lost. It would be annoying if at home time someone put one in their bag “by mistake”. Can you manage for a minute?’

Andrew nodded, lost in a daydream while Lucy stammered over words in her book. Maddy watched them for a moment then decided not to comment and walked to Oak Class.

As she walked along the corridor she could hear various levels of noise drifting from the open classroom doors. Cherry Class was by far the loudest. Had she not just departed, she would have assumed the children had been left unsupervised. The volume of Pear Class was audible but subdued. Esther Pritchard allowed Year Two some freedom but kept the noise below a certain level.

Maddy nearly collided with a small boy solemnly carrying a book in both hands as he left his classroom.
‘I finished my book,’ he said proudly, walking towards the book cupboard to collect the next one.
Maddy watched him walk. One plimsoll was only partially on and he was squashing the back as he lopped along the corridor. He gazed at the walls as he walked, absorbing the nativity scene collages and the paper chains that had been strewn across the ceiling.

She turned back to the open door of Oak Class and knocked politely as she entered the quiet room, looking for Cynthia Mott, cautiously, as though she might be told off like a child. She respected Miss Mott’s teaching experience but she was not an individual who was easy to like.

The class was in near silence. Most children were already dressed in their grey sweatshirts and navy trousers or skirts. June Fuller was kneeling in one corner, helping a girl with her tights. She was trying not to grimace as her hand made contact with the clammy foot speckled with grains of sand. She hastily pulled up the sweaty tights and smiled at Maddy.

The class sat at their tables, costumes heaped in mounds in front of them, books in hands, mouths closed. Cynthia was carefully hanging the costumes one at a time, while her gaze constantly swept the room, ready to pounce should she spy the beginnings of an illicit conversation. Outwardly calm, only a small frown belied the tension within. She nodded at Maddy.

‘Ah, Mrs Brown, are those the kings’ treasures? Lovely, I was hoping that someone responsible would take care of them. Could you kindly place them on my desk and I will put them away later. Thank you.
‘Uh, Judith, I do not believe anyone asked you to move from your seat. Sit down and read your book. When you have finished you can put up your hand.
‘Tommy, stop wriggling. If you need to go to the toilet go at once.’

The nervous Tommy sighed with relief and pushed past Mrs Brown on his urgent visit to the toilets.
‘And do not run!’ he heard as he rushed full speed along the corridor, unsure if he would get there in time.

Maddy followed his departing back along the corridor. She smiled at his panic and wondered why boys always left toilet trips to the very last minute.

Cynthia Mott continued sorting the costumes, hanging them tidily. Her mind was a whirl of thoughts.
‘If he died yesterday, I might not have noticed. Maybe he was in my shed all night. In which case, his family will report his absence and begin to look for him. If they find him bolted in my shed they will know he was discovered previously.’ A new thought came to her, striking her already taut nerves and causing bile to rise in her throat.

‘What if they think I locked him in while he was still alive? What if the police arrive and accuse me of causing his death? What if they are there now? They could arrive at the school at any moment. I will be publicly humiliated. I might even be arrested.’
Footsteps could be heard approaching the classroom and Cynthia dropped the costume she was holding in alarm. A form appeared in the doorway. It was Jane Lancaster.

‘Ah, Miss Mott. Sorry to disturb you but I think we need to have a staff meeting when the children have left. We can discuss this morning’s play and write down our thoughts for next year, while it’s still fresh in our minds.’

‘No.’ Cynthia snapped. ‘That will not be possible.’
Jane Lancaster looked rather taken aback.
‘It won’t be for long,’ she said, ‘I do feel it would be of huge benefit. I realise you are all tired but ten minutes in the staffroom seems a sensible plan.’
‘No,’ Cynthia repeated, ‘that will not be possible.’ She hesitated, searching for a legitimate excuse to give to the irritating woman. It seemed a ridiculous idea, even if she were not embroiled in impending disaster.
‘I am afraid I am suffering from a terrible headache and need to return home promptly.’

Jane Lancaster looked at her. She certainly did look extremely pale. It would be inconvenient if she were absent for the last few days of term. She decided to relent.

‘Of course, I am sorry to hear that,’ she sympathised. ‘Are you okay to carry on or do you want June to see the children out? There’s only ten minutes until home time.’

Cynthia leaped at the unexpected reprieve. ‘That would be most appreciated,’ she replied, looking at June for confirmation.

June surveyed the classroom, strewn with costumes waiting to be hung, and the children, who would explode into gleeful noise as soon as Miss Mott left. She had her own children to collect from the junior school but she supposed they would just have to wait a bit longer. She knew they would greet her with resentful eyes at having been left until all the other children had gone. They would be standing in the school office, looking abandoned and uncared for, and she would feel like a negligent parent. Again. She wondered why it should be her and not Jane Lancaster who had to cover for Miss Mott. She thought, yet again, about how little she was paid in relation to what was expected of her. As usual, she seemed to have no choice. She sighed in acquiescence.

Cynthia Mott hurriedly gathered her bag and struggled into her coat. As she flew from her classroom she spied Mr Carter, bucket in hand, as he prepared to start cleaning the floors when the children had left.

‘Do phone me nice and early if you are too ill to work tomorrow,’ she heard, as she rushed along the corridor, scrabbling for her car keys even as she walked. She needed to get home and sort out this ghastly mess before it was too late.

Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson is available in bookshops for £11.95, but you can buy copies directly from me for £7.95 (with free UK postage). Simply complete the contact form below, and I will send you a copy (payment by sterling cheque or bank transfer is due on receipt of the book).

Who would you like to make smile this Christmas? A signed book is a great gift!

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