Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Chapter 28: Spring



I have come to myself.  I feel selfish now for wanting to be rid of my guilt alone.  I thought only of myself – how this new-come lamb’s blood might rid me of my soil.  In days past they hanged seven men on a hill to end a famine.  I should have thought more on Nydia.  This sacrifice could save us all, could benefit more than just me.  How short-sighted I am, how worthy of reproach!  It must be done in the time of harvest.  He will surely approve if I do it for the good of all.

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Spring unveiled a brighter, louder Nydia.  It would have been textbook accompaniment to Neith’s heart song earlier that morning, but come afternoon, it only left her feeling raw and exposed.  She was going to the school, in the light of day – sure her confession of the morn was somehow branded on her face.

Deep breaths.

There.  There was the schoolhouse. 

She made her way to the door, visualising Ruthie waiting there, her only sympathiser. Neith anticipated only one After School Club member.   She did her best to forget the club chaperone would be there – totally tetherable and yet…not.  Focus on what you can learn, Neith.  Appreciate that sweet tween who chose to stay.  Think of all the books you’ll have access to.

But there were five children waiting there.  Nola, Ulysses, Davey, Ruthie, and another child Neith didn’t know by name.  Neith approached the reading area, where the group was assembled.

“Jimmy,” the new boy said, extending his hand towards her, for the shaking.  She took it, and the boy threw his forehead up as though it was waving during the handshake.  He looked like a younger Rawiri – one of the only boys Neith had to compare to; Asia in the eyes but Māori and Nydia sunshine in the skin.

“Easy there, Jim, she’s spoken for.”  Davey placed a hand on Jimmy’s arm.  Neith curled her lips inwards, concealing her amusement.

A mature male cough called for her attention then; the chaperone.  Neith mimicked Davey’s salute-ish, hard wave, from the morn, “Mr Flynn.”  She barely looked at him as she did it.  The guy was a dad; taken.

He answered with puzzlement.

How old could he be though?  She’d thought him close to her age.  Nola must be six or seven.  He must have become a dad really young.

Ruthie took the lead, towing back Neith’s attention.  “Jim, this is Neith.  She loves to read, she loves my stories about Davey,” Davey nudged Jim at this, “and she is interested in us.  All of us.”  She looked around the group.  So did Neith.  She caught Mr Flynn still looking at her, in her sweep, his jaw flexed.

Nola and Ulysses looked straight at her.  No more broken triangle with Ruthie at the apex.  They saw her – and not just to give a quick wave.

“Hi,” said Nola.  She looked like her father; aching symmetry and assemblage of rightness. 

“Hi,” Neith repeated.  “Thank you all, for staying.”

“It beats weeding!”  Ulysses, talking to her.

“They didn’t tell you?  We’re not off plot duties.”  Neith made an exaggerated, apologetic bite of her teeth.

“You kiddin’ me?”  Ulysses looked over to Mr Flynn.  He was seated now, back at his desk.  Ulysses didn’t make to leave. 

“So where shall we start?” Ruthie again.

“How about you each tell me a story you love?”  Neith had been thinking about what she would ask this group all weekend.  She remembered the tale of the dolphin from her first night in Nydia, and hoped to collect tales from homes across the village.

“I will!”  Nola called out. 

The afternoon went on like this, in turns – Neith riveted by each.  She asked questions and laughed as they attempted to impress her. 

That was when another creature altogether came upon the scene.  She was close to Neith’s height, with skin colouring not too different from Nola’s, but with dark brown hair pulled back into a tight bun. She had a simple prettiness to her.  She came through a rear door and went directly to Mr Flynn’s desk.  Miles’ desk.

Jimmy was recounting a story his big brother had told him about a virus that led to zombies covering the earth, leaving cities like New York as wastelands.  Neith stopped listening. She strained instead to hear Simply Pretty, who was saying something about having switched off a boiler.  Did they have servers here?  Elle had articulated an anti-transmitting position, but Neith knew of no other definition for such a term; boiler.  Neith tried to watch Jimmy as he described something about a hunting scene in his tale – a wild stag running through overgrown streets being chased by a solitary vehicle?  She dared a glance towards the wife – that was who Simply Pretty had to be.

“Neith, this is Ihaka.”  Mr Flynn came towards her now, his hand high on Simply Pretty’s back.

Neith stood to shake another extended hand. 

“It is so nice to finally meet you.”  Ihaka smiled.  She oozed with sweetness.  She took Neith’s hand in a tight grip, showing all of her teeth, squinting her eyes and everything.  This woman couldn’t be for real.

“Ihaka helps here – with essays, group reading…”

“…watering the plants, remembering to turn the boiler off.”  She was finishing his sentences.

“And all that.  Thank you again, Ihaka.”  Mr Flynn smiled at her, polite.

“See you later!”  She said as she left.  Neith’s gut said Ihaka was disingenuous (If you wanted to meet me, you could have swung by Elle’s anytime), but Neith’s head told her she didn’t like seeing sickly sweet sidled up by her new favourite physics teacher.

“Sorry Jimmy, did the hero of the story make the kill?”  Neith turned back to face him, and Miles gave her a look she couldn’t read.

“And some!”  Jimmy resumed, unplussed.

They wrapped soon after, promising to return the day after tomorrow. Now Neith could report her move for the school; MinSci would love learning how many families seemed to be softening.  She lingered to look over the books.  Ruthie and Davey hovered at the door, talking to Nola and Ulysses.

Mr Flynn approached.

“I think it went well,” he ventured.

“I think so too.”  Was he talking about the part where she met the woman an earlier fantasy would have seen her cuckold, or the After School Club?  Stop it, Neith.  You never even started anything with this guy. 

“You’re great with them.”

“Sorry?”

“They love you.  For someone who…hasn’t been around kids, as an adult…you’re great with them.”  Neith nodded in thanks.  “And I thought I asked you to call me Miles.”

“’Mr Flynn’ seems more appropriate.”  She felt he shared some blame here too – he’d been part of that string’s suspension that night, hadn’t he?  She thought he’d felt it.  Maybe he had, and that’s why he was first to call the rendezvous over.  He looked confused again.  “You know, around the kids,” she added.  Was she sweating?

“Okay then.  Well, I’ll see you in a couple days?”

“Yeah.  Right.”

She pushed in a book she’d had out of line from the others and made for Ruthie and Davey.  They were now alone at the door.

“You like him!”  Ruthie said, after they passed through the gap in the buildings, near the garden.

Neith hushed her, with urgency.

“Who, Jimmy?!  Dang, I didn’t think that zombie story was that good!”  Davey was put out.

“No, Davey.  It seems you’re still the only guy for me.”  Should Neith lead him on like this?  It felt true enough, even if it wasn’t in the way Davey hoped.  “But we may have to wait until you’re at least 20 before we can talk about this again,” she supplemented, after quick consideration.

“I’ll wait, Nee.  I can do it!”  He acted out zipping his lip closed, and took off a few paces ahead of them, as though he couldn’t keep his promise if he remained close by.

“You know who I meant,” Ruthie whispered.

“I’m sure I don’t.”

“Mr Flynn!”

“That would be so inappropriate!”

“Why?  You said you were old enough to leave home.  Wait, are you married!?”  Ruthie looked horrified, stopping in her tracks.

“No!”  Neith looked up ahead at Davey, then back to Ruthie.  “Keep your voice down.” 

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Uh…he is. Married.”

“No he’s not.”

“I’m sorry, I just met…Ihaka?”  Neith was sure Ruthie was teasing her.

Ruthie wasn’t smiling, but rather looked like she’d eaten something tart.  “Miss Churchill?  She’s his assistant!  Sometimes our relief teacher, if Mr Flynn needs one.”  Ruthie must call her uncle by his title out of habitual fairness to her classmates. 

Neith stalled on their course now too.  “So you’re telling me, Mr Flynn is not married.” 

“No!  He and Ma are ‘The Sad Solos.’”  Neith’s face must’ve begged further clarification.  “Parents!  They’re solo parents.  And siblings!  Hasn’t anybody told you anything?”  Ruthie made air quotes around The Sad Solos, which seemed a little harsh.

“No, no one told me that.”

“You’re welcome.”  Ruthie clapped her on the back.  They resumed walking.  Neith in a daze, reminding herself Ruthie was only a tween. 

What a day.


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