This is part five of a fictional story I am attempting to write. I am not 100% happy with this as I wrote this from scratch last night. Everything else that has been published on here has been sitting on my computer for the last six years or so.
If you are interested in catching up on the story, you can click on the links below:
Unsurprisingly, Jack barely slept a wink that night. His mother, true to her word, stayed with him until the morning and woke him with a gentle squeeze of his hand. He had dozed, but his dreams were fitful and in them he was surrounded by familiar faces all asking him the same question about his Dad. Was he going to die? Jack, in his dreams, had stared at everyone blankly while listening intently to a rhythmic tapping that was sounding out in the distance somewhere. A rhythmic tapping that only he could hear.
Light seeped in through his eyelids as Jack reluctantly let the new day in. The first thing he saw was the smiling face of his mother. It took a minute to comprehend that she was actually speaking to him.
“…so you don’t have to go to school today if you don’t want to.”
Jack shook his head at this suggestion and explained that he wanted to go to school. He didn’t want anyone knowing his family’s news – not yet. He couldn’t bear to think of the looks on his teachers’ faces or the inevitable uncomfortable silence as he revealed his father’s illness to his friends.
“As you wish,” she mother said. “I understand.”
She left him then and returned to his father, who, as far as Jack was aware was still sleeping soundly in their bedroom. Ordinarily, Jack’s father would have been at work today. He worked as a civil engineer for the local council and had done for over twenty years. Jack recalled his father telling him last week that he was owed some holiday and was taking a few days off. Knowing what he knew now, Jack wasn’t sure that his father would be going back to work at all. As it would turn out, Jack was correct in his assumption because Carl was too ill to be at work and once the chemotherapy began, he would be introduced to a weakness like no other.
Carl was still asleep when Jack dashed out of the house just in time for the school bus. Waiting for him upstairs on the double decker was Michael, Jake and Aaron. Jack could tell that Michael was angry at him over something, but he could not, for the life in him, remember what he had done wrong.
“Where were you last night?” Michael asked.
“At home,” was Jack’s reply.
“I was online for hours waiting to play. You know, like we had agreed just before you left my house,” Michael said.
“My mum made me finish my History project. She wouldn’t let me near the bloody X-Box, let alone talk to you on it all night.”
You alright this morning?” Aaron asked Jack. “You look knackered, mate.”
“Just tired, that’s all.”
The rest of the journey was subdued. Michael continuously checked his phone to see if Chloe Peterson from English had text. She hadn’t. Jack didn’t care. He merely stared out of the window and thought about who he had seen last night in his garden. He was about to ask his friends whether they had been out late the previous evening, but it had been the small hours of the morning when he had heard the tapping. Michael was afraid of his own shadow and always appeared to panic whenever they were out past 9o’clock. No, the leg didn’t belong to any of his friends. Pushing his thoughts aside with some force, Jack continued to look silently out of his window until he was nudged in the arm by Jake telling him to get his arse downstairs because they had arrived at the school gates.
English was first. By 9.05am, a bright, but crisp sunshine had begun to light up the school. The cold was still bitter and there was a dampness in the air, but as Jack turned towards the classroom window, he could feel the sun on his face and the heat emitting from it. This signalled the start of spring. It was coming; there was still a way to go before bike rides in the long summer evenings, tree climbing by twilight and hideouts and dens in the woods behind the park. Momentarily, Jack wondered how his Dad’s illness might impact on these activities that meant the world to him, but in the grand scheme of things, they were unimportant and unnecessary. He could already hear his dad telling him not to think like that, yet when it’s your own family in danger then the little things, no matter how significant you think they are, get pushed to the back of the queue. Cogs and wheels began to churn and turn in Jack’s mind as his attention moved away from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and onto the classroom window that looked out onto the playing fields.
He stared out of the window for a long time and when he turned his attention briefly back to the class, Jack noticed his teacher, Mr Watson, give him the slightest of nods. It was the ‘knowing’ nod. The nod that told Jack that Mr Watson knew and he was not going to punish Jack for being off task and staring out of the window because Mr Watson had learnt earlier that morning that ‘there were issues at home’. Sadie had been quick off the mark. Yes, she agreed that she wanted Jack’s life to continue as normal, but she also knew her son inside out and no matter how much he wanted to continue as normal, he just wouldn’t be able to do it. That’s the beginnings of distress and grief: the mind wanders lost and lonely and sometimes it is only the slightest of nods from your English Teacher that is needed to bring you back into the real world that you want to escape from.
The familiar monotonous tone of the Bard’s words filled the stuffy classroom as Mr Watson recited the familiar monologue:
“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.
Be not her maid since she is envious.
Her vestal livery is but sick and green,
And none but fools do wear it. Cast it off!”
Mr Watson broke off from his lines to pose a series of familiar questions.
“ ‘Juliet is the sun’ is an example of what?” Mr Watson asked.
“A metaphor, Sir,” a voice shouted out.
“Yes, thank you Jordan, but let’s not shout out.”
“Sorry!” Jordan shouted out.
“What does the metaphor tell us about Juliet?” Mr Watson asked, once again.
“She’s bright, Sir.”
“She’s yellow, Sir.”
“She’s hot, Sir!” came the barrage of replies.
Rolling his eyes, Mr Watson dared to move on and a flicker of panic crossed his face as he posed the next question:
“Anyone recall what we said Juliet’s ‘vestal livery’ is?
The unfamiliarity of the phrase meant that, this time, no one shouted out.
“It was the uniform worn by, erm, virgins,” Mr Watson finished quickly.
“What’s a virgin, Sir?” Jordan asked with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
Mr Watson raised a knowing eyebrow and yet suddenly a bombardment of comments began to flow through the room as the pupils saw their opportunity.
“Eww, Sir! You told us she was only thirteen, Sir. That’s gross.”
“Did Romeo go to jail, Sir?”
“No Kieran, you know this! You’ve watched the film twice.” said Mr Watson incredulously
“He should have been arrested, she’s a teenager,”
“So is Romeo, Jimmy,” Mr Watson sighed.
“Sir! Why do the characters speak English if the play was set in Verona?” another person shouted up. “They should speak Veronian.”
“That’s not a even a word, Elise.” Mr Watson said.
“Sir! Sir! Can we watch the petrol station scene again with the guns?”
“Please remember, Joe that in the exam you won’t mention guns,”
By this time, Mr Watson was almost swimming in his own despair.
“Stop!” He shouted. “Just stop. Year ten, we have read this scene before, we have watched the scene in the film, you know the play is set in Italy and you know what Juliet being only thirteen was, well, it was normal, in the 1500s.
“What was?” Jordan shouted.
It was nothing more than a whisper and yet it felt like a thousand decibels: “Get out.”
Suddenly, the class was silent. Standing up quietly, Jordan made his way to the front of the class. As he passed his teacher, he raised his hand to his mouth and bit hit thumb.
“Jordan, what the hell are you doing?” Mr Watson asked.
“I’m biting my thumb at you, Sir. You know what that means don’t you?”
There was a slight snigger from the rest of the class.
Mr Watson couldn’t help but smile as he pointed to the door. At least something of what he was teaching was lingering in their brains somewhere. He turned back to the remaining pupils in the classroom.
“I’ll let you watch the petrol station scene again if you agree to watch the balcony one again too,” said Mr Watson. “You lot are going to be the death of me.”
He paused then and looked over to Jack because he realised he has said something that might upset one of his pupils. Jack, however, remained oblivious to the whole conversation. He didn’t know what a ‘vestal livery’ was and nor did he care; he wasn’t bothered that the Shakespearian characters would have fought with swords and not Smith and Wessons and he didn’t know that when Jordan was biting his thumb at his English teacher, he was actually swearing at him. Jack was oblivious to the classroom antics because Jack was staring at a boy standing alone in the field outside. And the boy? Well, he was staring right back at Jack, and waving.