‘The hut is gone?’
‘The hut is gone, yes.’
‘My hut is gone?’
‘Well, it was never strictly your hut, and it definitely wasn’t your hut for the last five years, and it’s been replaced by a new purpose-built facility, so why are you being so tetchy about this? And you don’t work here anymore.’
‘I was just passing and noticed a gap.’
We stare at one another and it all starts to come flooding back, but I stop that before the explosion. It’s taken years, but I can stop it now. In this context. But I feel I need to pursue the demise a little further,
‘Did anyone save any of the posters?’
‘There was a Hendrix, a Mohammed Ali – I think – and loads of A3 photos of San Francisco, and then all those Country and Western posters – Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and other greats – and then loads and loads of Rock pictures; oh, and there was definitely a Paul Rodgers at Portsmouth, and….well, I forget, but the ceiling – I mean the original ceiling – was covered, and I just wondered if anyone bothered to retrieve any of them?’
We stare some more. It is an impasse.
‘That’s French,’ I say.
‘What’s French?’ he asks.
‘The one we are at.’
‘I don’t understand what you are on about.’
‘Well, you wouldn’t would you? And I only really mention because that French teacher inherited my hut, didn’t he? Mr Jolly?’
‘It’s not Jolly, it’s Jones. He teaches Spanish’
‘Yes, I know. That was just a joke. I’ve heard what he’s like playing five-a-side, and it’s not friendly. But surely he will have said something about saving the posters?’
‘I really don’t know what you are on about.’
‘I guess not.’
We stare more again, but at the ground rather than each other. It’s more a gulf, or a chasm to be honest. When I look up from the ground he is miles away.
‘I’ve got to go,’ he says.
‘Just like the hut.’
‘Pardon?’ he asks.
‘There was student writing as well. I think someone wrote ‘fuck’ on the ceiling, and they might have even used the c-word. It was quite funny, as I recall. And it was wonderfully sweet of them to leave their risqué messages. I felt as if they were secure and confident about returning and writing on the ceiling like that. I think I may have used a naughty word or two in my teaching, so they felt they could add their own.’
‘Students?’ he asks, shaking.
‘They’d left school. I wouldn’t let students still at the school write on my ceiling. I’m not stupid.’
‘You let students write disgusting messages on your ceiling?’
‘They weren’t ‘disgusting’. They were fond remembrances, I’m sure. Just had some expletives in them. The original ceiling was covered by those sound-proofing tiles. It’s not as if I let them write where anyone could see. I’m not stupid.’
He looks at me with a kind of disbelief that seems incredibly rude.
‘You let students write expletives on your teaching hut ceiling?’
‘I didn’t know they were writing expletives at the time. I only noticed when they’d finished. Then I covered it all up. Messages for posterity, I thought….though it looks like that never became a reality.’
‘I am utterly astonished that you could have allowed that to happen in a school classroom,’ he stutters and shakes.
‘That’s nothing compared to what those two year 11 students did in my other hut.’
He looks at me with such panicked incredulity I know he won’t be able to ask, so I tell him,
‘They made love on my desk. Can’t remember their names, and it was on a prom night here at school and they decided that a safe and secure place for their fucking would be my classroom. I felt rather honoured by that. Thing is, they weren’t as ‘safe’ as they thought…’ I laugh a little but notice he isn’t standing on the same solid ground ‘…because to the best of my knowledge they later had a baby and I think it would have been conceived that prom night. They were still together though when I found out. I think that’s brilliant.’
His is shifting sand. He is standing opposite me, on the other side of that chasm, but the distance itself isn’t enough: his body is sinking in the shifting sands of the gradual realisation that two kinds of fucking happened in two of my huts, one bad enough as a linguistic reality, but the other infinitely worse as an actual student fornication that resulted in an actual birth which in his mind was actually outrageous and unforgivable.
‘Perhaps they’re at the school now,’ I offer.
‘Who is here now?’ His eyes are so open the whites make me think snow is coming.
‘Their child. Though I’d imagine he or she would probably have come and gone if they were ever here. And I don’t recall seeing the two of them attend as parents.’
‘You mean this happened before I was working here?’
‘Oh yes, long before your tenure. Didn’t I say that?’
He looks like he wants to hug me, but the distance is far too great. And there is still the fucking on the ceiling, so to speak.
‘Christmas is coming,’ I say, thinking a change of subject might be worth a punt.
‘I guess you’d let someone write expletives on the ceiling of the manger?’
I look at him with two of my own but unspoken questions: is he taking the piss, and does a manger have a ceiling? But I respond with,
‘If I knew the virgin birth would lead to months of festive advertisements on TV, I’d have written Fuck Christmas on the ceiling myself.’
He winces, but the sinking would appear to have stopped. If we tried, we could probably shake hands across the trenches and kick some more bantering balls in the snow. But we don’t.
‘So not one of my friends and ex-colleagues mentioned the posters and pictures on the ceiling?’
‘You’ve been gone for five years. Christmas comes back once a year, but this is the first time you have returned in those five. We’ve moved on here. The new buildings represent our investment in the future. I thought you of all people would appreciate our getting rid of temporary accommodation. People still here have jobs to do; they’ve moved on too.’
A jolly-looking Jones walks across the courtyard opposite us at that point, giving me a surprised smile and waving. I want to run over and kick him in the balls, but I’ve heard how he reacts to that kind of accidental contact in the sports hall, so there’s a good chance he would be homicidal if attacked intentionally.
‘Happy Christmas!’ he calls out.
I turn, walk away, and leave the site. The posters and pictures have gone, along with the hut. It’s time I take my memories and leave as well. Perhaps there’s a plaque still there, and a few other posters left on the last ceiling that was mine, but time does eventually erase most things that have nothing more to give than nostalgia. It’s like kicking the shit out of a colleague’s five-a-side shins: the bruising eventually fades and disappears, but even before this you’ve laid it all to rest over a beer, new faces around the table laughing and telling today’s stories.
I turn again and call out,
but no one is there. It doesn’t matter. There’s all kinds of ways to let people know you’re still around. You wait until I find that bastard Jones.