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The Classroom: A gripping and terrifying thriller which asks who you can trust in 2018

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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‘Yes, I did,’ Harriet says.

Right. OK.

‘Why’s that, then?’ Miriam asks.

‘Daddy said if someone doesn’t give you what they want, you have to twist their arm until you get it. But it was her fingers that had the beads in, so I twisted them.’

‘Why did you want the beads so badly?’ Miriam asks. She doesn’t want to get into the Daddy issues today. That sounds like a separate conversation.

Harriet shrugs again. ‘They were pretty. I thought there were enough for all of us. And I couldn’t bring my own toys today.’

‘Why’s that?’ Miriam asks.

‘Mummy and Daddy were not able to bring me to school today because sometimes they have to work very hard. Auntie Yvette drove me very safely in her car.’

Miriam wrinkles up her nose, trying to pick between the obviously parent-schooled phrases.

‘Are Aunty Yvette and Mummy and Daddy kind to you?’ Miriam questions.

‘They don’t let me have beads either,’ she tells her.

Miriam nods. ‘Sometimes grown-ups are mean,’ she agrees. Harriet gives her a shadow of a grin. Good. They’re getting somewhere.

Miriam stands up. ‘Give me a moment,’ she tells her. Miriam’s about to knock on the head’s door, but she stops. She bends down to Harriet again.

‘Harriet, do Mummy or Daddy, or Auntie Yvette, ever do anything that makes you unhappy?’ she asks.

Harriet shrugs, avoiding Miriam’s gaze.

‘Harriet?’ Miriam asks again.

Very slowly, she looks up at Miriam.

‘Yes,’ she says.

It’s all Miriam needs.

Chapter 11 (#ulink_a62c65c8-4ce6-57c3-81c0-a8674a46b703)


Sometimes all it takes is for someone to ask you a question.

A question it should be easy to answer.

A question like: ‘How do you think things are going?’

It all comes out.

Or it doesn’t. That’s the test.

Kirsten realises she’s failing it when she hears herself saying to Harriet’s headmistress ‘… and then her father just won’t come home on time – or do anything around the house. And I want to keep the family together, for Harriet, because I didn’t have that, but sometimes it’s just so hard, you know?’

Harriet’s headmistress looks at her sympathetically (at least, Kirsten hopes it is sympathy).

Kirsten clears her throat. ‘What I mean is, we’re all a bit busy, aren’t we?’

The headmistress nods. ‘But we have to prioritise our children, don’t we?’

Yes, yes of course they do. Even though Kirsten will have lost, what, about a grand because of today’s antics? That’s just direct costs. And then more in reputational costs – people let down at the last minute, who will spread toxicity about the practice. No more custom, no chance of getting a partner. Maybe all because Ian was trying to make a concession to her, getting Yvette to drive Harriet in, unsettling Harriet.

But sure, whatever the antics, you always have to put your children first. No one seems to understand that if you put them second for a bit, it’s because you’re trying to earn enough to put their food on the table and shoes on their feet, and keep a roof attached to a gargantuan mortgage over their heads. No one apart from Kirsten.

‘You mustn’t let Harriet pick up on whatever … difficulties there are at home,’ the headmistress says.

‘Ian and I love Harriet very much,’ Kirsten says. ‘We don’t let anything get in the way of that.’

Listening to herself, even she is unconvinced. She hugs her thoughts of Harriet to her, holds them tight, kisses them. She feels tears forming, tries to blink them back. It’s not just about Harriet; it’s the thought of having had to run out of the surgery, again. Putting Harriet first always seems to create a conflict.

Perhaps she can send her back to class, rather than take her home? Maybe she doesn’t need to cancel all the afternoon’s appointments, can still rescue the afternoon? She flicks a glance at the clock.

‘What lessons does she have this afternoon? Ones she’ll be happy in?’ she asks.

The head answers, ‘I’m sure Ms Robertson has got some lovely plans for them.’

Yes, Ms Robertson. She seems nice.

‘Great, well, perhaps I don’t need to take her home, perhaps she can still go to those?’ Kirsten says, trying to sound bright.

The headmistress frowns. ‘I’m not sure, in the circumstances …’

‘It’s a little playground tiff; let’s not over-egg it.’

Kirsten regrets her words immediately. She can see the woman drawing herself up.

‘Listen,’ Kirsten says, before the head can speak. ‘How about Harriet goes to Ms Robertson’s lessons this afternoon, and then we see what measures we can put in place?’

While the head’s busy ushering Harriet to her classes, Kirsten can call Jess, tell her they might still have a chance for the 1 p.m. appointments.

The headmistress sighs her assent. Kirsten follows her outside the room, where Harriet is waiting, and she tries for a kiss on her daughter’s forehead. At first, Harriet doesn’t respond, but then she flings her arms round Kirsten, and buries her head into her legs for a long hug. It breaks Kirsten’s heart to tear her away. Maybe she could just take her to the surgery with her now?

But no. That’s no way to run a business. Or to parent. Is it?

‘I’ll see you later, sweetie,’ Kirsten tells her. The headmistress prises Harriet’s hand away. As they go off together, Kirsten notices Harriet’s socks don’t match. They’re both white, but one has a frill, one doesn’t.

Kirsten waits in the headmistress’s office. She doesn’t call Jess immediately. Instead, she gives in to the tears. What is she doing? How has she misconfigured things so much that her little daughter, at what is meant to be such a beautiful age, is turning to violence? If Kirsten can’t even manage to dress her properly in the morning, is it any wonder? Is Kirsten even present when she’s with her? Does she need to phone Clare, get some sessions, some pills? No. No, don’t phone Clare more than needed. Not these days. Keep the distance, keep her sweet. Kirsten will have to prescribe herself something, maybe. But what? Mothering instinct? Magical hugs?

Maybe it’s just a phase. Maybe when Harriet’s older, and Ian and Kirsten are hopefully still together, and have cash for everything Harriet wants, maybe Kirsten will still look back and cherish this stage. Because as people keep telling her, your kids are only this young once.

Kirsten blows out her cheeks, still regrouping.

And then, of course, Jess phones her.

‘Oh, I didn’t expect you to answer,’ Jess says. ‘I was going to leave a message. Everything OK?’

‘Yep, fine,’ Kirsten says, wiping away her tears with the back of her hand.

‘Right,’ Jess says. Jess is remembering, Kirsten is sure, how she ran out of the office in a flap, past the patients in the waiting room, shouting that she had to go to her daughter’s school for an emergency. ‘Anyway, that’s good, because people are complaining up a storm here.’ Jess lowers her voice. ‘One patient is refusing to leave. Says she was guaranteed an appointment. They go on holiday tomorrow, and if she doesn’t have her coil fitted today she says she’ll sue us for the inconvenience.’

‘Christ’s sake, can’t she just use a condom?’ Kirsten mutters.

‘Sorry, didn’t quite catch that – what did you want me to tell her?’ Jess asks.

‘Nothing, nothing. I’ll be back as soon as I can.’

‘Good, because I’ve just seen a comment up on the website – someone complaining you’re unreliable. I mean, we’re unreliable – the practice.’

But of course she means me, Kirsten thinks. I’m unreliable.
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