‘“Spastic eyeballs”…’ Miss Dunbavin shook her head. ‘That is so unlike you.’
Derek carefully examined the graffiti etched into his desk. Rudi woz ere ’82.
‘I know Sophie can be a bit… forthright sometimes, but to see you round on her like that… What got into you?’
If your reading this your not listening to the teacher! He noticed the mistakes and wished he had a penknife so he could fix them. Miss Dunbavin walked around and perched herself on the desk in front. As she sat her blouse rustled and her pencil-thin skirt creaked under the strain. This wasn’t detention, it was torture. Derek dipped his nose closer to the desk and read feverishly on: Wot? No prospects? True in so many ways…
‘Are you even listening to me, Derek?’
She slipped one ankle behind the other. Her tights stretched thinly over her legs and Derek noticed she has a scar on her left kneecap, an imperfection that made her seem more human, more… accessible.
‘I’m listening, Miss. She started it.’ He still couldn’t look up. His Problem stirred and he was very afraid that if allowed his eyes to journey to her face, they’d stop and set up camp somewhere near her breasts. ‘She’s always picking on me! Everyone’s always picking on me!’
Miss Dunbavin sighed. ‘I’m sure that’s not true.’
‘It is true! I get shown the blue goldfish every week!’
‘The blue goldfi—?’
‘They flush my head down the toilet, Miss. It’s called “seeing the blue goldfish”.’ He was surprised she’d never heard the expression before; hadn’t she ever been to school?
‘Well…,’ she began, struggling for something to say. ‘Well, I’ll mention it to Mr Bunyan and I’m sure he’ll—’
‘Really Miss, if you want to help then don’t tell anyone.’
She was silent for a while, so Derek chanced an upward glance to see what her face was doing. His eyes did settle on her breasts, but only in passing and he doubted it lasted long enough for her to notice. She was staring out into middle space, and he wondered if she was thinking about him or something else entirely. He hoped she was thinking about him. When she jumped to her feet Derek realised he’d been staring at her breasts again. ’Stay here!’ she said as though he were free to leave. She walked over to the filing cabinet and took a stack of photocopied papers from the top. ‘There,’ she announced, dropping the stack on his desk. ‘Every single club and society in school. The secret to fitting in, Derek, is making the effort. Now I know you started late in the first year, but that’s not unusual. Most of you catch up, but I you need a bit of a boost.’
‘Yes,’ she said and leaned over him to thumb through the papers. Derek inhaled, a shallow intake of breath he hoped she wouldn’t notice. It was Poison, the same as before though this time her scent mingled with cigarettes and cola cubes. He breathed deeper and her shoulder brushed against his. ‘Look,’ she said. ‘There’s drama, chess club, archery, cross-country running, gymnastics… Honestly, it amazes me when I find you lot hanging around the playing field complaining you’ve got nothing to do…’
Derek’s eyes swivelled down of their own accord; they following the line past her open collar and plunged into the depths of her cleavage.
‘Ah! The very thing!’ She sat bolt up right, almost hitting Derek’s head with her own. ‘Art club!’
Derek pretended to examine his fingernails. ‘Art club?’ he echoed. ‘But isn’t Sophie Stebbs in the art club?’
‘Yes, and it just started five minutes ago. Get your bag; I’ll walk you across.’
Derek treated her to his most doubtful look. ‘I don’t think art club’s a good idea, Miss.’
‘This is not a request, Derek. It’ll give you and Sophie a chance to get along in an environment where she’s comfortable. You’ll probably find she’s a different person when she’s doing something she’s not frightened of.’
‘And I think you sitting there staring at my chest isn’t really healthy for either of us.’
Derek’s mouth fell open; he slammed it shut, only to have it fall open again. ‘Miss! I never…! I wasn’t…! I was just…!’ His face flushed so violently he thought his eyes would melt.
At least she was smiling. In his own mind Derek was sure he’d never smile or laugh again. His ears felt hot, really really hot, and his stirring Problem suddenly shrank away to nothing. This was without doubt the worst day of his life. In a moment of madness, thinking he had little else left to lose, he decided to profess his love for her. An entreaty, just like in Shakespeare – but in proper English they’d both understand.
Miss Dunbavin’s smile faded as soon as he cleared his throat.
‘Miss Dunbavin,’ Derek began. ‘I think you are—’
‘C’mon you,’ she said quickly. ‘Let’s go see if there’s a spare desk at art club.’
And the moment of madness passed.
‘What about detention?’ Derek asked glumly.
A much weaker, more cautious smile returned to her lips. ‘Oh, I think we’ve both been punished enough.’