The final extract from Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson – A story to enjoy.
Cynthia Mott found a body in her shed, but it was the day of the school play, and feeling stressed, she decided to shut the door and ignore it. She is now worried that this might be a criminal offence. We rejoin the story after the school play. The teachers are returning to their homes, and we glimpse something of their private lives.
Jane Lancaster returned to her office and sat at her desk. It was nicely solid, bought as a congratulatory gift by her husband when she first received the headship. She sighed. Life was sometimes so complicated. She felt the burden of her news like a physical weight within her and she had wanted to start preparing the staff. She realised that they would be tired after the nativity play, but that would have worked to her advantage. None of them would have wanted to linger today. She could have discussed the play, let them all vent their feelings and then at the end, just before they left, she could have told them the news and suggested they arrange a special meeting before the beginning of next term in order to fully discuss it.
They would be shocked. Of course they would, that went without saying. But she had so little information to give them that she hoped to avoid too much discussion initially. She just wanted to warn them, let the idea sink in during the Christmas break and then try to confront it properly when they were all accustomed to the idea. Now that wretched woman had scuppered her plans. Whilst she could not help having a headache, Jane felt that Miss Mott would have been more accommodating had she respected Jane’s position. Had she, in fact, respected Jane. She reached for her pen and a sheaf of letters that needed signing and with another sigh began to read.
Cynthia reached her car feeling highly agitated. She fumbled with her keys and dropped them twice before she was able to fit them into the lock. She was feeling very sick and slightly light headed as she steered the car back into the High Street and began to drive home. A gaggle of teenaged boys saw her approaching and purposefully stepped out in front of the car, staring belligerently at her car as they strolled slowly across the road.
‘Oh, they need to learn a lesson in manners,’ thought Cynthia, pressing on the accelerator rather than the brake. She was surprised by the speed at which the car lurched forward, having intended to only rev the engine before braking to give them a warning. The boys leaped onto the kerb, the car narrowly missing them. They turned and Cynthia saw real fear in their eyes as she passed them. She glanced in her rear view mirror and watched as one spat his contempt at the departing car and then she was gone, driving around the slight bend at the end of the street, pausing at the roundabout. She felt a laugh rise in her stomach and giggled.
‘Goodness, I might have killed one of them. That really would give the police cause for suspicion. Two bodies in one day. I would be positively notorious.’ She indicated and turned slowly into her own lane. The giggles had subsided now and she felt very close to crying. What was she about to encounter? In her mind she could already see flashing lights and police tape cordoning off her house. She could imagine the solemn faced constable approaching her car, could hear him cautioning her and telling her she needed to accompany him to the station. She could almost see her neighbours’ faces peering from behind their curtains, hear the mutterings of judgement and her respectability crumbling. She rounded the last corner.
Esther Pritchard had also been keen to leave school promptly, so was delighted to hear that the impromptu staff meeting had been postponed. As soon as the last child was safely handed over to his parents, she collected her coat from behind the door of her tidy classroom and left. She rarely stayed for long at the end of a school day as both her boys walked home from their school and although Rob was often there, he certainly could not be relied on.
She parked in the driveway of the modern semi that served as the Baptist Manse and hurried inside. She was greeted by a trail of shoes and bags and coats, leading from the front door to the kitchen. She walked along the hall, tidying as she went. She was hoping to chat to Rob, tell him about the nativity play and maybe have a tea together.
‘Hi Mum,’ called Joseph as she entered the kitchen. ‘What can I eat? I’m starving.’
‘You’re always starving,’ she reminded him, removing the open box of cereal from his hand. She reached for the kettle and began filling it. ‘There’s some cold pizza in the fridge from yesterday,’ she suggested. ‘Do you want a drink?’
‘I’ll have a hot chocolate,’ said Samuel through a mouthful of toast, spraying crumbs over his pullover. He brushed them off absently and stuck out a foot to kick his brother as he passed. Joseph ignored him and pulled the pizza from the fridge.
‘You need a plate for that,’ said Esther as he took a mouthful, ‘and where’s Dad?’
‘Study,’ stated Joseph, moving out of reach of Samuel, who was endeavouring to steal some of the pizza.
‘Honestly, you two,’ said Esther fondly, leaving the kitchen to find her husband. She was approaching the study door when the telephone shrilled. She stopped and listened, hoping it would be nothing important. She really wanted to share her day and laugh about it.
‘Hello? Rob Pritchard,’ she heard her husband’s rich voice answering. ‘Oh, hello Roselyn, how are you today?’
Esther made a face. The telephone rang a million times a day, usually at meal times. At least half the times it seemed to be Roselyn. She was somewhat needy, which Esther understood. Her husband was always willing to listen to her problems, even the imagined ones, for many hours at a time. This Esther did not understand.
She pushed open the door. Rob smiled when he saw her and blew a kiss. She moved her hand in a drinking gesture and received an upraised thumb in response. Wishing she could sometimes disable all telephones she returned to the kitchen.
The boys had disappeared, leaving crumbs and dirty knives strewn across the work surface. She could hear the television blaring in the lounge so took the hot chocolate in there.
The lounge was fairly large, though when filled with chairs for prayer meetings and Bible studies often felt too small. A worn blue carpet covered the floor and curtains from a previous house, which did not quite match, hung forlornly at the large bay window, partially hidden now by the Christmas tree. The tree was much too big for the room and Esther wondered why she always allowed Rob and the boys to persuade her that big was essential when it came to trees. It was covered in an eclectic array of ornaments, some collected over the years, some teacher gifts from classes she had taught and some made by the boys when they were younger. All looked rather tatty this year but there was no money to replace them. Esther felt that she was the only person who noticed.
There was a computer on a small table in one corner which was for family use. The boys were not allowed computers or televisions in their bedrooms. It was the cause of frequent arguments as one invariably wanted to play something noisy while the other was attempting to watch a programme. Of course, neither boy could enjoy either when the church held a meeting there. Esther wished the church had invested in a house that had a study large enough for meetings, but there was nothing she could do to change it. Ministers were supposed to feel led by God to a church congregation, they were meant to have no opinion about the house which that church then provided. Except for gratitude of course.
Both her sons were lying on sofas, socks off, cushions behind heads, elongated limbs draped randomly across the chairs. She smiled, proud of their size and jealous of the relaxed abandon they portrayed.
‘Ooh, thanks Mum,’ said Samuel as she came in, struggling to sit up so he could receive his drink.
‘Do you two have any homework?’ asked Esther, knowing they would say no whether they did or not.
‘Nope,’ they both confirmed, settling back to watch a cartoon family that seemed to be firmly entrenched in all the stereotypes that society claimed to abhor.
Samuel’s drink dripped onto the sofa and he moved his arm to cover it, hoping his mother wouldn’t notice and make a fuss about cleaning it up. School was finished; they were turning off for the day. Esther noticed that the Christmas tree needed watering and returned to the kitchen to begin preparing dinner.
Andrew Smyth was one of the last teachers to leave the school and it was dark before he closed his classroom door. Maddy Brown had stayed to help him hang the rest of the costumes and pick up the discarded plimsolls and socks that always seemed to litter the floor after the class had changed clothes. She told him that on Friday the children usually took home all their paintings from the term, so perhaps she could spend tomorrow clearing the display boards and sorting artwork. He planned to let the children mainly play for the last two days while he heard readers, so that seemed a good plan. They were too excited to learn anything he felt, why bother trying?
He returned to his lodgings and was pleased to find the house was empty. He had found the room in a newspaper ad when he was first appointed and it seemed ideal. The house was owned by a divorced woman, who hadn’t wanted to sell the family home when her children moved out, and she now rented out two of the bedrooms to paying guests. He shared the bathroom and a tiny sitting room with the other guest, an IT specialist who never seemed to be there, and they all shared the kitchen and garden. Best of all, his landlady also smoked, so he had no restrictions when he wanted to relax.
He lifted his satchel strap over his head with one hand, dumping it on the stairs before making his way to the kitchen. He pulled a beer from his designated shelf in the fridge and took it upstairs. He threw his navy jacket over the back of his desk chair and loosened his tie. He had a nice room, right at the top of the cottage. It was well furnished, with a sturdy oak bed and matching desk and chair that suited the solidness of the walls and the sloping ceiling.
Sprawling on the bed, he downed half the beer before reaching for his laptop to check his email and Facebook accounts. He had enjoyed the day for once. The children had all been so excited and it was fun to provide a show for the parents. On days like today he quite enjoyed the job.
‘Maybe I’m just bored,’ he thought. ‘Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad staying there if I had something a bit more interesting to think about too. I need a hobby. Something that entails meeting some interesting adults who don’t have children. Maybe something a bit artistic too, I’m good at that.’ He finished his beer and threw the can towards his waste paper basket. It nearly went in. He ran his fingers through his hair. It was getting rather long at the front and flopped over his eye. He had better get it cut before he went home or his mother would nag him.
He began an email to his mother, sending her some dates when he could visit during the holiday. Definitely Christmas Day itself, he would not be missing out on her turkey dinner. He had mixed feelings about going home. It was nice enough seeing his parents and sister again. The food was much better too. But he did feel that he was going back in time. His dad would ask him to help stack shelves in the shop and want advice about his banking and his mother would start tidying his bedroom if he left things on the floor. He seemed to revert back to being a child the moment he stepped inside their house and he was not entirely sure his parents had noticed that he was now an adult. It was strange to be telling a whole class of children what to do all day, and then to go home and be told by his mother and sister what he should be doing himself. They even monitored what he was eating and how much he was smoking. That was partly why he had been so keen to find a job not too near his parents’ home. It was always nice to see them, he just did not want to live there any more. He was his own person now.
This is the final extract I will be posting. Why not buy a copy of Hidden Faces?
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).
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