School days

By Vita Forest

 

I hear a child say he wished to die.  Saw no point in it and he was tired, tired, tired.  I know, said the woman with the water rubbing his hand, I know.

Another said she likes to hang out here, in my room, their room, our room, more real and familiar than that house they had just moved to.  They swing open the door with confidence, as if they own it, which they do, and march in to look at the schedule, to get their hat, to get their book, to have a chat.

I stand in the playground with the sun at my back and wave at my grinning girls as they skip through hoops and miss completely the boy brandishing his fist at another.  The victim tells his tale as the other stalks away.  The parties are gathered and talk tearfully in turn,

He said….  

He did….

I only wanted to…

I was just trying to… 

It wasn’t my fault.

Another day I do not miss the boy, morning meds forgotten, baring his teeth at his friends, lashing at the air, at a tree, at the curious Kindergarten boys who venture too close before I turn them away.  We watch and let him roam and calm and he creeps back again, more in this world than out.  Yes, his mother is told, the drugs do seem to make a difference.

After a final Peer Support meeting, the whole school frolics outside, playing Tip, playing Grandmother’s Footsteps, playing on the soggy muddy grass, shrieking in the cold wind.  One boy, one of my dancers, asks if I will hold the final treat, the bag of lollies for him – he needs both hands.  Only if you give us one later, shoots back another nearby teacher.  He grins and runs off and we compare notes on the ups and downs of children as we watch them play.  Later that week I will draw thick black smudges over the boy’s eyes and silver lightning bolts on his cheeks and spiralling scrolls on his chin.  It’s the first time I’ve worn makeup he tells me, looking at the eyeliner pencil in wonder.

In Assembly the boys point to their knees and I give the filthy, muddy, knobbly things the thumbs up.  It brings me joy to see such evidence of unabashed play.  And later that week, those boys who stand atop those strong, wiry legs collect ribbons for long jump, for high jump for hundred metre races.  See what playing in the dirt will do?

That day we go to the oval and the clouds hang low, but we make a start and how they run and jump and throw!  The parents provide free cups of hot drink for adults and on a break I clutch a tea in my cold hands and huddle into my parka.  I collect the lengths of long jumps on my clipboard, measured and sung out by high school boys, the same age as my faraway son.  In any gaps in the proceedings, they tear down the path themselves and hurl themselves into the sandpit.  Foul!  the other cries, but hardly ever mean it.  At the other end of the pit, the children who did not like to run pat sand into castles and fashion hills with their bare hands.  At lunch, the clouds come down and we find shelter where we can, but still the children run and still the children jump.  I go back to school early, standing swaying on a crowded bus with the children who have finished, who have lost interest, who are cold! whose breath turns the windows of the bus to fog.

In the crowded classroom, we turn on the heat and a movie, while the boys make a meticulous list of who would go on the computers, and in what order.  Enraged he had to wait, one boy from another class kicks his shoes in the air, slams the door, screams.  The others stare momentarily, used to his behaviour, then go back to their lunch.  I know him too, he hasn’t changed.  I ring the office, I let children go to the toilet, I accept drawings done on scrap paper, I time the time they have on the computer, I text my friend late back after their bus gets stuck on a tiny street, she has to stand in the rain and help direct it past an illegally parked car.

And the next day we show the school the dress rehearsal with costume, hair and makeup.  Eyes boring out from black scribbles smudged with finger tips, others peering out from itchy wigs in psychedelic colour.  An audience – it brings both excitement and intimidation as their classmates see them, watch them, judge them.  How much harder to stare into familiar eyes than into blank, unappraising space.

I walk back and forth through the week, carrying armfuls of paper, photos, reports in yellow envelopes, skipping ropes, jackets with silver collars and stage makeup.  Carrying list of things to do, people to talk to, staples, velcroze, stiff black cardboard, plans for the holidays and for next term.

We hold a party for the whole Year on the last afternoon to farewell my student, going overseas for years, to celebrate the end of term for all.  They bring out bags of food and one boy tells me he has never eaten such things before, his mother makes everything and will not buy this food wrapped in plastic.  He concedes her homemade cakes tastes better.  Another boy eats fruit, he is going away tomorrow, he explains, and doesn’t want to get sick in the car.  My girls present a card to their friend, make a speech, send her off.  The card-maker tells me she got all the girls to sign it but had to write some of the boys names herself because they would not cooperate, not be appropriate, not behave, she says severely.  (The boys are outraged at this assessment).  They all kick balls, throw balls, lounge around the picnic tables and shovel food into the mouths.  The ground is muddy still despite the sun and I am offered up more muddy knees for inspection.  The bell rings and my departing student hangs behind with her friends, not wanting to leave, looking around the classroom one last time.  She gets a marker and writes her class, her old class, a message for next term:

I will miss you – yes even the boys… it says.

X is for… Xanthe

By Vita Forest

IMG_4091[1]

 

Her name was spelt with an “X” and meant “golden one”.  She wasn’t golden really.  Not her hair, not her skin, not even her eyes.

“Wow,” Sam said, “That’s a lot to live up to.”

Xanthe smiled/frowned or frowned/smiled, Sam didn’t know her well enough to know which part was stronger.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Do you feel pressure to live up to your name?  Are you planning on winning a medal at the Olympics or discovering a cure for cancer?  Perhaps you already have…”

Xanthe smiled/smiled (or so Sam thought anyway).

“No, not yet.  But I did win a tennis trophy once.”

“Wow, that’s impressive.  Wimbledon?”

“Something like that.”  She was losing interest.  Do something!  Say something!

“Am I talking too much?  Sometimes I talk too much.  Especially when I’m nervous.  Not that you are making me nervous.  I’m just nervous.  Not all the time of course.  But I am at the moment.  I will now stop talking so you can answer.”

That was excellent.  Excellent conversation skills.

There was a long pause.  Or perhaps that meant it was over.  Over before it had even begun.    Just a tragic tale to be added to the collection of Bad Beginnings that went no further.  Was that it then?  Perhaps it was time to leave.  Sam nearly walked away, awkward silences were more awkward than awkward conversations.  But then Xanthe started talking again.

“Why did you tell me you were nervous?  Is that so I can feel sorry for you?  Is that how you make friends?  You get people to feel sorry for you?”

Sam smiled, “So we are going to be friends.”

Xanthe’s eyes widened, they were brown, not gold, but that was not a problem.

“I never said that.  And you haven’t answered my question.”

“I guess you are making me nervous, but in a good way.”

“There’s a good way to be nervous?”

Sam plunged in, “It’s a good nervous if you meet someone that is so intriguing, so interesting, that you want to say the right thing so they like you enough to want to get you know you back.  Someone who is golden on the inside and shining on the outside.”

Xanthe stared then looked away.  At last she spoke in a low voice, “That was a little bit too charming for my liking.  I think there may be something wrong with you.  That’s a little bit too intense.”

“Sorry.”

“So what is your name?”

“Sam.”

“And what does Sam mean?  What do you have to live up to?”

Sam shrugged, “I don’t know.”

“Let’s see then shall we? Sam!”  she dragged the last word out, but again, it was too soon to know if she was being affectionate or annoyed.  Xanthe pulled out her phone and punched “meaning of Sam” into Google.  Sam moved closer so they were standing shoulder to shoulder.  They stood waiting for the answer, Sam glancing from her non-golden eyes to the buffering screen, thinking Anything to keep her talking, anything to stay this close.

The screen flickered and settled, Sam watched Xanthe peer down at the screen, then frown/smile or smile/frown then burst into laughter.

“What?  What does it say?”

Xanthe shook her head at Sam, “You thought I had problems – your name means “Name of God”.  I think that is harder to live up to than “Golden One!””

Sam blinked, “Wow.  That must be why I feel so nervous.”

Xanthe smiled/smiled.  Sam smiled back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week

By Vita Forest

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This week I have been

  • READING
    • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.  Again.  (How amazing is she?)
  • WRITING
  • MAKING my little army of felt elves and fairies (without the help of the cats).
  • VISITING a park by the harbour for a Sunday picnic.
  • WATCHING Cyberbully with Maisie Williams.
  • REFEREEING paper chain competitions for a Length activity for Measurement Day at school.

 

An unlikely encounter with the Black Revenge

By Vita Forest

A piece of Flash fiction for you in response to a writing prompt on Story Butter – “17th century pirates pass through a time portal and find themselves nearby a modern cruise ship. Tell us what happens next.”

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“Come up on deck, you’ll want to see this.”

Never before had the boy given him an order.  Never before had the boy addressed him without any sort of deferment.  And so never before would the boy receive such a thrashing…

Adam opened one eye and saw the boy standing in the doorway, the door which he had opened without knocking.  He was white-faced, seemingly unaware of his transgression.  He stood waiting, already half-turning.  Adam blinked and grimaced, he supposed he would deal with this insolence later.  What could it be?  Another ship lurching recklessly across their path?  It almost wouldn’t be worth the bother.  Unless they could take the ship too…

“What is it?  Another ship?”

“Yes but…”

“I’ll be right up,” he barked curtly.

The boy hesitated then left.  Adam threw back the bedclothes and swung his feet to the floor.  He stretched his arms and felt the snap in the sinews of his right shoulder.  He wouldn’t recognise himself without it now.

Coming so quickly out of sleep, the boy’s disrespect had unnerved him.  But Adam pulled on his boots, and stepping over to the window, wrenched the curtain along the rail.  And stopped.

There was nothing but white.  White?  Snow this time of year?  But then he looked down and saw the sea jade-green below, and the white rising like a wall out of it.  This was no swirling storm but a solid barrier, rising higher than he could see.

More urgent knocking at his door.

“I’m coming!” he roared and threw his belt around his waist.  Adam opened the door and followed the boy up the stairs, his hands kneading the leather scabbard as he went.  They burst out onto the deck into the glare of the summer sun.  Adam blinked, blinded temporarily, then saw the whole crew lining the port side of the ship in front of the white wall.  When they heard him, they turned their faces, slack-jawed toward him.  He was irritated but also deeply fearful.  What had made these hard men look like that?

The boy was babbling, “It just appeared…out of nowhere.”

Adam looked up, his eyes following the line of white, up, up, surely not up some more.  But still it rose, until Adam had to throw back his head, stretching all the muscles in his neck.  This ship was colossal, it was like looking up from the base of a cliff.  It dwarfed them, how could that be?  He could make out the tiny silhouettes of people looking down.  Looking down at them and… waving?  They were waving down at them as if they were in some insignificant dingy, not the Black Revenge.  He dropped his gaze to see where the monster ended.  There, in the distance, he could just make out the indifferent blue of the sky outlining the edge of the other ship.

“Lefroy?”

His first mate was at this side immediately.

“Cannons ready?”

He bowed.

Adam nodded grimly and climbed up to take the wheel.

This week

By Vita Forest

Lotsa resting this week

Lotsa resting this week

This week I have been

  • READING
    • Juggling by Barbara Trapido
    • The Travelling Hornplayer by Barbara Trapido
  • WRITING
  • MAKING little teeny tiny felt fairy and elves (see Crafting with Cats)
  • VISITING the doctor due to illness and therefore
  • MISSING all sorts of school and social events …
  • WATCHING
    • Hitting Home on the ABC
    • Wolf Hall on DVD
  • RESTING and therefore doing lots of READING and WATCHING

What have I learned from blogging? Reflections of a newbie blogger.

By Vita Forest

Having fun with Diptic - how do you make your illustrations?

Having fun with Diptic – how do you make your illustrations?

As a teacher, I spend quite a bit of time reflecting on how lessons went, how successful programs were, how effective certain strategies are with my students.  I thought I would apply the same logic to this blog.

I started this blog in July for a number of reasons:

  • to have a place to do some writing.
  • to make myself write regularly.
  • to explore and experiment.
  • to connect with other people.

This is what I have learned so far…

  • some discipline.  I committed to writing at least one post a week and have done that.  Instead of writing being something I did when everything else was finished, and if I had any energy left, I have prioritized my writing and built a kind of routine.
  • it doesn’t have to be perfect.  James Clear has written some very good articles about creativity and the fact that you need to do a body of work.  Sometimes it won’t be amazing, but producing something regularly is much more effective than waiting for inspiration to hit. I have become more fearless and open and hit that Publish button with relish.
  • sometimes it’s good to have constraints.  (Actually make that all the time).  Whether it’s word limits, time constraints, or a very particular designated topic in a blogging event, limitations of some kind seem to bring focus, and paradoxically, they free up the mind from the paralysis of the open-ended. (So far I have participated in two blogging events, producing An unfortunate meeting with a fairy and He loves me, he loves me not… )
  • unexpected topics have a way of cropping up.  I thought I had to have everything mapped out, but sometimes I start writing about one thing and it turns into something else.  And that is OK.
  • how to make visuals I get to create my own images (mainly photos doctored in Diptic).  This is another way to be creative that I hadn’t expected.
  • feedback and community are fantastic.  I have now completed two novels.  I send them out (occasionally) and wait indefinitely to get any response from agents or publishers.  Sometimes it has been positive, but more often its impersonal, months later and in the form of standard rejection letters.  Blogging is a way to instantly connect with people from all around the world, and I really appreciate people taking the time to read, Like and respond to my work.  It’s so helpful (and I have to say I get a buzz out of it!)  Maybe one day, someone will publish my novels, but until then, I’m loving the blogging.

Now I’m going to try and transfer some of my newfound discipline to the rather tedious and often soul-destroying task of sending out my second novel to agents and publishers.  Because nothing will happen if I don’t DO something.

So that is what this newbie blogger has learned so far.  How about you?  What have you learned from blogging?

 

He loves me, he loves me not…

By Vita Forest

This week I am trying something new.  I’m participating in a blogging event for The Creativity Carnival.  Shafali provides one of her artworks as a cue and bloggers respond however they like.  Here is this week’s artwork and here is a short piece of fiction in response.  Hope you enjoy…

Creativity Carnival: Handcuffs

Handcuffs - A pen and ink drawing for the Creativity Carnival Edition 6.

See, he does love her.  He brought her roses.  Who needs words when the florist is happy, he is happy, her friends are happy?

“Oh!” they coo, “You two are so sweet!”

He brandishes them in front of her like a dare.  A dozen red roses wrapped in the softest blue tissue paper.  Her friends perch on bar stools and sip cold dry wine that fogs the glasses that cradle it.  And praise him.

While she can only think, “Now I have to find a vase…”

He knew they would be there.  He knew they would forgive him for her.  But perhaps forgive is too strong a word.

Adjust.

Adjust to the new normal.  Because, come on, – what does she really have to complain about?

Beautiful home.  The best restaurants.  The best holidays.  Trips to the snow, the reef, the opera.  Who wouldn’t want it?

She folds herself into ever more complicated shapes.  She twists her head around so that she can look the other way.  She makes herself smaller and smaller, breaking the bones in her toes so she can fit inside this tiny jeweled box.  She stops breathing to take up less room.  She lets go of her own hand and casts herself adrift.  What if?  She forgives.  She cries alone.  She does not tell anyone.

A shriek of raucous laughter brings her back.  He leans over casually and refills the glasses, adding just the right anecdote, just the right amount of fizz.

She slides a stalk from the bunch and peers into the severed end, into the tiny circle of its inner core.  It’s edged with green, golden inside.  Golden.

“What?!”

Her friends turn in astonishment.  Shock on their faces.  His face is impassive but deadly.  She knows that look.  They watch as she clenches the stalk tighter and tighter.  White knuckle grip.  Her own blood dripping onto the floor.