By Mike Hickman
“I’ve never understood why they call it parents’ evening,” Mr Driscoll said to his wife as the parents waited amongst the shards of the children’s achievements. “It’s not about us, after all, is it?”
Mrs Driscoll instructed her husband to sit down while she scrutinised the display of misfired and cracked pottery pigs outside Mr Brown’s classroom. She wasn’t alone in attempting to find something good in the children’s work. Miss Poulton, training to be a teacher herself, was nearby, peering at the red pen in the margins of the children’s stories. Perhaps, Mrs Driscoll thought, she was looking for the change. The moment when the now long-term absent teacher had lost it.
“I think it began the day they sent him home,” she said to her husband. They’d heard about Mr Brown’s behaviour from Lucy. How he’d stumbled his way through the morning, slurring his words and tripping over his own feet. Until the headteacher’s visit to the classroom one lunchtime and what happened next.
‘What did happen next?’
Mrs Brown hadn’t been there to see the children’s reaction to her husband’s behaviour, either. Neither had he told her that Mr Bevis had hauled him out of the classroom. Given everything else that had been happening at home, he wouldn’t have dared.
“They sent him home,” she told her visitors. “Which is funny because I’d have thought that’s the last place he’d have wanted to be.”
“He was asked to go home in front of the whole class,” said Mrs Driscoll, watching Ms Poulton shake her head as she riffled through the exercise books and no doubt discovered some careless howler in the comments. “They said he was – what’s the euphemism? – tired and emotional?”
“Oh, drunk, yeah, right,” said Mr Driscoll, nearly forgetting himself and using an altogether more inappropriate epithet.
“Stress, probably,” said Mrs Driscoll. “But, then, for a teacher, that’s not a terrifically uncommon diagnosis, is it?”
“The first I knew about it was the letter from Mr Bevis,” Mrs Brown said. “The one he sent to the whole school.” She picked her way through the broken toys that were unlikely to be replaced, accepted the seat and looked around for her drink.
“Oh, I read that,” said Mr Driscoll. Never one for checking his daughter’s book bag at the end of the day, he’d seen the story when it appeared in the local news. When things escalated as a result of the visit the head had received from the local constabulary. After the first of the complaints. Those, of course, weren’t detailed in the headteacher’s letter. The school didn’t want to get involved in such personal matters.
“I just hope, you know, that they can forget it,” Mrs Brown said. “The children, I mean. His class. It would be a shame if everything they’d done was tarnished by…other things.”
“You’re right about stress,” Miss Poulton said. She thought of telling the Driscolls about her training and how close she’d come to quitting, but this would sound like she was attempting to excuse the man’s behaviour. And there was no excuse.
“No. I realise that now,” Mrs Brown said. Her tea was cold and this surprised her. “I know there’s no excuse, but….” She looked again at the broken toys, the detritus, the shards. “He couldn’t be controlled. How was I meant to control him?”
“Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?” said Mrs Driscoll, giving Mr Driscoll a look that had him crossing his legs and feeling his collar constrict. He knew what she meant. Every school in the country was now locked down to visitors, every male on the premises seemingly suspect.
“Will he come back, do you think?” Miss Poulton asked. “Next term, I mean?”
The temporary teacher who’d been brought in to see out the end of the academic year looked up from her notes. She’d inherited almost nothing from the man she ought to now think of as her predecessor.
“Will he come back here?” Mrs Brown asked, too, when the opportunity arose in her own consultation.
“I’m afraid Mr Brown will not be returning next term,” the temporary teacher said. She couldn’t bring herself to say why. She couldn’t talk about what they’d heard in the staffroom. About what had happened at home with his wife when the headteacher’s letter had been made public.
“No,” the Police liaison officer told Mrs Brown, attending to the remnants of the tea cup and passing it to a colleague. She was waiting her moment to tell the woman that they needed to go now. What had happened here, amongst the shards, meant that she had to accompany them. “No, no, he won’t. Not any time soon, at least. He’s likely to be in the hospital for some time.”
Miss Poulton made a note to herself to bring the case up when she was back in Uni. Everyone had said that Mr Brown just wasn’t the type to get up to whatever sordid business it was that had led to the suspension. That, in itself, ought to teach them everything they needed to know.
“What about the children?” Mrs Brown asked, picking up a shattered doll’s head. It was the first time she had asked after them since she’d had to call the ambulance.
Or had James and Beth done that? It was all so confused now. Steve being home all that time, telling the school what he’d told them, telling others, too. It was all so confused and it might have been different if he hadn’t gone in like that that day.
“They’ll be looked after,” the officer said.
The Driscolls nodded when they heard the obvious answer to their obvious question.
“Good,” Mrs Driscoll said. “Men like him shouldn’t be allowed around children.”
“I’m so sorry for the kids,” Mrs Brown said when they led her away. “It shouldn’t be about us. It really hasn’t been their evening, has it?”
Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, the Blake-Jones Review, Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, the Potato Soup Journal, and Red Fez.