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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Lesson


She sweeps the classroom door open with an imperious gesture that doesn't match her inner feelings of unease.
“In.” she commands, with a slight tilt of her head towards the waiting desks.
Five minutes later, thirty pairs of eyes are fixed on thirty sheets of paper and her fear disappears, only to return as she catches him staring at her, an unfathomable expression on his face.
'Pull yourself together. Why be afraid of a fourteen year old?'
But she is.

She roams the classroom, making a comment here, a correction there. She forces herself to stop in front of his desk.
“Get on with your work.” Her voice is louder than it needs to be.
“Yes Miss,” the boy murmurs, so quietly she can barely hear him.
He bends his head over his paper, a shock of yellow hair hiding his expression from her.

Her insides are churning like a live thing trying to escape the confines of her body. She sits down quickly. He knows, she is convinced. The boy knows she is a fake. Her tough exterior will be an easy shell to penetrate.  Surely, she is on borrowed time. How long before he attempts to break that shell? Will he smash it in one piece or chisel it off, blow by blow? She gazes at the clock. When will this lesson end? How much more can she take without cracking? She is surprised she has managed to last this long without giving way. She thinks back. This is the longest she has survived without someone discovering her true self. Now it seems she will have to look for yet another job, jump before she is pushed.

She begins to shiver as he pushes back his chair and approaches her desk. This is it she decides, the moment of truth. He falters for a moment, and stares, wide-eyed, at her. After what seems an eternity, he simply grabs some paper and returns to his seat.
She knows then what his plan is. He is going to keep making her feel that a confrontation is imminent, then he is going to back off. Will her nerve crack before he tires of that game, or will he say something to her that will prove to his classmates what he already knows, that she can't handle them? They are a most unruly class and if they sense weakness, she will be helpless. The jailer has become the prisoner. What was once a pleasant lesson has become a weekly nightmare. She watches the hands crawl round the clock. A minute or two before the bell is due to ring he approaches her but, as he opens his mouth to say something, the lesson change signals.
“It doesn't matter,” he says, and turns away to pack up his things.

He is the last out of the door, and as she moves to close it behind him he turns back and stares at her for what seems like forever before she looks away and shuts the door. She sits down, shaking. Another lesson over, only one more to get through before she reaches the safety of home, but it's too much, she can't do it.

He hates this lesson. There is something not quite right about this new teacher, although no one else has noticed anything yet. As usual, she has them all working hard and silently within minutes of the lesson starting; but his pen soon slips out of his hand in favour of his daydreams. He isn't here in this stuffy classroom any more. He is a seagull flying high in the sky, soaring above everyone else...

His flight of fancy is shattered when a harsh voice breaks into his thoughts. It's her. He blushes, realising he must have been staring at her. She speaks a few sharp words to him and he bends his head in a posture of obedience.

When she moves away, he decides to draw his daydream. She won't notice, and anyway it's what he's good at, unlike all this other pointless stuff. He searches his folder but can find no paper so he leaves his place to get a piece from her desk. As he draws closer he stops suddenly, unable to stop himself from staring. There is definitely something wrong with her. She is pale and wild-eyed and, although it is a hot day and beads of sweat crowd her forehead, she has goosebumps over her arms. He tears his eyes away and sits down with his paper. He thinks of her for a few moments but then his desire to draw overtakes him and he has to get his ideas onto paper. It's not right though, he scrunches it up and heads for more paper, but then notices the time. Only a few minutes left.
“It doesn't matter,” he tells her.
He thinks she looks at him rather oddly but decides he's imagining it. Anyway, who cares? It's time to leave, thank goodness.
As usual, he's last out of the classroom. She follows him to the door and he looks back at her. She looks scared. She turns away and shuts the door.
'Weird woman.'
For a brief moment he wonders if he should tell someone. But tell who? And tell what? Anyway, it's time for Art, his favourite lesson of the week. He forgets her as he heads for the one hour a week he really enjoys.

No- one saw the crumpled drawing of a seagull that she'd clutched as she jumped. It became dislodged and the wind soon stole it, where it soared, free.

Constructive criticism very welcome.

90 comments:

  1. All I can say is I enjoyed reading it!

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  2. This was so good! I don't even know what to say!

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    1. I think what you said was perfect, thank you :-)

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  3. Why a seagull? Those birds are a nuisance and essentially scavengers. Of all the birds to write about...ugh.

    Great story though. I like the internal monologue and all the questions keep you engaged because it's like you're the one thinking them.

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    1. I wish I could tell you there was some deep significance to it being seagulls, but no. I suspect it was simply that I could hear gulls when I wrote it!

      Thanks for the encouraging comments, Michael.

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  4. I really like it, Sarah! So true that what we assume people are thinking, isn't really what they're thinking at all. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. I really liked this - especially seeing into her head. I guessed she was a little paranoid and the battle was all inside her and the boys thoughts confirmed that.

    To be picky, this sentence felt a little awkward - He searches his folder but can find no paper so he leaves his place to get a piece from her desk. Also the ending felt rather abrupt. Would have liked just a line or two more before she jumped.

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    1. Not being picky at all, it's what I need :-)

      You're right about that line, it doesn't flow does it?

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  6. I love the teacher's point of view the most, but I don't quite understand why she holds onto the drawing.

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    1. In my mind, it was a symbol of her fear. A tangible representation of the boy. I hope that doesn't sound too pretentious!

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  7. This is so cool. Kind of reminds me of that story (or poem - I can't remember) by Poe. You know where he think they can hear the heart beating beneath the floorboards so he turns himself in?

    Anyway... I think it's fascinating the way the mind works. We play off our own insecurities, and usually don't think people's opinion of us is something different than what it truly is. Very cool. Great job!

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    1. That would be The Tell-Tale Heart, and yes, it is by Poe.

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    2. Thank you Leigh, and to Brooke for the confirmation :-)

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  8. Wow. As a former junior high teacher, I can relate to a touch (just a touch) of her fear.

    Very powerful!

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    1. Thankfully, your teaching career didn't end how hers did!

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  9. There was so much tension in this piece! I loved the contrast between the teacher's and the student's perspectives; the difference between what they were thinking.

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    1. I really love playing with how different people interpret the same events or situations. Makes for some interesting misunderstandings :-)

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  10. This was great! I do love the idea that you have no idea what's going on in someone else's mind, even when you think you do. Sarah Fine did a post earlier this week on how people react to and interpret actions of other people, and this little piece really seemed to illustrate it for me!

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    1. I'll have to see if I can find that, thanks Dianne.

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  11. Love this line --> "Her insides are churning like a live thing trying to escape the confines of her body."

    The whole time I was reading the teacher's POV I was thinking, that kid must think she's nuts. Great story. I really enjoyed it. :D

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    1. Thank you! It's funny, I think I had the most difficulty with that line because 'insides' is plural and 'a live thing' isn't. In the end I just went with my gut, (no pun intended!).

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  12. I for one, liked the abrupt ending, but that's why writing is all subjective. I do think you should either put another space between the POV switch or an asterisk. You may have the former, your paragraph breaks seem a little messed up in the post.

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    1. You're right about the formatting. I got a little too giddy about actually sharing something and didn't pay enough attention to the layout :-)

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  13. ...I do enjoy savoring a taste from both points of view.

    Well done, Sarah ;)

    El

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    1. Thank you El, the two points of view thing is something I play with a lot in short stories, you may see more :-)

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  14. Whew. I liked the abrupt ending as well.

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    1. Thank you AA. As Brooke says, it's why writing is so subjective :-)

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  15. This is lovely. I was a teacher for a short while and can really relate to the fear (though I maybe wasn't quite this crazy--I hope). Your writing flows well.

    I agree with Brooke on the POV shift. Either mark it with asterisks or maybe put one POV in italics to point to the shift as I had to back up at that point, like "what? Wait a minute. Oh..." It was powerful to show both sides, and I loved it, but just wasn't aware at the shift point.

    The only other suggestion I have is to show the unruly class acting out rather than just telling us about it in the teacher's thoughts. It would make the teachers fear much more powerful.

    Great story, and I love the end. Good job putting your writing out there, too!!!

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    1. I'll definitely be making the pov change clearer, and thanks for the other suggestion too. I'm glad you enjoyed it :-)

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  16. I liked seeing what both characters were thinking and feeling. Good job.

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    1. Thanks Medeia, the dual perspective is something I love to play around with.

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  17. I loved the end, when the drawn sea gull flew free. An apt ending.

    So much fear from both characters. Shows how life has two sides always :)

    .........dhole

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    1. I'm glad you like the ending, I didn't know if it was a bit corny, but I thought it was a nice image to end with.

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  18. Great writing, Sarah. And I agree with those saying you need to signal the POV switch. But you have a great story to work with here.

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    1. Thanks Jo. Note to self: check formatting :-)

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  19. I REALLY, REALLY liked this, Sarah!
    It's like, in some strange way, they were reaching out to each other but didn't make the connection... however, if they had connected, it would've influenced the rest of the storyline and the wonderful "punch" at the end!
    Great job!

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    1. Thank you so much for the encouraging comment. I think I was trying to get across that communication is important, but not always 'possible', depending on circumstances, so I'm glad you got that feeling.

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  20. Life certainly has two sides, I am in the process of wondering what is going through the mind of a relation of mine, I enjoyed the read it was excellently penned.

    Your followers is now up to 292

    Thanks for you visit and joining my followers.
    Yvonne.

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    1. Thank you Yvonne, and welcome to you. I hope you and your relative end up working things out!

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  21. I liked this, a lot! How two people experience the same thing, each other is an excellent writing exercise to get into the heads of your characters. ANDI was momentarily confused by the POV switch. I agree with Brooke and Shell on the asterisks

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    1. Thanks Bish, I'll definitely be making the change clearer. I'm so glad you liked it.

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  22. I loved this Sarah. The emotion in this piece was wonderful :)

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  23. This is really powerful writing!! Is there a POV change in there, though? That threw me out of the story for a bit!

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    1. Thank you Christina, and yes, I definitely need to make the pov change clearer.

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  24. Hi you - what a powerful piece. I love the tale from both sides. The ending brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes, such a powerful line and strong image.

    And on another note - good on you for posting :) Can't wait to read your next piece
    Lx

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    1. Laura, you really do say the most wonderful things. Thank you. I have another piece I will probably share, but I think I'll wait a while, don't want to bore people :-)

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  25. I'm in the middle of a big project ,BUT you totally pulled me in and that's not easy when my brain is in blog read mode :D

    Nice job

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    1. That's a real compliment, thank you :-)

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  26. Neat sort of inner monologue going on here:)

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  27. That was intense and well done. Inspires me to try a scene where there are two very different views on the same situation.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the A-to-Z; we're gearing up for the upcoming 2012 A to Z Challenge!

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    1. Thanks Shannon. Different perspectives on the same scene is one of my favourite things to play with :-)

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  28. I loved it!! Brilliant how the same incident can be viewed so very differently by people in the same space. You captured it so well.

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    1. Thank you Rebecca. Isn't it funny how people are almost never thinking what we think they're thinking :-)

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  29. This piece held my attention the whole time! Great job.

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    1. Thank you Jennifer, I can't ask for any more than that :-)

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  30. No criticisms today. I just let it soak in and enjoyed it. Thank you.

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    1. Lydia, thank you. That's a huge compliment.

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  31. I enjoy writing dual POV's, and that's essential what this is. It's hard to do. Good job!

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    1. It's such fun to do, isn't it? Thanks Emily.

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  32. Great writing Sarah! Really enjoyable!!

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  33. Excellent! I'd love to know if there's something up with the teacher beyond her own doubts, or if her expressions and reactions are only leading the boy to the wrong conclusions. I loved that you played with perspectives in such a way that shows both their sides as well as their perceptions. :-)

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    1. In my head, she's heading for a nervous breakdown and the boy is just a manifestation of many problems she has. None of that made it to the page though :-)

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  34. I like the two sides too--and the tension! Enjoyed :)

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  35. Hey Sarah,

    Maybe I'm a perv... but I also got undertones of sexual tension between the two. Fabulous story and I *loved* the "The jailer has become the prisoner" line.

    Is this something you've submitted? If not, you should:)

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    1. Well, I'm a great believer in the reader interpreting a story how they choose to :-)

      Thank you for the compliment, no I haven't submitted it. (I'm going to guess you're not surprised by that). :-)

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  36. I loved seeing the same things from both sides! Especially because they were so different. Loved it!

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    1. Thank you Peggy. Different POVs in the same situation are such fun to write :-)

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  37. Ohhh I really liked the two POVs... it worked well and I didn't get confused once from the switching. Seeing the student and teacher's inner thoughts on the same thing was really well. Great suspense.

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  38. My goodness! That bit at the end about jumping... Was that, um, a real jump? Like to her death? (eeek!)
    You've captured the feeling of being a terrified teacher so well. I know - I've been there! This is a fantastic piece of work, great that it's told from two POVS, and I wouldn't change all that much aside from some comma changes. Well done :-)

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    1. I'm afraid it was a real jump! I'm not a bit surprised by the need for some comma changes, I bet there are too many. It doesn't matter how much I read on the subject, I just can't help chucking them in!

      Thank you so much for the lovely comment, it's much appreciated.

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  39. Very nice piece. It's so easy to assume we know what someone else is thinking.

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    1. And we all do it at times, don't we? It's human nature I guess.

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  40. Sorry I missed this before. Ran back here to read it after I saw your last post. I love seeing things from different points of view. That is the basis of most family therapies that everyone sees things just a bit differently. Good stuff.

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    1. Thank you for coming back to read, it's much appreciated :-)

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  41. Lovely writing, Sarah! I wish I couldn't see so much of myself in that teacher.

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    1. It's not much I know, but at least you have us when times get tough.

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    2. Thank you, although I can assure you I won't end up like her!

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  42. Oh wow such turmoil! I could empathise with both the characters lost in their own introspections.
    I would love to know more backstory about what led up to the teacher seeing the boy as a threat and finally committing such a drastic act.
    It's a sultory lesson in how we should all try our best to see another's point of view so that we can gain a more objective perspective on our situation. Very evocative.

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  43. Maybe that's an exercise for me. How did she get to 'here'?

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