Oh I can see you sitting there, all righteous with your pursed lips and indignant flush, thinking this woman shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near children but hear me out. It’s not the fact that, having already spent eight hours at work I’m looking at at least another three, no, that’s not my gripe. The thing that bothers me most is the way I’m dropped, without even a by your leave, straight into a potential war zone. There’s snipers lying in wait everywhere and there’s no way of knowing who the fuck is going to jump out and ambush me.
It could be the mother of some kid I teach in another year group entirely, just wanting to take the opportunity to tell me what a crap job I’m doing. It’s the same old story of how her little princess was gifted and talented back in primary so how come she’s making no progress at all on my watch? How the fuck am I supposed to know? I won’t have too much time to dwell though because I’ve got to keep an eye out for the head teacher, who’s going to be huffing and puffing and getting all aerated about why I haven’t inputted my mid-term data, despite the fact it was due in three weeks ago. Pepper sprayed with words like incompetence and proceedings, if I listened I’d get that anxious build-up so it’s probably best if I just block out the noise.
That’s not the worst of it though because even bunkered down; focusing on the alcohol I’m going to consume once this battle is over, danger can strike at any moment. I could still find myself like Reagan or Brezhnev back in the 1980s, hoping like hell that the other has enough sense of survival not to press that big red button. His weapon, the final nail in the coffin that is my pathetic career, a career I need much more than I want, while mine is a secret that could destroy his entire life, taking his wife and kids out as collateral damage.
And that’s exactly how I find myself now, my worst nightmare bearing down on me, sweating like a pig in a cheap suit. A heavy stillness hangs over the small desk, his wife leaning forward and pointing at something in the kid’s report – maybe it’s his mid-term data. He eyes me blankly as we both silently wonder how this is going to play out, his wife’s voice still trying to penetrate my no-noise zone.
It’s a risk that’s always there, the chance of a catastrophic mid-air collision between real life and this fake pretence. I wonder momentarily if it’s pretence for this angry, little woman who’s still jabbing at the piece of paper. Does she really give a shit about the kid’s residuals? This lumbering man child sitting between them, who couldn’t string a sentence together even if his very life depended on it. Do any of these parents milling around the room, still in their work clothes, faces tired and grey after their own eight hour work days, really think any of this matters?
The man clears his throat and I look from her to him, my thoughts getting away from me, fluttering back to the last time I saw him, less than twenty four hours ago. It was a mistake, all of it. Drinking on a school night is never a good idea but my friend Hannah has the kind of job where there are no school nights. We’re the last two standing, all the others having fallen by the wayside, worshipping at the shrine of motherhood. We’re the kind of women the tabloids like to warn you about. The new breed of women, who won’t see middle-age because our livers will be well and truly fucked. According to the Daily Mail, a myriad of health problems will make us a drain on the taxpayer’s purse but think of what we’ll save you in pensions.
Anyway back to last night, Hannah wanted to celebrate her promotion and, as I said, as far as cheerleaders go – I’m it. We’d planned on going out for a meal, you know like real grown-ups do. And we did, at a nice Mexican restaurant where mid-week margaritas were two for one and you don’t need me to spell out where that kind of deal can lead a person. Needless to say, the night got messy and when I was jolted awake by my alarm at six this morning, I’d lost a shoe but acquired a snoring, stinking heap of regret. Slamming the front door before he’d even zipped up his flies, I felt the same sense of relief you get when you toss out your empties – once it’s gone it never happened.
Except it did happen and here we are, waiting to see what happens next. My finger on the grenade, primed to toss it into the midst of his happy little family in a heartbeat, I’m aware of him reaching out, plucking the report from his wife’s fingers. “Luke’s always struggled in English,” he smiles nervously, “Just as long as he’s trying his best.” The wife is briefly thrown but he’s already on his feet, leaving her with little option but to follow suit. Relief floods the kid’s face as he instinctively realises he maybe just dodged a bullet. Leaning back in the hard, plastic chair, forcing myself to breathe, I watch as they look around for the next teacher, the report back in the wife’s hand.
Glancing down, I count six sets of parents standing between me and a bottle of gin. I’m almost in the clear but not out of the woods yet. There are always the last minute stragglers with the potential for surprise.