A few more weeks of summer term and that’s it. Five years done. Where have all those years gone?
‘Fuck man, what you gonna do? Slit your wrists? Och. She’s all over you and she’s a real babe.’
I’m sitting with BJ in my study, trying to compile a job advertisement for a new assistant for the following year that The Big Cheese has requested. ‘As Drama numbers are significantly increasing and following the success of your productions…’
Donald Fagen, “Maxine,” is playing quietly.
“…some say that we’re reckless, they say we’re much too young…”
There’s a letter too, also from The Big Cheese, countersigned by the Bursar. Another move up the pay scale. “To recognize your contribution to the school.”
I should be happy as Larry shouldn’t I? Making it professionally. Becoming one of them.
Fizz is now on study leave taking her final exams. Her last school play at Christmas was “Kaleidoscope” in which she featured as actress, singer and dancer. The absolute all-rounder and a good excuse for her to remain the most regular of visitors to my study. ‘What are we doing in tonight’s rehearsals?’
On some of those occasions she tells me too how drama at Fitzie’s is creating a stir with more of the pupils. ‘I get recognized round the school all the time, and it’s cool now to do a show or Drama.’ She pulls out that beaming smile. ‘I mean I like English and History, but Drama’s something different, don’t you think? We’re so much closer as a group. I wouldn’t dream of hugging anyone from my History class, but when we’re doing a show, or even after a rehearsal for our group project, it just seems perfectly natural.’ And she bubbles into laughter, eyes alight, face alive.
The A level group project practical exam indeed ends with us all in a group hug, laughing out of that sense of relief that comes from a job well done after months of angst. All in it together. Teacher and pupil.
Now I see her all too briefly, leaving a hole in my daily existence. ‘I’m trying to revise hard to get into Westchester,’ she says when we meet. ‘Though I probably won’t make it.’ And she wrinkles her nose in a way that makes my heart bump.
‘I’ll miss her,’ I say to BJ, peering up out of my window.
‘Away and shite,’ he retorts. ‘You’re fuckin’ miserable when she’s not about. I’ve seen you.’ He shoots me a glance. ‘Och. You should tell her, man.’
‘Tell who what?’
‘Her. The truth, man.’ He fixes me. ‘Och! Don’t fuckin’ deny it.’
I’m nailed. Speak as sarcastically as I can muster. ‘Oh, right. Good idea.’
‘What have you got to lose?’
‘Her respect? My job? Everything?’
‘Och. She won’t dob you in. I’ll tell her.’
‘No!’ Fuck’s sake.
‘Tell her on Speech Day then.’ He stands up and points at me. ‘Och. It’s obvious man. Don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks, fuck them. This is your life. One go. No fuckin’ rehearsal.’
‘And what exactly makes you think she might feel remotely the same?’
He shakes his head. ‘It’s fuckin’ obvious, man. That’s why.’ He pauses, speaks more quietly. ‘Och. Or just let her go.’
“…talk about life the meaning of it all, try to hang on, Maxine…”
Speech Day afternoon. D Day. I’m in my study, at the open window, looking out, trying to locate Fizz and her parents. I can just catch the parps of the school brass ensemble. I’ve got Judy Collins playing softly.
“…first boy I loved time has come I will sing the sad goodbye song…”
Teacups and saucers chink from the marquee and people are dressed in summer finery.
I’ve met Fizz’s dad at Parents Evenings, “Bouncers” and “Kaleidoscope.” ‘Good to put a face to the name,’ he said. ‘Never stops going on about you. Don’t you get fed up with her?’
Today he wears a suit, military tie, old school. A gentleman. His new wife is slim, all hair and lipstick. Younger. There’s a baby.
“…when I was seventeen I used to love you…”
I’ve asked friends on the staff, and Fizz, Balls and other leavers from drama and cricket, to an end of term party after speeches, tonight at Orchard Cottage. ‘I’m really trying,’ Fizz said. ‘I’d really like to, but they’ve come up specially.’
I’ve been going over and over how to play it with her. Of course it’s madness what I feel for her. Worse, it’s scandalous. That I’m no better than some kind of monster. A disgrace to my profession. That it would be grossly unfair and highly stupid to tell her how I feel.
I’ve been thinking too back to my early days at Fitzrovia. How grateful I was to be offered a job in the first place by Spicy. To his words. ‘Staff expectations.’ And ‘integrity.’ To the Head of Maths and his rant about teachers who got too close to pupils. ‘Their friend. And it all ends in tears.’ How I’ve struggled and strived to try and become “one of them” without losing sight of being me. And now here I am. At another crossroads. I might be rising up the pay scale; might be making a name for myself. But at what cost? And is that what really matters?
Can I be myself?
“…and you’re probably married now, house and kids and all…”
No. It’s hopeless. It’s no use kidding myself that the school would let it rest if Fizz and I got together. Even if she wanted to. There’d be repercussions. Debates and outrage in the Common Room among colleagues. Whispers and sniggers round corridors with pupils. Governors involved. The Big Cheese forced to act. ‘We can’t have a teacher in a relationship with a former pupil.’ What then? And what about her friends? And parents?
Maybe like BJ said, I should just let her go.
“…we parted so hard…”
I’ve everything to lose.
I sense someone come into the room and automatically my heart thumps. Fizz is wearing a grey suit with skirt. Heels. Light make-up. Looks sophisticated. A proper young woman. ‘Hi. I wondered if you were here. Are you coming down for tea?’ That voice I’ve grown to love.
Everything to gain.
‘In a minute.’
‘About your party tonight,’ she says wandering to the window. ‘I shan’t be able to go.’ She shrugs. ‘I tried, but they want me home. Besides, I’d nowhere to stay when dad asked.’
“…and in the lonely midnight try to hold your face before me…”
I glance across to her. ‘You could stay at mine.’ Is that me “letting her go?”
She’s peering out. ‘Not sure what dad would say.’
‘Quite. Silly of me to even to suggest it.’ I turn away to my desk. Rummage meaninglessly. Out of the window, I can see her dad handing a cup to his wife. ‘Shouldn’t you be with them now?’
‘I told them I’d got something to do.’
‘But you’re here?’ I peep towards her.
‘Yes.’ There’s that more serious note to her voice. Unusual.
“…and you’re probably married now house and kids and all…”
We return to staring out of the window. My heart’s still thudding. Throat dry. Worse than waiting for the stage curtain to open. I can smell “Hope.” There’s just the sound of the music.
“…I never slept with you though we must have made love a thousand times…”
Then footsteps. Someone’s hurrying along the corridor. Instinctively we move away from each other and the window.
It’s BJ carrying a bottle. On the lash since lunch. ‘Ah, Miss Fizz and Mister H. Thought I might find you both here.’ He turns to me. ‘Have you told her yet?’
Oh no! I raise my eyes theatrically at Fizz. Shrug. My heart’s suddenly pounding harder still.
BJ’s at the shelf dusting glasses. ‘Och! Do I have to bang both your heads together?’ He pops the cork with his teeth and spits it onto the floor.
My chest’s a tom tom. Fizz is red in the face. Not sure I can read her eyes when they flash to me.
‘Tell me what?’
I manage to look at her. Hope the thrashings of my heart subside. There’s only one thing for it. To stop BJ running away with his mouth.
“…and I want you to know I just had to go…”
But at least I’m not playing any part. I’m being myself. ‘He wants me to tell you that I’ll miss you.’ Our eyes are locked. Are hers even wider? Can she hear the thumps from my chest over Judy?
BJ bangs the bottle down. ‘Away and shite.’ He’s poured two glasses. ‘Och! He’s annoying when he’s like this.’ He holds out a glass for Fizz and puts on his absurd accent. ‘Chin, chin, what what, pass the port old chap.’ He takes a swig, his eyes switching from one to the other of us.
Fizz glances and takes the glass from BJ. ‘Thank you.’ Takes a sip, looks back to me. ‘I could sign up again for summer school.’ She lets this sink in. ‘Will you be around?’
‘Yes,’ says BJ, nodding theatrically at me.
‘No. I’m afraid not.’ I frown at BJ. ‘I’ve booked to go on holiday.’ Then back to Fizz. ‘To get back for his wedding.’ I cock my head towards BJ who hands me a glass, shaking his head. ‘Fuck’s sake.’
Silence. BJ’s again looking from one to the other of us. ‘Och. I don’t know.’ He sighs, then chinks glasses with Fizz and me. ‘To love then.’
‘And your wedding.’ Fizz downs her glass. Gasps, wiping her mouth.
‘Love.’ I swig some bubbles, dab away dribbles. Anything to slow the clamour of my heart.
What happens now? I glance at my watch. Damn. ‘I need to disappear. Promised a parent, and then it’s leavers’ service.’ I turn to Fizz. Are my eyes misting dangerously? ‘Will I be seeing you again today?’
She nods. ‘At leavers’ service.’ Are hers?
BJ’s slams down his glass. ‘Och. Well, I’ll love you and leave you. See you later.’ He slaps me on the back. ‘Your call old son. Don’t say I didn’t tell you. Now or never.’ He hugs Fizz. ‘See you.’
When he’s breezed out, Fizz looks quizzically at me. ‘Tell you what?’
‘Nothing. Just him being him.’
A further silence develops. Just Judy playing out in the background.
“…so it’s goodbye first love…”
This is it. Unless one of us says something, it’s the last time we’ll be alone together.
She puts down her empty glass. She’s going to go. ‘Can I have a hug?’ she says raising those magical blue eyes to mine.
Why not? For old times’ sake. ‘Of course.
We hug. Properly.
‘I’d better go.’ She pulls away. Wipes at her cheek. Are there tears in her eyes? There are in mine, blearing my vision. ‘Bye.’ And she’s gone.
“…you’re a true friend of mine…”
I’m left standing at the window; sniff at my sleeves. Breathe “Hope.” Eventually see her outside meet up with her parents, bending down to the baby, wiping its mouth with a tissue. Laughing.
So. It’s over. After five years of Fizz, she’s gone. I’m left. Flat as a pancake. The eternal bachelor. Married only to work. I’ve let her go. And let something else go. Love. In its purest form.
Is that what being myself means?
“Morning noon and bloody night
Seven sodding days a week,
I slave at filthy WORK that might
Be done by any book-drunk freak.
This goes on until I kick the bucket.
FUCK IT FUCK IT FUCK IT FUCK IT.”
Philip Larkin. Letters to Monica.
Go to previous chapter Go to next chapter Start At The Beginning
Soundtrack - The Back Story!
Follow The Back Story On Your Favorite Streaming Platform
Donald Fagen - Maxine
When Steely Dan split in the early 80’s my musical world suddenly seemed bereft – where would I find a replacement? Fortunately, Donald Fagen, who let’s be honest was the voice of the Dan, and arguably the stronger songwriter, decided to go it alone with his album “The Nightfly” and this is just one of those immense tracks from that. Since then he’s produced a number of excellent solo efforts, including, more recently, “Morph The Cat” and “Sunken Condos”. If you were a Dan fan then these are a MUST!
Judy Collins - First Boy I Loved
This comes from my very early teenage days listening to folk music. The late 60’s I’d be listening to Simon and Garfunkel, Ralph McTell and Fairport Convention, and then there were the crossovers like Judy Collins who came onto my radar who covered Sandy Denny songs like “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” or Joni Mitchell or Leonard Cohen. This is an Incredible String Band song…and one I much prefer to the original.
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!