Half his age: Part 2

The rain renewed its strength as she trudged back across the estate; pools of sick-listed water had formed in the pockmarks on the road, cats crouched under cars. She couldn’t deny to herself what she’d heard, no matter how she tried to spin the contents of that conversation between Mr Hall and his wife: for Mr Hall she was a cheap tart. The tears kept pace with the falling rain as she let herself back into the house, avoiding her parents in the living room, ran up the stairs and threw herself onto her bed. The rain slowed down after a while and so did Mandy’s tears. Her humiliation began to transform itself into an indignation that flashed through her like spokes of angry lightning. Mr Hall had, it was now clear, no feelings for her; had, in fact, a contempt for her. She would have to reassert herself; fight back.

Her campaign opened with a letter that she composed that same evening when she was supposed to be doing her geography homework; an essay on the formation of oxbow lakes. The letter was brief but viper-tongued:

“Mrs Hall, your husband and me are having an affair. I am one of his pupils and I am fourteen years old. He has had sexual intercourse with me three times. We do it in the back of his car if you’re wondering. Hes gonna leave you soon so you mite as well leave him now”

She posted the letter the next morning, calculating that the letter should normally arrive at Mr Hall’s address either the day after or the Thursday. In the meantime she fleshed out the rest of her strategy; she left a note in the headmaster’s pigeon-hole:

“Mr Pritchard, I don’t like to spread bad stuff about but the new biology teacher Mr Hall is having it off with one of his pupils. There always together when they get the chance. Ive sin them holding hands stuff. They go home tgether in his car and stop of near the industral state”

That Thursday Mr Hall got back home to find his wife sitting on their new settee holding a folded sheet of paper in her hand:

“What’s all this about?”

Her voice was stripped of any warmth. She handed the note to her husband who unfolded it and read  quickly through the scrawled lines. He then screwed it up methodically and threw it at the unlit open fire. It fell among the remains of a  blackened length of wood and a covering of soot so smooth it looked like fur. His wife insisted:

“Well?”

“What do you mean well? Just some kid stirring things up. Probably bored, daydreaming. You were a teenage girl once, you know the stuff that goes through their minds”

So there’s nothing in it? It’s just a piece of hatemail, is that it? And what about that girl who turned up on the doorstep last weekend?”

“You think I’m having a thing with her? Jesus! I know I shouldn’t joke about it but if I was going to be stupid enough to do something like that then I wouldn’t choose her”

“But what about the last time? At St Joseph’s? You can’t blame me for thinking things”

“Christ! St.Joseph’s? That was just some little slut who fixated on me! I thought we’d sorted all that out”

“Maybe your explanations didn’t convince me then. Why did you have to give her extra tuition over the weekends? And then I found out that you’d been at her house while the parents were away. And then after all that help you gave, what does she go and do? She tells the school nurse that you and she were having an affair!”

“We’ve been through this a thousand times. I thought that with a bit of help she’d get the biology “O” level that she deserved. And she misintepreted my attention and when she understood that it was strictly academic she became, well, venegful”

“But why her? What about all the other kids who needed help? Why did it have to be her?”

“Well, she had accumulated a lot of problems; her parents were splitting up, her grandmother had died. And, you know, I felt sorry for her. Enough kids are fucked as it is these days”

“But not by you?”

“Not funny, Jan. Getting kids through their exams means the world to me. I am all about that. And a letter from some scrubber spreading shit is what happens to a teacher”

“Yes, but it’s happened twice to you. You’ve not been lucky recently, have you?”

But there was no trace of irony in her voice as she spoke. He put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently. She looked up at him, her face webbed in soft tears, and placed her small hand over his:

“I believe you. You wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. Sorry”

The very next day Mr Hall found a message from the headmaster inviting him to come to his office later in the morning. Hall always felt intimidated by Mr Pritchard; even casual talk in the corridors made him feel a creeping anxiety.

“Ah, Hall, take a seat, there’s a good fellow”

Hall pulled out the imitation Hepplewhite chair and sat down facing the headmaster over the waxed expanse of the mahogany desk. Mr Pritchard interlaced his large, spatulate fingers and stretched out his arms:

“Sorry to take up your valuable time, Hall, but I’ve recieved a piece of nastiness concerning you. Now, I wouldn’t normally bother staff about something as apparently trivial and unfounded as this but I seem to remember that you were, inadvertantly, caught up in a little bit of unpleasantness in your last school, weren’t you?”

Pritchard looked straight in Hall’s eyes for what felt like several minutes before continuing;

“This anonymous note I have here says that you’re tangled up with one of your pupils. Just assure me that this is just nonsense, Hall. Could you do that?”

Hall was starting to feel uncomfortable, a squirming sensation stretched itself out under his chest, and he wanted to twist himself about in that fake shield-back chair. Yes, he’d had a little thing with that girl at St. Joseph’s but he just about got himself out of that. Nobody believed her. It would be richly ironic if people were now to believe this baseless accusation when they’d readily accepted his explanations back then. He swallowed visibly:

“Mr Pritchard, as you know, the incident at my previous school was pure fabrication, and proven to be so”

“Proven? Are you sure? I thought it was your word against hers”

“When I say proven I mean, of course, that people correctly sided with me when they’d examined the details of the situation. And this time it’s no different”

“You’re certainly unlucky, Hall, to be unwittingly sucked into the same, uh, situation twice. Now, I’m glad we’ve got that cleared up and I don’t want to keep you from your work. Good afternoon”

There was a coldish flavour to Pritchard’s closing words and Hall felt sticky with impending panic as he headed back to the staff romm. But, he reassured himself, Pritchard seemed to have signalled an end to it. He opened the door to the staffroom feeling relief surge through his veins.

Mandy found Mr Hall’s jacket, as she knew she would, draped over the back of his chair. She pressed a pair of her carefully used underpants into the inside pocket, and slipped back out of the empty classroom. The second note she left for the headmaster at the end of that afternoon was more explicit than the first:

“Mr Pritchard I feel it is my duty to tell you that the pupil whose having it off with Mr Hall is Mandy Thorn. This needs to be seen to”

Hall got home and found Jan already at home, in the kitchen stirring at something in a red le Creuset casserole dish. He stood behind her and put his arms around her; she twisted herself around to face him, smiling. She kissed him and slid her arms out around his chest. He left hand came into contact with a slight lump under the material of his jacket:

“What’s that?”


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