encounter in no man’s land by petermore

15 Mar

Usually the nearest bar to a school is a kind of no man’s land. The pupils avoid it suspecting it to be riddled with teachers and teachers avoid it fearing awkward encounters with the pupils. They tend to unnaturally quiet. In fact, ironically, they are the perfect place to go if you like to drink in secret, which a significant number of pupils and teachers like to do.

Principal Jenkins wasn’t a drinker. He saw no point in lowering your intellectual faculties merely to break the so-called ice. Inhibitions, after all, serve a very useful social function. Not that Principal Jenkins would have any objections if you were to offer him something expensive from the top shelf. But could it really be called drinking when one generous measure would last him an evening?

He took a sip from the battle-scarred glass in front of him. It contained a disappointing attempt at a brandy from a dusty, sculpted bottle which promised so much. Still, he wouldn’t be there long enough to finish it. All he had to do was sign the papers and say goodbye to the soon-to-be-former Mrs Jenkins.

He would swear she had chosen this place deliberately just to spite him. She knew he’d be ill at ease in a bar so close to school. He felt conspicuous but a quick glance around assured him he was invisible. The barman was engrossed in one of those novels where the cop finds out the bad guy is his brother three quarters of the way through; and the only other patron was engrossed in his own thoughts.

As ever the soon-to-be-former Mrs Jenkins was late. Probably some sort of power game. Robert Jenkins, sat back in his chair, feeling more the man than the head teacher at last. The door opened and attracted the attention of the three occupants of the bar. To Robert’s surprise the frame wasn’t filled with the malevolent shape of his wife but a slighter, more feminine figure.

He recognised one of the nervous, musical girls from… he couldn’t remember which year. But he knew she was too young to be drinking in this state. But it wasn’t his problem. The mantle of Principal lay beside his chair. And maybe the mantle of Principle with it.

The girl looked round, her eyes adjusting to the exact level of dimness dictated by the bar’s franchiser. She rested them on Principal Jenkins for a few seconds before she fully recognised him.

“Mr Jenkins,” she exclaimed and then bit her lip. She looked around the bar, but nothing else seemed to help. She involuntarily stepped towards Robert Jenkins.

“Should you be here?” he asked.

The girl wavered but stood her ground. “I’m meeting someone.”

They both looked around.

“He’s not here I take it?” Principal Jenkins was too long a principal for this not to sound the tiniest bit mocking.

She shook her head. She stood on twitching feet, unsure what to do. A tug of war raged in her head that ended with tears fattening up in the corners of her eyes.

“I didn’t think he’d show,” she said trying to sound calm, but failing due to the broken voice and tears racing down her cheeks.

Principal Jenkins tapped the chair next to him. It seemed the only decent thing to do. He had no idea what to say. The barman hawkishly watched her sit over the top of his over-the-top novel.

“Do you want to tell me about it?” asked Principal Jenkins, now in full principal garb once more. It seemed unlikely she would, so he was surprised when she started blubbering a story to him. He murmured encouragingly but got very little of it. He was glad. This wasn’t something he should have anything to do with. Unless the other was a teacher, of course, but he had heard the word “boy” sobbed a few times and felt glad he could relax on that front. He let her tell the story. He assumed it helped. She was at that age when hearts were still eager little fragile boxes and it was natural for her to feel her life was in pieces.

The story seemed to come to an end and the real tears started. The girl slumped against Robert’s shoulder and he had no other option to put his hands on hers. The students clearly didn’t have as much reverence for him as he would have liked.

The door juddered and opened again. This time the frame was filled with the malevolent shape of the soon-to-be-former Mrs Jenkins.

“I knew it!” she shrieked.

She stomped up to the table and threw three identical stacks of paper down in front of him. Principal Jenkins retrieved his arm and drew out his pen. His wife’s angry appearance at an awkward moment made speech seem like a shameful act. He flicked through the top document and signed them all.

As she picked them up, the soon-to-be-former Mrs Jenkins gave her parting shot. “You might be happy now, young lady, but, by God, he won’t make you that in the future.”

When the echo of the slammed door had been absorbed by the panelled walls, Principal Jenkins found he was still staring at the girl.

“Didn’t she even see I was crying?”

“No.” And then he added, “That’s why we’re getting divorced.”

“Oh,” was the only response the girl could muster.

“Now, run along home. I know you have school tomorrow.”

The girl jumped up, her spirits lifted by Robert’s joviality. They shared a smile.

“Thank you, Mr Jenkins,” she called as she hurried out of the door. She left before he could reply which was good because he still didn’t recall her name.

He went to take a last swig of the brandy and then thought better of it. Instead he threw down a tip and stood up. As he walked out, the barman eyed him with an expression that said, “I know a dirty secret.” With the door shut again, the bar returned to its trademarked dimness and the barman went smugly back to his siblo-thriller.

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One Response to “encounter in no man’s land by petermore”

  1. ingridfnl March 17, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    fantastic… truly.

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