It is Monday morning. 'Miss' is in the middle of teaching year 7 a play version of 'Dracula'. Year 7 are going to act out the scene in which the vampiresses attack Jonathan Harker ..........
‘But you said we could be the vampirettes, Miss.’ Krystal had appointed herself the spokesperson.
‘Vampiresses,' I said.
‘Yeah,’ said Krystal. ‘Vampirettes, vampiressters, it doesn’t matter,’ she said, tossing aside my desire for linguistic accuracy as though it were a used tissue. ‘So me and Bryony and Jade wanted to act it out properly by dressing up and stuff. Didn’t we?’ The other two nodded, obedient as nuns. This was incongruous, clothed as they were in dark purple sheets that looked borrowed from a whore’s boudoir. And either they’d found some unusually pale foundation or they had Tippexed their faces.
‘I don’t remember mentioning costumes,' I said, 'and all the white make-up and black lips and blood down your chins. And the teeth. You should have asked me if you wanted to do this.’
‘It’s not real blood. It’s red paint,’ said Jade. ‘We got it from Art. Mr Mason didn’t mind. He let us put it on at break, in his classroom, while he ate his Poptarts.’
We were in the treacherous realms of one teacher’s standards against another’s. ‘You’re meant to be outside at break, not blooding yourselves up in Art,’ I said.
The rest of the class were observing the incident with interest, hoping for escalation. All schoolchildren live in hope of escalation - shouting, people kicking doors, the ‘f’ word: it’s what keeps them going while studying pond life in Biology.
‘Well, anyway, let’s get on with it now,’ I sighed. ‘Tristan. Come up here with your copy of the play. You were going to play Harker, weren’t you?’
Tristan looked wary. A tiny blonde-headed boy with eyes the colour of cobalt, he really belonged at Charterhouse or Rugby School, or in the Christmas story, bringing good news of great joy. He was already reading Robert Louis Stevenson and Dickens as well as science books. Other pupils his age were reading science books but those were called ‘Why is Snot Green?’ or ‘Stuff that Scares your Pants Off!’ Tristan was reading ‘The Science Magpie: a Miscellany of Paradoxes, Explications, Lists, Lives and Ephemera from the Wonderful World of Science.’ His only problem was that he never did his homework, because he always had more interesting things to do, such as, no doubt, restoring Victorian combustion engines in his bedroom. He was constantly in my lunchtime detentions for yet again omitting to complete the tasks I set, hence regular calls from his doting mother with her worries about his digestion because he’d had to rush a meal. I didn’t like to admit to her that all the kids rushed the meals at our school to avoid noticing what vile crap they were eating.
‘Come on, Trithtan,’ said Bryony, whose vampire teeth were getting in the way of her lips. She wiped spittle from her chin with the back of her hand.
‘Yeah, get up here,’ said Krystal. ‘We want to radish you.’
None of this encouraged Tristan to move towards the front of the class. He chewed his lip and glanced at Stephen, another timid boy and his best friend, as if to say, ‘Rescue me.’ Stephen shook his head, his eyes wide. Not even for Tristan would he approach Gorgons.
‘Come on, Tristan,’ I said. ‘I’ll give you a merit.’
‘No good, Miss,’ called out a boy from the back. ‘He already has 63 this term. And two badges.’
‘Two badgerth?’ said Bryony.
‘Badges,’ I said.
‘Oh, I thoughth he meanth the animalth kind of badgerth,’ she said, managing to suck back the spittle this time before it emerged. Was this what Ofsted meant by ‘rapid progress’?
Just as I thought we would have to abandon the lesson plan, Tristan moped up to the front. The class exploded into exaggerated applause, no doubt relieved that he had nominated himself scapegoat, so no one else would get picked on to be eaten alive by three girls whose paint jobs hadn’t dried enough to stop the fake blood from smudging down their necks and onto the collars of their school shirts. And I don’t know what they’d used as eyeliner, but I could see that Jade kept blinking as though it were irritating her corneas. If the Headteacher came in now, I thought, he would have something to say, and it wouldn’t be ‘How about a pay rise?’
Tristan read his part as though he’d been on the stage for years. He played the terrified Jonathan Harker, about to be attacked by three voracious, predatory females, with great conviction. And, as long as I kept reminding the vampiresses, ‘No, don’t actually bite him,’ he got himself radished very entertainingly for the class.
‘Thank you, Tristan,’ I said, when the scene was over. ‘You can go and sit down now.’ I didn’t mention the smudge of red paint on his forehead, but Stephen noticed it. He pulled a pure white handkerchief from his trouser pocket, leant over, and rubbed gently at Tristan’s skin until the mark had gone.
Rumours were that Stephen was also a good actor, despite his shyness. If, in ten years’ time, they did a remake of Brideshead Revisited, I could see the two of them in the main parts: white suits, straw boaters, sitting under a tree in the 1920s sunshine.
And not a vampiresster called Krystal in sight. Merely the Second World War.
|Neither vampiress seemed able to locate Jonathan's neck at the first attempt|