Something which my kids will say is all about me but isn't ...
This is a dramatic monologue I wrote for a competition. No, of course it didn't win, otherwise I'd be in the flippin' Bahamas right now, wouldn't I?
The pay cheque’s always a surprise. I forget. The other teachers go home, mix a gin and tonic, watch the news, go to salsa class. They get their pay and they say, ‘Where does it go? Bloody tax man.”
I have to pretend, for Colin. I said to him last month, ‘It’s all spent before it’s even in the bank’. He wasn’t really listening – too busy finding the remote – I keep telling him: put it back in the same place. He nodded, anyway. He’s okay, Colin. I shouldn’t complain.
I like being at school. It feels right. I’ve got a window desk in the History office. I’ve a pot for my pens – one that Jenny made when she was at Juniors – it says ‘Mum’ on it in big childish letters. Then, there’s my filing trays. Everyone laughs – they say, “You’re a teacher, not a bloody secretary.” But I don’t know how they all manage. It’s where I put all my marking (I get the kids to write on A4 – I prefer that to piles of books tipping over). There’s never that much paperwork, though. I keep up. That’s why I stay at school until it’s all finished, where I’ve got everything to hand.
I like that time, when everyone’s gone home. Patrick – he’s my head of department – says, ‘Pauline, you’ve done enough,’ but I tell him, ‘No, you go. I’ll be off presently.’ I think he feels bad, just leaving me there. I can’t exactly say, ‘Being at my desk gives me a tight, excited feeling, just here’, can I? It’s been a while with Colin now, but there’s no mistaking that feeling. So Patrick just goes off, and I can give the office a quick tidy before I start work.
I used to bring it all home when Jenny was still living at home, especially during her GCSEs. She was a bugger then. Fifteen going on twenty five, more like. Staying out all hours. It was best if I was home – Colin didn’t deal with her so well. Then, when she went off to Edinburgh – she’s in her second year now - things weren’t the same at all … It sounds silly, at my age, but she used to play Radio 1 in the evenings and I still wanted to hear it. Colin kept turning it off so he could read his papers, though how he could, with them strewn everywhere, I don’t know. ‘Aren’t you grateful for the peace and quiet?’ he kept saying. Sometimes, when he used to snore, I’d roll out of bed and go and sleep in Jenny’s. It still smelled of her. Colin kept saying how couples were meant to find each other when the kids had left home. ‘Kids,’ I’d say. ‘You mean kid. We only had the one. Remember? Your decision, I think?’ It wasn’t fair of me. I was so ill with Jenny – he said we couldn’t take the risk again. But I always wanted another one.
The kids think I’m mean, giving them lines or detentions if they muck the classroom up. But it’s only politeness. They disturb the pile of dictionaries, they should make up for it. One of them broke a pencil of mine – oooh, I was cross. Jenny knows what I’m like for stationery. I order it online these days. I don’t keep any of it at home. Colin’s likely to move it somewhere so I can’t find it. He thinks a mug left on the table, a pair of trousers hung on the back of a chair, these things don’t matter. Jenny used to back me up. Even though she gave us a few scares, she knew what I liked. She says she tries to keep her desk tidy in her room even now. I was so proud. ‘Pfff,’ Colin said. ‘Let’s hope she’s writing her essays, that’s all.’
It’s not the teaching, really, that does it for me. Don’t get me wrong. I like it when a lesson goes well and they’ve got it all written out neatly in their books, underlined. And people say boys aren’t good at neatness. Well, there’s a careless young thing in the department these days – she leaves stuff around, sandwich packets, screwed up paper. She’s got the desk next to mine. I’ve built a barrier with books, like a little wall, but she keeps knocking it and it takes ages to sort it all out each night. She tripped today as she was passing my desk – clumsy kid - and her coffee splashed onto my planner. I know I probably overreacted, but, silly girl, sobbing like that in front of Patrick and the others.
Colin got annoyed last summer holidays when I came into school, putting up displays, that kind of thing. It takes a long time, getting the edges right. ‘You don’t get paid enough,’ he said. ‘Stay at home. I never see you.’ I didn’t like him shouting. There were bits of cereal in between his teeth.
I slept in Jenny’s bed all that night, although her room was hot and stuffy, no windows opened. She stayed in Edinburgh that summer – said she had a job at Smiths. So I had time to make sure all my files were reorganised, for September. I couldn’t concentrate, though. In the end, Colin went away for a fortnight with a friend, I don’t know who. We’ve a couple of comfy chairs in the History office and if you put them end to end they don’t make a bad bed. It meant I could start first thing each day on getting things right.
Jenny rang today. “Mum, you can’t send me all this money,” she said. “It must be most of your pay.”
“No, keep it,” I said. “Just between you and me, though, love,” I said. “Maybe you could use some of it on a train ticket. Come and see us.” She said she might. That’ll be nice. I’ll get on with sorting her room.