You straighten your tie. Tap your fingers on your leg, breathing in the scent of basketballs, sweat, and a mix of aerosol antiperspirants. When you step on stage, you still have to remind yourself to feel your feet, look at a point just above their heads, reach into your own chest to gather your voice. You still begin with this seasick belly, after so many years.
After all these years the kids are still rocking their chairs back, balancing on two legs. The kids are still chewing gum. The girls still wear their skirts too short and their shirts too low. You have given this talk so many times that, once begun, you only notice half the words. Responsibility. The Reputation of the School. Call their behaviour “appalling” because that word tastes so round and sour. List the recent breaches. It no longer matters if the breaches are recent or not, list them anyway, using your stare to tip those chairs down to four legs, to silence those whispers and to stop those insolent jaws, gum under their tongues.
Now you have their attention, turn to Consequences. Your eyes roam the room. There—those girls. The dark haired one with a dragon charm on a string tucked beneath her collar. She flicked her fingers, opened her hand. You have had her in your office three times this week already. Watch.
The golden haired girl beside her, feigning attention. Uniform correct, shirt buttoned all the way, skirt of appropriate length. The quiet one. The one called upon when a good influence is required to show a new student around the school. Your speech doesn’t pause as you watch her stealthily tear a page from her book. You allow her to fold it, using her nails to form sharp, precise creases.
You wait. You watch her hand reach across, into the dark-haired girl’s lap, linger just moments too long. That precise moment when hand on hand enfolds that paper—crack her name like a whip from your mouth.
She jumps, blushes, panic across her face. Name the dark-haired one, too, call both forward for public reprimand. One saunters, one creeps. One glares back defiant as you rant, the other stares at your shoes. See how close they stand. Sometimes as they fidget the backs of their hands touch.
Demand that crisply folded paper.
Unseal it. Two hands have written—you have your proof, your weapon. Return the note with a demand:
Read it aloud.
Before the whole school. Now. Read your confession of love, your intimate betrayal, your plans to crash the weekend party. Read. Golden-hair first.
You hand back the paper—too late, notice her hand grasp the other girl’s as they turn. Too late notice her chin rise and her feet turn roots. Too late notice they smile, the energy surging, not from one to the other but summoned by both--
A deep inhale. Parted lips and eyes that rest closed, then--
dust motes dance in sunlight, turn to fairies that war for gossamer thrones, chalk dust deserts quenched by teardrop rains flow rivers pigmented, pink, blue, yellow, acorns thrown in gutters sprout, root, crack open these halls and the crows that feast on lunch scraps gather to sing…
Your hand is at your tie, rocking it loose. You cannot breathe and swallow this magic, you cannot speak to stop them. Dark-hair takes the page, grips her charm, reads:
and the forest is filled with bears and fish that climb out of the stream and sing, mushrooms rise from the rich, dark loam bearing gifts for the butterfly king, a storm arises, raining stardust and snowflakes that catch in the canopy…
They pause, breathe. Only then do you notice the sobs of weeping schoolboys. You have melted to your knees, your tie discarded.
and the sea carves mermaids and kelpies from rock, and driftwood forms bones and seaweed makes flesh, these scarecrows make fire and dance with the tide--
You have kicked off your shoes, you notice now your mismatched socks, your sleeves rolled askew, you notice yourself swoon… still they go on:
silver gulls cry: your sadness, your sadness--
summon you inward, call your soul deep…
Your mismatched socks,
your abandoned tie.
Your jacket strangely scented with salt.
Your flesh surrendered to a faraway sea.
Kathryn Reese lives in Adelaide, South Australia. She works in medical science. Her writing explores themes of nature, spirituality, myth and the possibility of shape shift. Her poems are published in Neoperennial Press Heroines Anthology, Hayden’s Ferry Review and Yellow Arrow Journal.
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