Читать онлайн «The Classroom: A gripping and terrifying thriller which asks who you can trust in 2018»
Other times, though, he looks at Harriet like she’s the love of his life. Which maybe she is. The love of both their lives. Kirsten remembers when she and Ian were that precious to each other. Or were they? Can you ever truly love your spouse as much as you love your child?
Ah, parking space! Ian says if Kirsten got a smaller car she wouldn’t spend so much of her life worrying about where to put it. Her verdict is that he can play the ruffled headmaster turning up at his school in his Golf – it wouldn’t do to look too posh. It’s different for parents collecting their kids. Kirsten needs to show up at the school gate looking like it was worth being late. Like she earns as much as people think she does. Otherwise, they ask themselves what the point is. And she starts asking herself that too. Which is stupid, futile, dumb and a waste of dreams – because Harriet needs a role model. And Kirsten needs to provide one.
OK; mummy mode. Fine. Ready to jump out of the car. Go!
A woman calls out as Kirsten moves away from her car. ‘Hey, Kirsten!’
Kirsten panics. Is she a patient? Are they going to get into discussions of UTIs out here in the street? But no, she has a child attached to her, so she’s a mum. In fact, two children – one swaddled to her breast, one jumping along at the end of her arm.
‘Hey …’ Kirsten says. She’s sure the alpha mummy has a name but she doesn’t know it. They’ve probably been introduced, but too late now.
‘You bring anything for the nearly new sale tomorrow?’ the woman asks Kirsten.
Ah, she’s a PTA mum. No wonder she knows Kirsten’s name. The guilt shifts slightly.
Kirsten wrinkles her brow. ‘Sorry, maybe next time,’ she says. ‘Work and everything, you know?’ Kirsten feels like she’s at the start of a bad American movie. Of course, the woman knows about work. She probably works too, as well as bringing up the kids.
The woman rolls her eyes. ‘Tell me about it. Geoff hasn’t left the office this week. Don’t worry, I know it’s hard to juggle.’
She effortlessly unswathes the baby from its sling, and in one seamless move, places it in her parked Maserati. Jesus. Other people’s lives.
Kirsten taps the entry code into the school gates, buzzes herself in, and goes to find Harriet. Deep breaths, onwards, into the school.
There she is. Kirsten’s beautiful little darling. Didn’t every mother’s heart just soar when she saw her child? It’s chess today, by the looks of it. She’ll be a little champion in no time.
‘Harriet! Darling, time to go home!’
Harriet turns around but keeps on playing. Kirsten remembers when Harriet used to run up to her with open arms. Is that innocence gone already? Perhaps Ian was right about the make-up. Perhaps Kirsten is letting her grow up too fast.
Kirsten walks up to the game. Harriet’s playing with a staff member. Kirsten sees, now, that all the other children are being packed up to go, their parents having arrived a long time back.
The staff member stands up. Nice clothes, nice hair – not ‘look at me’ fashionista but professional, stylish. A good role model for girls in her care. ‘Hi, I’m Miriam Robertson. You must be …’
Kirsten puts out her hand. ‘Kirsten. Kirsten White. Harriet’s mother.’
The teacher looks at Kirsten’s hand for a moment, then takes it. A soft handshake, almost like she doesn’t want their hands to touch. Kirsten can’t have offended her already, can she?
‘I just started here today,’ says the teacher. ‘Harriet’s in my class.’
‘Oh, that’s great,’ Kirsten says, withdrawing her hand. Here she is, making those famous connections with her child’s school. ‘How did she get on?’
Harriet, tiring of her chess game, gets up and starts trying to swing herself between Kirsten’s legs like some kind of monkey. A novel show of affection, but she’ll take it.
There’s a pause from Ms Robertson.
‘Everything OK?’ Kirsten asks.
The teacher smiles. ‘Of course it is. I’m sure Harriet will be a pleasure to teach.’
Kirsten tries to extract Harriet from between her legs. Sure, Harriet’s having fun, and there’s a pleasing embarrassment in having a child so free with your body, but Kirsten suspects it will lead to a wardrobe malfunction soon – note to self, wear trousers in future.
‘She’s showing real promise in her drawings,’ says the teacher. ‘We haven’t done much maths or English yet, so let’s see. The main thing is that she’s happy.’
Kirsten nods. So true. That’s what should matter to all of them – being happy. But we just find so many ways to put it off, right? If I can just make this bit of extra money … if I can just lose this extra five pounds … if I can just have a child … then I’ll be happy. But we never stick to our promises.
Harriet is looking up at Kirsten. Kirsten knows this is meant to be Harriet’s happy time.
‘What were you drawing, sweetie?’ she asks, stooping down.
‘Holidays,’ she tells her.
Kirsten flicks a look at the teacher. ‘Oh God, don’t tell me – was it her time at Daddy’s work or mine?’ She tries to grin away the guilt.
The teacher looks at her steadily.
‘Yours,’ she says simply. Kirsten can smell the disapproval.
Well, screw that.
‘Ah, yes, holidays at Mummy’s office – you had a lovely time, didn’t you, sweetie? All the toys and the books? Charming the patients?’
Harriet nods, semi-happily, and takes Kirsten’s hand.
‘Me and Mummy do everything together, go everywhere together,’ she recites in a sing-songy chant. The line Kirsten fed her for the patients (doctors struggling with childcare isn’t a confidence booster). Harriet totally owned it.
Good girl. Kirsten mentally promises them both Tuscany, some happy year in the future. Ian wanted to go this year, just the two of them. Suggested leaving Harriet with Kirsten’s parents, but it didn’t feel safe. Hyper-vigilant of her, maybe. But she can hardly believe in Harriet sometimes, or how fortunate they are. Harriet could be wiped away in a heartbeat and Kirsten knows she needs to be there to see her every single day. Sadly, Ian doesn’t quite understand.
Kirsten straightens up and talks to the teacher.
‘Well, I dare say I’ll see you tomorrow,’ Kirsten tells her. ‘Same time, same place.’
‘Harriet does after-school club every day, then?’ the teacher asks.
Is that another judgement? Kirsten is so sick of this – don’t offer a service if you then berate people for using it.
‘Not every day,’ Kirsten says. ‘But I work, her daddy works. It’s a lifesaver to have this club. To be honest, I could do with a breakfast one too – real wrap-around childcare.’
The teacher nods thoughtfully. Oh, like they’ll ever take the suggestion into account – the staff probably find it a wrench enough already getting out of bed at 7 a.m. Or they imagine some idyll of the whole family breakfasting together, chattering calmly about their day ahead. Not Peppa Pig blaring away as one parent desperately advocates another spoonful of Weetabix while the other sets a world record for showering after the alarm failed to go off. Kirsten wishes they’d make teachers have children before they take up teaching, so they know what it’s really all about.
‘I understand,’ the teacher says. Like hell she does.
But then, looking at her, Kirsten thinks she might understand. Genuinely, somehow. She feels her guard slipping slightly. She gives a little ‘pity me’ shrug. She lets the teacher pat her on the shoulder. And her eyes well with tears. But she blinks them away.
‘Come on, you!’ Kirsten says to Harriet, hoisting her up into a hug. ‘Time to get you home to Daddy!’ He probably won’t be back yet, but it’s a good line to get Harriet moving.
‘Have a lovely evening!’ says Miriam, waving after them.
As they leave the room, Harriet turns back to wave again, so Kirsten does too. Miriam is hugging herself and gazing after them. Their eyes lock. Kirsten shivers a little; she doesn’t know why. Perhaps it’s the intensity of Miriam’s gaze. But still, Kirsten nods to her, and she nods back, lifts a hand a little in a wave. Kirsten’s about to shout ‘Goodbye’, but Harriet pulls her out of the room.
‘Don’t be so rude!’ Kirsten admonishes her.
And Harriet pouts, doesn’t answer, and refuses to budge a further inch. So Kirsten has to drag her from the building and forcibly put her into the car. On the way home, rather than prattling to Kirsten about her day, Harriet stares out of the window. Why did Kirsten have to take it into her head to do some ‘parenting’? Maybe Harriet just wanted some alone time with Mummy, hence the dragging away from the teacher, and Kirsten spoilt it.
Another evening started all wrong.
And it doesn’t get much better. By the time Ian is finally home, dinner is burnt – the period it took to placate Harriet exceeded the optimum cooking length for chops – and half-eaten. Kirsten is trying to salvage the evening. A glass of red wine down, she is curled up on the sofa, head resting against Harriet’s as they read a book.
Ian blusters in, breaking the hard-won calm.
‘Evening, all!’ he says, taking off his coat, and throwing it on a sofa.
Kirsten resists the urge to mutter ‘Finally’. Instead, she nods to the wine on the table.
‘Want some?’ she asks, half-heartedly.
Ian shakes his head. ‘Nah, I’ll leave it to you.’
Kirsten finds implicit criticism that the bottle of wine will soon deplete. But he’s probably right.
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