by Oliver Barton
‘To tell you the truth, I’ve never really liked him,’ said Andy Martin, stifling a yawn. He was going to add, ‘He’s a bully, he’s lazy, uncharming, rude, ugly and overfed, in which respects he clearly takes after his parents,’ when it dawned on him that he was not in the middle of a dream of sweet revenge; this was a real parents’ evening and the boy’s father and mother were glaring at him from the other side of his desk like two Sumo wrestlers waiting for the starting pistol.
‘I’ve never really liked him… using a fountain pen,’ he finished lamely, hoping he sounded convincing. Mr and Mrs Groser glowered at him.
‘That pen cost fifteen quid,’ said Mr Groser. ‘It’s a Parker.’
‘The make is immaterial,’ Andy wanted to say. ‘It’s the way your child flicks ink at me when my back’s turned. I’ve had to buy a navy blue jacket, which cost a lot more than fifteen quid, I may add.’ Instead, he muttered, ‘It’s not good for his handwriting.’
Mrs Groser said, ‘I thought it was the other way round.’
Andy was puzzled. ‘What was?’ he said.
‘I thought biro was bad for your handwriting. That’s what they said when I was at school. That’s why you bought him that Parker thing, isn’t it, Cedric?’ She was gazing at her husband as a pig at a cabbage leaf.
He’s not called Cedric, thought Andy. He can’t be. Cedrics are pale and sickly. He should be a Percy or a Humphrey.
But Cedric or not, her husband’s mind had clearly moved on from pens. ‘You said he copied some other boy’s homework,’ he said. ‘He never. You can’t make alligators like that!’
Andy searched his memory. The boy produced a lot of excuses but rarely any homework, and when he did, it was mostly indecipherable.
‘Show him, Wend,’ said Cedric to his wife. She delved into a monstrous handbag and produced a tattered exercise book. Cedric grabbed it and jabbed a finger at a page.
Andy looked. He looked and looked closer, and at last he understood. He adopted his most avuncular pedagogical expression and explained, as to a backward but likeable youngster, ‘Two things come to mind, Mr Groser.
‘One.’ He counted it on his thumb. ‘The comment here is “This has been copied.” It doesn’t say your Roger did the copying. His might be the original that some other boy has copied.’ Andy wished he had written the comment. It was clever. It was argument-proof. But he hadn’t, because…
‘Two,’ he continued. ‘I teach your boy Maths. This is his English exercise book.’
He had their attention now. It reminded him of the way a dog focusses on an ankle before going for the kill.
‘Maths?’ wheezed Cedric.
‘You know. Sums,’ said Andy helpfully.
‘Hate Maths.’ Cedric narrowed his tiny eyes. ‘Who teaches him English?’
‘His English teacher?’ suggested Andy.
There was a pause. Andy wondered if he had gone a bit too far. Then Mr Groser heaved himself up. ‘Let’s split, Wend,’ he cried. ‘Hate Maths.’
At the door, he turned round to Andy, staggered back, and in a hoarse stage whisper said, ‘Gotta tell you, mate. I never really liked him neither. It’s the wife, see.’ His little eye winked.
The door closed. Andy sighed, and then sought the small flask he had secreted in his desk drawer for just such an eventuality. Only another seventeen to go, he thought.
Oliver Barton lives in Abergavenny surrounded by seven hills and many cats, only one of which is real.