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Schooling


Schooling







































































































































































  

2

They sniff glue. In the alley behind the tudor watch shop where the smells marry, vegetables, piss. Brickie you stay away from him, you'll see that boy's a bastard clumsy with the fixative. Bringing up his father's handkerchief to cover mouth and nose. Bastard eyes watering. Speaking thickly through the cloth. Watching her kick away a bottle on the cobbles. Watching her say, How can I hear you through that?

Brickie brings down the handkerchief... You're supposed to be looking out, not looking at me.

I told you not to bring her... Paul, him too he's even worse, older, fifth form, waits for the glue. Tips of fingers in trouser pockets just the nails. Scarf a concertina around his ears. Looking one way down the alley then the other... A yank... muttering... God help us.

Paul can be your lookout... and into the bright street.

Through the village green past the fountain with the rearing horse. As if she needed Paul with his rattlesnake neck always saying Yank. Past the church, its stopped clock. Tea at five-thirty. Half past. Great mattress of white bread to baffle stomachs needing more than a sliver of fish. Jam sandwiches three times a day. Twice. Be fair, there's marmalade in the morning. Which she eats because Father likes marmalade. Past Wenley Smith. Into the Chemist's.

Lavender grannie soaps in crenulated wrappers, shelves of orthopedic devices, plasters. Pumping a solution for eczema. Never warm at Monstead, not like this at least. Never nearly hot. Crossing to linger at the lip display. Behind her a woman curses her child. Salmon to mud with something plummy in the middle range.

The word chutney. Why. Maybe Ploughman's for Tea. Hard roll, cheese and chutney. Fifteen minutes by the clock above the door. Late for chutney. In the mirror she tries FireFire. Hair chaotic, you could say. She didn't pack a brush and why would Father remember. Forgotten pencils, lost hairpins stick her when she lies down at night.

Form a comb with your fingers. Or use a palm to smooth it. Chutney chutney. Might have seen it on the menu outside the dining hall. Posted there to temper appetite. Gilbert never says anything about her wild hair among the jokes he makes. Calling attention to her teeth when they studied calcium, blonde gags when the topic was hydrogen peroxide. As if she didn't have enough problems with hair.

I know things on you... Brickie against the counter, his cuffs are torn... What's on your mouth?

Wiping away FireFire.

What's this do?... he's picked up a silver tin from the display.

Eyelashes. You have to wet the paint.

Move it... knocking her from the mirror spitting in the tin.

What is it you know on me?

Brickie, reflected... Something... mouth open in concentration painting an eyelash masterpiece... You'll find out soon enough.

Hastening over, the clerk What, blustering in misbuttoned smock Do You Think, as if they have personally degraded her commented on her exposed roots You're Doing, with rising indignation With That? Brickie all the while unwavering in his careful application, Young Man?

Testing it.

The clerk snatches for the tin but leftover glue has affixed it to Brickie's hand launching the blondish woman into an attack of You public school You think you're the Well I'll tell you Think you can Give it over and Brickie into a dramatically pained Ow You're hurting me That's skin Watch it. Until the woman rips free the mascara with a terrifying smile.

Calm yourself... Brickie rubbing his palm, batting thick eyelashes... You're hysterical.

Brickie's downturned mouth like that of his trouty father. The ambassador presented Catrine with five dead fish saying It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance so she understood that it was a hand being offered. That she was to shake it. Then the ambassador handed Brickie a handkerchief. Discreetly indicated nose care.

Brickie and his eyelashes turn to hang elbows against the glass counter... You're a snob.

Lend me some money.

What for?

Just lend it to me.

If her hair were wet first she might get a comb through it. What could Brickie possibly know on her. How much did a comb cost. Gilbert was two days away. Bath night tomorrow. Enough time to shampoo.


3

Damp on the washroom ceiling. A spot to make Father say, Atoll of some sort, these curlicues of coral. What will you have, Catrine? More round island. Sicily? Toes add HOT simian dexterity hotter hotter. Draped, she is an atoll. Under water. Quiet. Not for long. A burst, the cubicle door slams open. And she's up in a tidal wave. Maggone at the faucet, cuffs rolled to the shoulder an orderly for the mad That's Enough Hot dashing a hand in the water. Why Why must she be so selfish clacking out on selfish (tap shoes? metal on her heels?) selfishshellfish resounds down the row of cubicles to lukewarm girls in their selfless baths. Selfish mingling with Scrub Yourself Sophie Marsden Not Down There Mind clack clacking down toward Mareka toward Siobhan's obstinant nicotine stains Better Not Be Henna Hathaway clack clack Maggot's prison warden strides Sophie's hanging over the wall now miming scrub scrub now lolling her head Look, I'm Jesus now singing football songs Had a sheep oh and it was good to me. Hearing Sophie's song as she curls sinking deaf, weightless, dead. If Isabelle, no. Once apple trees were their horses. Once rebellions were led across deserts.


4

Mr. Brickman, I can tell, has made steady progress on the copper oxide experiment from last week. In fact something tells me it's become an obsession, What on earth could be the effect of oxygen on a copper wire... Gilbert waist against his lab bench... That right Brick? Preoccupied with the astounding possibilities of reactions when a catalyst is added? Lost your appetite, have you? Touch of insomnia? And the oddessy from Tea to Prep, undoubtedly for you it includes pondering the elemental differences between fluorocarbons and hydrocarbons.

Sir?... Brickie plays the fool, the boys laugh... Sorry sir?

But why is Gilbert paying all the attention to damn--her hair is clean. Mostly straight. She arrived early to claim a white lab smock not an ugly green one. Why won't he notice.

In any case... Gilbert smiles with one side of his mouth... I'm certain that once again you will awe 3X... lab coat propped open... With your intellect... waist cocked between thumb and forefinger... Am I right, Mr. Brickman?

Sir.

A game between the two of them and she with washed and smooth hair bleached smock leaning as Gilbert does against a scarred wooden lab bench waiting. Next to her, Vanessa tapes her leaking fountain pen. On her other side, an empty space for Siobhan still smoking her morning cigarette behind the cricket pavilion. Next to Vanessa, Sophie with a finger dug in her ear. And on down the row. All of them waiting standing waiting for the lesson.

He is calling her name.

Yes, sir?

Was that a yawn?

Sir? I don't think so.

You don't know whether you were yawning?

I. I guess I was.

Guess. Yes Americans guess a lot don't they? What is it Evans? Too much bed and not enough sleep, is that it?

And he has made a remark again like the ones about her hips and teeth. Everyone is laughing even Sophie even Vanessa arranging burettes. All of them.

I don't know. Sir.

Dropping his coat and waist, Gilbert has turned away from her, from her foul yawning, from her too much bed, turned to the board with chalk, dismissing her disgusting hair her useless smock.

Vanessa licks a finger to turn a page in her exercise book.

Sophie steps back to wink but she was laughing only a moment ago.

Gilbert's bleached collar defines the back of his neck. Hairline. Broad back right arm raised chalking out 2Cu+O2 = To see you oh.

In front of her, Brickie has turned his back to Gilbert. Elbows against the labbench, he stares at her. She raises her eyebrows. Curls her lip. A catalyst but he won't react. Won't balance the equation. She stares. He stares. Stubborn both. Brickie with his black hair his bastard hair in his eyes leaning as he did at the Chemist's. Upper lip up to no good.

Siobhan slides in past Nessa past Sophie dragging the last and too small labcoat shedding wrappers gold twix and old tests reeking of cigarette smoke Gilbert murmuring In your own time in your own time.

What did Brickie mean that he knew something on her. She hasn't been in England long enough for trouble.



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Excerpted from Schooling by Heather McGowan. Copyright © 2001 by Heather McGowan. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.