Mandy tried to sit as near as possible to his desk. Having his face that close made her feel that their relationship had already started. She’d seen him for the first time in September when Mr Pritchard, the headmaster, had introduced him as the new biology teacher for that term. Mr Hall was his name and she hugged that solitary syllable almost as it were a physical part of him. Like the pseudopodia that he would eventually talk to them about. He was, so she thought, the best-looking man that she’d ever seen in their dreary, hum-drum town. His dark brown eyes seemed to be the distillation of something ancient; something only knowable to our ancestors. He wore short-clipped hair parted to the left side, but there was always a tuft upright at the crown. She loved the way he dressed; his thick-ribbed corduroy trousers tightly encasing his athletic build; shirt unbuttoned just enough to reveal a sprig of chest hair.
Over that first term she managed to assemble quite a comprehensive biography for Mr Hall; married, no children, house out on the new estate. She lingered alone after school hoping to catch him as he he got into his chocolate-brown Maxi. She pictured herself beside him on the comfortable passenger seat; feeling the fake leather brush against the back of her stockinged thighs as the steering wheel slipped noiselessly through his delicate fingers. Her friends at school chatted over magazines, reading aloud the letters on the problem page:
“I’ve been going steady now for three months with David. We go the pictures together every Friday evening and have a kiss and a cuddle there. Nothing serious mind. But now David says he wants to go all the way. I’m not sure I’m ready; what should I do?”
Some of the girls had boyfriends of their own and they beguiled the rainy lunch hour by recounting clumsy episodes in parentless front rooms. Exploratory hands allowed into bras and even, after much negotiation, into knickers. She listened to these exploits and felt that it was all so grubby, lacking any romantic scaffholding – just human parts pawed in front of Pebble Mill. No, her relationship with Mr Hall certainly wouldn’t be like that; it would be a noble thing. Sure, they’d have it off every now and then because she’d been told that men had to do it regularly otherwise they got angry.
She told her best friend, Shauna, that she was seeing an older boy from the grammar school just down the road. She spent the walk to school detailing her love life to Shauna; her fictional boyfriend’s profile was added to daily and he began to assume a certain solidity. She’d sometimes cancel Saturday visits to the town centre with Shauna, saying that Andrew, the fictional boyfriend, was taking her out to the resevoir in his new car. Shauna, of course, wanted to see Andrew; wanted to have his existence confirmed. She was thoroughly jealous but equally suspicious of her friend’s good fortune. Mandy somehow always managed to put Shauna off, and even told her one time that Andrew had a friend who, maybe, might want to go out with Shauna.
Any time that she had left over from inventing her boyfriend was blown on thoughts of Mr Hall. She imagined them walking hand-in-hand across moon-silvered fields, or eating at restaurants serenaded by moustached guitarists. She started creating pretexts for hanging on after the class bell had rung, just to be alone, even for half a minute, with Mr Hall. She’d ask him to explain certain features of photosynthesis that she hadn’t quite understood. She’d lean over his desk and feel his pleasant, cigarette-scented breath caress her cheek, and hope that the top of her recently arrived breasts were visible to him. He never seemed outwardly excited by her proximity, but she put this down to his teacher training. They taught teachers how to stay calm in situations like that; told them how to paper over the cracks in their equanimity.
Sometimes she’d make sure that he saw her as he walked to his car, his battered leather briefcase banging against the leg of his corduroy trousers. If he saw her he would usually wave and smile, and once, when it started raining heavily, he even dropped her off at the end of her street. In the car, as the windscreen wipers had creakingly slashed through the veils of rain, they’d talked about the biology GCSE that she’d be taking the next summer. She tried to manoeuvre the conversation onto extra-curricular terrain but he appeared to want the conversation to run on strictly academic lines.
In her mind, Andrew started to become Mr Hall and the adventures that she related to Shauna were the ones that she hoped she would soon be experiencing with the biology teacher. One day she told Shauna that she’d lost her well-kept virginity to a determined Andrew;
“His parents went out to the new town to buy a new tumble dryer and he told me to come around at three. And when I got there he was in a dressing gown; a classy silk one, Japanese or Chinese it was. He took me upstairs and had all my clothes off before I knew what was happening. At first it hurt but after a bit it stopped hurting”
Shauna seemed sceptical at this announcement, and asked Mandy what she’d used, knowing that Mandy wasn’t on the pill.
“Oh, he had a dunky. Said it was from a packet that his dad kept in the bathroom.”
“Yeah, and what did it feel like then? the dunky?”
“Well, it was, you know, well like rubber. But it’s impossible to really describe”
Shauna was satisfied with this information and asked Mandy when she could meet Andrew’s friend. Mandy said that she’d be seeing Andrew the following weekend and that they’d arrange something for the week after. Or the week after. But anyway it would be very soon.
One Saturday, during the spring term, Mandy took it into her head to knock on Mr Hall’s door. She’d just say that she’d had a mix-up with the address- she’d looked up a friend called Hall in the phone book and thought that this must be her address. And when Mr Hall answered the door she’d act stupified. If his wife came to the door then she’d be stuck, but she’d figure something out if that happened. She walked through the estate, saw men painstakingly polishing their cars and a group of children kicking around the tattered body of a dead magpie. As she approached the house she saw Mr Hall’s car slide into the driveway. She waited for them to get out, unload several carrier bags of shopping marked Fine Fare, nd enter the house. Mr Hall followed his wife up the short path that lead to the red-painted door and pulled it shut behind him. Mandy darted quickly up to the door and jammed her forefinger down onto the depressed button that activated an unexpectedly loud buzzing noise that flooded her with anxiety.
Mr Hall opened the front door to see a fourteen-year old girl from his school, Mandy Thorn, standing there in the slow falling rain. She was wearing a pink ra-ra skirt, green flourescent leggings, and a purple striped long-sleeved t-shirt. She was also absurdly made-up; her eyes strangled in clumsily applied kohl and her lips had been painted into some kind of pouting wet wound. She told him, stammeringly, about mixing up the addresses, though he did wonder how that could be, and then she quickly said goodbye and left. He closed the door and turned to his wife who was standing behind him with the shopping bags slouched over the brightly carpeted hall floor. Mandy had crept back to the door and bent her ear to the letter box to catch the conversation taking place within:
“Who was that Mike?”
“Some ugly little bitch from school. Christ knows what she was doing here.”
“Another of your pre-pubescent admirers. Last thing thing we want is those tasteless trollops trailing around here. It’s bad enough that you’ve got to teach in that shit-hole of a school”
“Yes, I know, love, but I’ll be out of there soon and fixed up with something in a much classier school. And that’ll be the end of of having to deal with cheap little tarts like that”
Outside the rain and tears had made the kohl leak erractically over Mandy’s face.