“…innocence raped with napalm fire, twenty first century schizoid man…”
Next morning I’m in my study, still assimilating how I really feel about the previous evening with Miss Dazzle, when there’s a knock on the door. ‘Come in.’
It’s Fizz; flushed in the face; looks as if she might have been crying. Red eyed. Puffy. She should be in school uniform, ready for Sunday chapel, but isn’t.
What’s going on? I turn down King Crimson.
‘Hello. And to what do I owe this pleasure?’ I indicate a comfy chair. ‘You all right? Take a seat, but we’ll have to look sharp. Chapel soon. Confirmation.’ The Big Cheese has insisted on full staff attendance. ‘Three line whip. Understood?’
Fizz sits on the edge of the chair. Fiddles with a tissue. Takes a deep gasp of air. Looks at me with those trusting watery eyes. What on earth can be the trouble? ‘Sir, if I tell you something, will you promise not to tell anyone else?’
‘I can’t promise. But I’ll certainly be discreet. What’s up?’
Fizz blows her nose, gently wiping drips. Forlorn. What can have happened? She takes another deep breath. ‘The thing is, I was wondering if you could take me to a pharmacy, or, better still, a doctor.’
‘May I ask why?’
She lowers her head. Speaks quietly. ‘I need the morning after pill.’ Her cheeks are glowing. She dabs at one, angrily flashing something away.
My heart’s suddenly tub thumping.
‘There was a party last night.’ She sniffs.
‘I see.’ All too clearly. Terrible pictures. ‘Does your Housemaster know?’
She’s in Major Barker’s House. ‘I couldn’t tell him. He’d just go off on one. Probably get me expelled. And if he found out who it was…’
‘What about the Chaplain?’
‘He’s a terrible gossip.’ She turns her full eyes on me. ‘Just can’t trust him.’
Hmm. There’s a horrible throb beginning near the nape of my neck.
‘What about the San Sister?’
‘She’s lovely, but she’ll feel compelled to tell someone. Dad maybe. I’m not eighteen yet.’ She looks away. ‘I can’t risk that.’
Then the words pour from her. She screws her tissue. ‘But I can trust you, can’t I? You’re a man of the world aren’t you? You always say we should talk to someone if we have a problem. That’s why I thought I could come to you.’
I glimpse at my watch. That pulse in my head is beating. ‘OK. Let’s try and think.’ Like a terrible hangover. Glancing over to her, it’s all I can do to stop a quake in my voice. ‘Can I just get this clear? You had unprotected sex last night, and things got out of hand, and there’s a possibility you might be pregnant as a result?’
She nods. Mentions Balls, very red in the face. ‘The condom came off inside.’
My head’s a volcano. ‘And you can’t wait until tomorrow? Maybe see Sister? I’m sure she ought to be discreet.’
Fizz shakes her head vigorously. Fresh tears are welling. ‘It has to be today. I can’t get pregnant.’ She pulls out another sodden tissue. ‘And I can’t risk Sister telling my dad.’
‘Right.’ I reach into my desk for Yellow Pages, though my eyes can barely focus. ‘First let’s see if there’s some Sunday surgery open.’ What’s the right thing to do? ‘It says there’s one near Stainton. It’s only open for two hours. We’ll need to get a shift on. It’s been open for an hour already.’ I slam Yellow Pages shut. Try to ignore the eruptions in my brain.
‘About six or seven miles away.’ I feel the anguish in her eyes. ‘Come on. We’ll go in my car.’
‘What about chapel?’ asks Fizz, wiping.
‘I think this takes priority. I’ll cover for us if anyone asks.’ I’m probably playing it all wrong. Being myself. But. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll sort it out’
The Sunday emergency surgery is in a uniformly grey business park with a myriad of dead ends. ‘Oh come on! Where are you?’ I beg, reversing again. ‘We’re cutting it fine.’
‘There it is,’ exclaims Fizz. It’s a small temporary building. A couple of young mums with babies are outside chatting under umbrellas.
I park up. ‘Shall I come with you?’
She shakes her head. ‘They shouldn’t ask any questions really. I’ll try not to be too long.’
‘No problem. Take whatever time you want.’
When she’s disappeared, I clear my head to consider what she must be going through. Try to suppress the stabs of pain and jealousy I feel thinking of her with Balls at the party. Selfish of me. Why do I feel so hurt? What right have I to think badly of her? Or him? How hard it must have been for her to see me in the first place. How she trusts me. I can’t abuse that trust. And she’s seventeen. Legal. Nearly an adult. Just happens to be a boarder at school.
But she can’t trust the Chaplain. Not the first time I’ve heard that.
Last year one of my drama class came to me in tears. ‘What on earth’s the matter?’
‘Sir. I told the Chaplain something in confidence and then in our lesson this morning he told the rest of the class all about it. He didn’t mention me by name, but it was obviously me. Everyone knew.’
And Major Barker’s liable to take a hard line. ‘I don’t care how old they are, we’re in loco parentis.’ And Balls would be on his way out. ‘Nothing but trouble.’ Does he deserve to be expelled? Or Fizz?
And what about the scandal if it all got out? The Chaplain would see to that. ‘A word in your shell-like.’
I turn on the radio in the car. The Police. ”Young teacher, the subject of school girl fantasy…”
I try again to suppress the jabs of jealousy strafing me. Why should I be surprised? Disappointed? Angry? Everyone has to grow up sometime. Fizz is no different. Who am I to make a judgment?
The car door opens. Fizz is brighter. ‘Thank you. You’re a life saver.’
‘All done? Success?’
She looks bashful. ‘The Doctor was really nice. She gave me a prescription as well as something to take today and tomorrow. Said not to worry.’ She turns those big blue eyes on me. ‘Thank you. I know you think badly of me.’
‘Don’t be silly, of course I don’t. These things happen.’
‘I’ve learned from it, anyway.’
“…sometimes it’s not so easy to be the teacher’s pet…”
On the way back I ask about the party. Like some kind of masochist. ‘Were you very drunk?’
‘Not really. I was just, I don’t know, in a funny place. Hard to tell you. Anyway. It’s not just drink at parties. There’s always a fair bit of pot going round. I had some of that.’ She hesitates. ‘Are you shocked?’
‘Have you experimented much?’
‘Then you’ll understand. I think it’s like being in a film. And everyone’s acting a part. Do you feel like that?’
‘That’s what…’ She stops. Searching for a word? ‘Doing it, was like. It was me but it wasn’t. And it was him but it wasn’t. Difficult to describe. Can you understand?’
The Korgis are now on the radio. “…everybody’s got to learn some time…”
She asks about my Saturday night ‘How did it go? Did you have good time?’
‘Is she pretty?’
Should I tell her it was Miss Dazzle? ‘Um… that’s quite a question. I suppose she is. She’s also married.’
Fizz speaks utterly matter-of-factly. ‘Didn’t stop my mother.’
‘We’re just good friends.’
‘That’s what my mother said.’ And then. ‘Did she stay with you then?’
‘Ha! Don’t hold back!’ I have to laugh. Have I anything to hide? ‘No. She was at a local pub. And no, before you ask, I didn’t stay there.’
In the mirror I catch her nodding. Smiling. Then, out of the blue. ‘Have you ever been in love?’
‘My! You are coming out with them.’ I blow out my cheeks, hands tight on the steering wheel. ‘Truth is, I don’t know what love is. Even if it exists. I just hope it does. Like to believe it does. I’m certainly no expert. Maybe at sixteen or seventeen everything feels like love. Maybe sex is mistaken for it.’ I shrug. ‘I told you. I’m no expert.’
‘Do you remember talking about religion? After your mum died?’
‘I found myself praying last night and this morning. Even though I don’t believe. What’s that all about?’
‘There’s generations before us brought up on it. Bound to be bits left that we cling on to in desperation. And do you think God’s answered your prayers?’
‘No. You have. Thanks.’
We arrive back just as the chapel service has finished. ‘Not great timing,’ I say as we head down a corridor.
The Big Cheese’s in his suit, the Chaplain by his side. Major Barker calls over. ‘Can we have a word?’
Should I go with her?
I whisper. ‘Leave it to me. You scoot off. I’ll do the explaining. If anyone’s awkward, ask them to speak to me. Say it’s personal.’
What am I going to say? ‘Wait. Look. I can only put them off if you agree to a reason we disappeared. What about tummy trouble? You know. Women’s things. I’ll say that we couldn’t find Sister. Needed to get you to a doctor. What do you think?’
Am I doing the right thing? More lines to remember.
Fizz has gone red, but nods. ‘Period pains.’ Hurries away.
The Big Cheese’s beckoning me. ‘Mister Hopebourne?’
Here we go.
‘Can I see you in my study for a moment?’
We stand just inside the door. ‘I couldn’t help but notice that you weren’t in Chapel. I don’t need to remind you that today’s service was compulsory.’ Has he got out of bed on the wrong side? ‘What were you doing?’ He shoots me a glance with opaque gobstoppers.
‘I’m sorry Headmaster, but I had a bit of a crisis to deal with.’ I mention Fizz. ‘Something personal.’
‘A crisis?’ The veins on his forehead protrude. ‘Something that needed you both to miss Chapel?’
‘Women’s things. You know.’ I raise my eyebrows at him. Try to keep it light.
‘Did she see Sister?’
‘No. We struggled to find her so I thought it best to take things into my own hands. Sorry.’
He purses his lips. ‘Sister wasn’t in the San?’
‘She may have been. Possibly tied up somewhere? I confess we didn’t look too hard.’
Hell. I don’t want Sister to get into trouble for not being at post. Specially as she probably was. ‘Is there a problem?’
He scrutinises me once more. ‘Why did she come to you? Not the Chaplain or her Housemaster?’
‘I’m afraid I can’t really answer that, Headmaster. She just did. I’ve known her a long time and she does a lot of drama.’
‘Couldn’t it have waited until after the service?’
‘I judged her to be in some distress. So I took her to a surgery which was only open for two hours. Just to be on the safe side.’
Come on, Big Cheese. Drop it.
He ponders. ‘I see. I’ll have to have a word with Sister. She’s meant to be on call for such things.’
Oh shit. ‘I’d rather you didn’t. It was really my fault, not hers. I should have tried harder to find her. I’m sure she was there. Just indisposed perhaps?’
Good word Rob. Indisposed. The call of nature and all that. Come on, Big Cheese. Please drop it now.
He glances at his watch. ‘I’m not happy about it.’
‘Sorry, Headmaster. I’ll try to get it right next time.’ Come on, I’m taking all the blame here.
‘See you do.’ And I’m dismissed. For now.
I‘m back in my study when Fizz reappears. We’re like co-conspirators, checking stories. I’ve John Lennon on the cassette.
“…I was dreaming of the past and my heart was beating fast, I began to lose control…”
‘What did the Head say, sir? The Chaplain collared me. I told him it was none of his business.’
‘How did he react?’
‘He tried to get it out of me, but I just said it was medical. He backed off.’
I nod. ‘The Head gave me a bit of a telling off for missing chapel, and not seeing Sister, but I think we’ve covered tracks. I might go and see Sister, warn her that I’ve bypassed her, apologise, but it shouldn’t be a problem.’ I ask about Major Barker.
‘He said he’d check with you. Seemed in a bad mood.’ She blows out her cheeks. ‘Really sorry.’
There’s a knock on the door. We exchange glances. ‘Come in.’
“…I’m just a jealous guy…”
It’s Balls. My hackles explode. Heart thudding as if John Bonham was starting “When The Levee Breaks.” That hard. Why?
‘There you are. Hello, sir.’
‘Come in. Close the door.’ I feel another surging rage of jealousy and anger. Teeth clenching. Gut churning. Have to put on my best acting. Fizz has gone very red.
Balls enters and stands, shifting from foot to foot. ‘I’m sorry you’ve been put to so much trouble. It’s all my fault.’ He’s crimson. Peeps across at Fizz. ‘I know you’ve saved us both.’
‘I don’t know about that.’ I try to calm the tremor in my voice. ‘But while you’re here, can I just say prevention’s better than cure? That’s what my mum drilled into me. You’re both adults. Nearly. You need to be more responsible for your actions. Learn from your mistakes.’ The air’s heavy. Both Fizz and Balls are looking down.
“…I was swallowing my pain…”
I should change my tone. However hard I find it. ‘Come on. End of sermon for Sunday.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ says Balls. Fizz throws me a wry smile.
We’re interrupted by another loud knock on the door. ‘Come in.’
It’s Major Barker. He sternly takes in the personnel gathered. ‘Could I have a word Mister Hopebourne?’
‘Of course.’ I turn, try to keep my voice steady. ‘Right. I’ll catch up with you two later. Have a good day.’
Major Barker talks to Balls. ‘My study. Now.’
Then probes me. ‘Only I went to see Sister about a different matter and she happened to say she’d been there all morning. Didn’t see anyone.’
He mentions Balls. ‘What did he want with you? He skipped chapel.’
‘Did he? That’s the first I’ve seen of him today. Just came to find Fizz.’
Major Barker shakes his head. ‘Nothing but trouble. A bad influence. I’d like to find an excuse to bullet him if I could.’
He sizes me up. ‘There’s nothing I should know about then? They are both in my House after all.’
Finally he talks about Fizz. ‘Doesn’t strike me as the kind of girl to go whingeing about period pains.’
‘I suppose we shouldn’t judge a book.’
“…I’m just a jealous guy…”
Later I contemplate my actions. I’ve hushed up something. Is that what Mister Undercarpet, the Deputy Head does? ‘The matter’s closed. No need for follow up action.’ Swept away. Will it return to bite me? What if Fizz comes to me in a couple of months and asks for help with an abortion? Or her parents confront me. What then? And of course there’s the Us and Them test. Major Barker’s on the staff like me. Us. I’m covering for two of his pupils. Them. I’ve failed that test.
And failed to quell a wrenching gut and excruciating headache picturing Fizz with Balls. As if I could somehow have stopped it. Protected her. How? Is that what’s uppermost in my mind? Or something more personal? More deep lying? And what if, maybe, just maybe, she didn’t want to be protected anyway?
A couple of weeks later Fizz knocks on my study door. Wintery sun dapples the walls as she leans in. Joni Mitchell on the cassette. ‘Just came to tell you that I’ve had my period,’ she says without a hint of embarrassment. ‘Thank you. I hope I didn’t get you into too much trouble.’
‘No. I’m pleased for you. Relieved I imagine?’
‘Very.’ She smiles, comes in, and talks about Balls. ‘He’s on his final warning.’
‘He doesn’t always help himself. Missing chapel was silly.’
‘I know, but he was really upset. I think it really scared him. He wanted to come with me.’
‘I’m relieved he didn’t. It would have been hard to cover that up.’
I allude to Major Barker. ‘I think his sights are on your boyfriend I’m afraid. If I were you I’d try to keep him on the straight and narrow. Keep a low profile for a while.’
She flashes her big blue eyes at me. ‘He’s not my boyfriend, sir. It was just a terrible mistake.’ Then glances at her watch. ‘I’d better be off.’ Her mouth breaks into that familiar grin. ‘Got general studies with the Headmaster. Last time all he talked about was how we’re supposed to set an example to the juniors.’ She laughs; that familiar bubbling sound. ‘Ironic, eh?’
I raise my eyebrows.
Then, she calmly walks over to my desk and leans over to give me a brief hug. ‘Thank you. Sorry to let you down.’
‘I told you. You haven’t. It’s all part of growing up.’ I raise my eyes to meet hers. ‘It’ll be our secret.’
‘Our secret,’ she says. And we hug once more.
When she’s gone I get changed and go for a long run. Throughout, I trade blows with a Green Eyed Monster. Back in the shower I try to scrub myself clean of self loathing.
Soundtrack - The Back Story!
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21st Century Schizoid Man – King Crimson
One of the first LP’s I ever bought – based at first on the cover which blew me away, but mainly because a mate at school had a copy which I could borrow. Mind boggling music! If “Twenty First Century Schizoid Man” is a trail blazer of jazz-rock fusion, then “Epitaph” and “The Court Of The Crimson King” are melodic giants of prog rock. No one does mellotron better than King Crimson.
Don’t Stand So Close To Me – The Police
Ah, the early 80’s and the change of tempos and rhythms so typified by The Police. Punk meets melody? Or is it Glam? Whatever, their string of hits was the soundtrack to the period, and this one will always resonate with teachers across the spectrum. Loved Sting’s first couple of albums as well when he eventually went solo.
Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime – The Korgis
Just one of those great love songs which everyone knows and loves. Those piano/moog chords repeated and the voice that cuts through; and the melody itself…”everyone’s gotta learn sometime”…Then the guitar…through to the strings…seminal stuff.
Just A Jealous Guy- John Lennon
What can one say about Lennon? Genius flawed or not; a Beatle. ‘Nuff said. Truly a beautiful song with those poignant lyrics and the whistling. Simple and soulful.
The Priest - Joni Mitchell
One of my all time favourite Joni songs from the first album I ever heard by her – “Ladies Of The Canyon” – which also has “Big Yellow Taxi” on it. Forbidden thoughts about love?
About the Author: Richard Parsons
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was a youngster; creative writing in English lessons was my favourite part of school life along with swapping music with mates or playing sport.
When I decided to quit teaching after many happy years, I applied for and won a scholarship to do a Masters at Plymouth Uni in Creative Writing. Drama was really the main string to my bow, but I soon became hooked on the idea of crafting short stories, and, eventually, the longer form of narrative. After graduating with a distinction, I cut my teeth writing for women’s magazines, but this was never in my own “voice” and was always formulaic. “Given Circumstances” is the real me.
Hope you enjoy it!