Читать онлайн «The Classroom: A gripping and terrifying thriller which asks who you can trust in 2018»
OK, they can’t all do that – look at stars. They can’t all have had the same bedroom ceiling as Miriam did. Back when things were sweet, innocent, untrammelled. How she used to stare at those stars, be soothed by them, when things were bad. They were her little bits of magic, adorning the ceiling. She’ll never see that room again.
Miriam puts down her pen and gets up from her desk (i.e. the one table her flat possesses – mean old landlord). She can’t plan anymore. First, the lesson is the most over-planned one ever. (She had the full first week planned the day after she got the job.) Second, how can she enthuse children when her empty stomach is making her maudlin? The big picture is too distracting – after all, she became a teacher so that she could one day hope to have a child of her own. The right one. The one that she could win over, slowly but surely, so that the parents sort of … fade away. Individual planning of lessons seems too trivial compared with that, even though she knows that gently, gently, little by little, is the way to win that trust.
Plus, the fridge is calling to her. She walks over to the kitchenette and opens the door. The glow illuminates the room and she realises she’s been working unlit. Terrible for the eyes and the mood. Happy thoughts, please – dream job, dream children, dream future. That’s what it’s all about.
She fishes out some noodles from the fridge, adds a bit of extra soy sauce. She contemplates the desk/table, wondering if it’s worth the effort to clear stuff away just now so she can eat. Probably not – sofa’s just as good for dining alone. She picks up the school-issued A4 picture sheet of the children she teaches, and takes that and the noodles to the sofa. Gingerly, she puts her feet up on the edge of the bucket that’s meant to be catching the drips. (Seriously – when is her so-called landlord coming over? She needs to text him again later.)
How unalike so many of the photos are to the children they’re trying to capture. Harriet, for example (of course). She looks so washed-out, so wall-eyed, and her hair dulled. In the picture, that is. In the flesh, she is so much more … nuanced. A living, breathing child, not just a mark on a bit of paper. Look at all the others. So beautiful to their parents – and not unbeautiful to Miriam, either. Or each other, as time moves on. Miriam wonders who Harriet’s little friends will be. The ones she’ll stay friends with in future, right through high school. The ones who’ll mess her life up if she lets them.
She’ll be asleep by now, probably – they all will. What will Mr and Mrs – sorry, Mr and Dr – White be doing? Hold on, maybe she doesn’t want to know! But no, maybe more likely sitting downstairs with a big glass of red wine each? Reminding each other all the ways Harriet is wonderful? Such a cosy notion of parenthood. Is it like that, being in a marriage like theirs, with the little one asleep upstairs? Or is it just tapping away at smartphones, preparing for another working day? Where Miriam’s work involves teaching Harriet, their work involves palming her off on teachers. Not that it would do for her to be home-schooled. Certainly not.
Miriam places the photo sheet carefully on the floor and exhales. Come on. Enjoy this. It’s what you’ve been working for. It’s a success! First day in a new job, no disasters, all the kids are compliant, the other staff are fine. You have your special child to make a project of. All good.
She looks up at the ceiling. No stars to gaze at here. Perhaps she could catch a shooting star out the window? Make a wish on it? Because unfortunately for Miriam, a good day isn’t enough. The anxiety never goes away. What if the kids are unhappy? What if they aren’t treated right? What if they end up … well, like her?
She needs to take her mind off this. So she does her other usual favourite/least favourite thing. She summons up Facebook on her phone and looks into other worlds. Or rather a specific world. A woman with her young daughter. A girl she’s no longer allowed to look after. Apparently Miriam’s judgement is ‘off’. But look at that girl. Such a pretty little thing, eating an ice cream, hair all done up with ribbons. Miriam would so love to be the one posting those pictures. She remembers holding the little baby, how small and precious it was, how she wanted it to be with her for her own, always. It wasn’t meant to end that way. So she’ll just have to Facebook stalk. For now.
Chapter 8 (#ulink_e1d07ab7-07c0-59b1-979f-04dc932c5776)
KIRSTEN, SEPTEMBER 2018
It was bound to happen.
Kirsten just wishes it hadn’t been so public. That it hadn’t been in front of Harriet.
Ian wasn’t without fault. He knows the pressure Kirsten’s under. Knows that this plus a little bit too much red wine on a school night – yes, she’s a doctor, she should know better – isn’t going to make the school run any smoother. Just don’t take the piss. Not unless you want a fight.
But yes, she knows the rest is down to her. She messed up, big time. Again. She sits down at her desk and puts her head in her hands. Someone cancelled – thank God – so she has ten minutes between appointments. She pops another ibuprofen and chases it down with some sparkling water. The hangover’s been replaced by a stress headache.
‘Maybe you shouldn’t have had that extra glass of wine,’ was Ian’s suggestion this morning, while Kirsten was struggling with the idea of wrenching herself out of bed.
She had to retaliate, right?
‘Maybe you should have been there to stop me, rather than doing whatever the hell you were doing.’
‘Putting our daughter to bed,’ he told her.
‘What – you do one thing, and suddenly I’m the alcoholic; you’re the caring responsible one?’
And then, of course, Ian tried to play the grown-up. Kirsten could see him counting to ten, his jaw pulsing, nostrils flaring.
‘Look,’ he said, finally. ‘Let’s both try to get home on time tonight. Cook dinner. Spend some time with Harriet. Maybe we could watch a film. Like the old days.’
Sounded nice, didn’t it? Of course it did. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe it would mean allowing herself to relax. So instead, she flew off the handle.
‘These aren’t the old days, Ian. We have a child. I’m trying to set up a business. When would I have time to watch a film?’
So he muttered under his breath: ‘You don’t seem to be trying very hard.’
Come on, really? She built up that place from scratch – selected the premises, painted the walls, did all the marketing, chose the sodding cushions, for goodness’ sake! And she’s got to keep on climbing; she can’t just bail. She’s committed too much, borrowed too much from her parents – they need to be repaid in the pride of being able to send cards to their ‘Dr’ daughter.
So they got on to listing what the particular demands on their time were. Kirsten recalls they were shouting by then. That may or may not have been what woke Harriet. But either way, she was at their bedroom door just as Kirsten was yelling: ‘Of course I wish there was someone else to look after Harriet – I do not have time and you don’t have the love!’
And he nodded to the door. And there she was. Harriet. Holding a little pile of bread on one of her toy plates, perhaps meant for one of her parents. But she didn’t offer it to them; she just stood very still for a few moments then bolted, crying.
Exactly what Kirsten had promised herself she wouldn’t be like as a parent. Her mum and dad fought constantly but refused to divorce ‘for the good of the children’. She wasn’t sure how their snarky, bitter quarrels, interspersed with crockery being thrown at each other was good for anyone, particularly the children. The great lesson Kirsten learnt from them was how to retort in a fight, how never to let things drop. But Harriet deserves better. Even Ian deserves better, probably.
So of course, Kirsten flew out of bed, sort of assuming that Ian would follow. But he didn’t. Which meant it was Kirsten, going to explain to Harriet, tears in her voice, that sometimes adults say things they don’t mean when they’re angry, and that they both love her very, very much. Then she read her some books, played with some dolls – the usual. By the time they all met again on the doorstop, Kirsten had needed to resign herself to leaving home unshowered, badly dressed and carrying her make-up bag.
Then, the worst bit: Ian looked her up and down. He looked her up and down. And he said, ‘Are you going in like that?’
Bastard. Kirsten, too, was sorry she wasn’t ten years younger and couldn’t slide on some lip salve, throw on a T-shirt and be voted ‘Doctor with bedside manner of the year’. Sorry that looking professional and suitable for the outside world took time.
What she should have done was ask him to look after Harriet for ten minutes while she went and made herself look a bit better.
What she actually did was hit him over the head with her make-up bag.
Forgot, again, about Harriet. Got caught in the cycle of anger. And forgot, too, that foundation bottles are made of glass. So they create quite an impact. Though he was really over-egging it when he stumbled and leant on the car for support. Kirsten, of all people, knows concussion when she sees it – and that wasn’t it.
But Yvette from next door didn’t necessarily know. Which is presumably why she came rushing towards them, remote-locking her white Audi as she did so.
‘Oh, Ian,’ she cooed, face all covered in concern. ‘I saw everything. Are you OK?’ Her hand on his arm, helping him up. A glance at Kirsten, like she was the devil.
‘We’ve got it covered,’ Kirsten told her. ‘It’s been a busy morning. But in my medical opinion, he’s fine.’
She saw Ian gently trying to manipulate his arm out of Yvette’s grasp. ‘Honestly, Yvette, it’s OK. I’d better be driving off,’ he said. ‘My class won’t wait.’
But Yvette wasn’t having it.
‘Oh, you can’t possibly drive after that!’ she exclaimed. ‘Kirsten will have to drive you.’
‘Kirsten is very busy,’ Kirsten said drily. ‘She has to drive her daughter to school and then go to work.’ Christ, she was thinking. Come on, Yvette, just give us some private family time, OK? Stop interfering. Maybe she was good-natured, but a good-natured busybody is still a busybody.
Kirsten turned to Harriet. ‘Come on, sweetie, let’s get you to school, hey? Sorry about this.’
She tried to hug Harriet to her in order to make the point, but Harriet refused to budge. Hugging her teddy bear seemed to be enough for her. Frankly, Kirsten felt the same – give her a day on the pavement hugging a soft toy over this mess.
Yvette then came out at her fake best. ‘Oh, of course, I quite understand. You are so busy. I don’t know how you do it. Let me drop Ian off then.’
‘But it’s miles out of your way!’ said Ian. ‘You can’t possibly do that. I’ll get a cab if you’re that worried.’
‘I was actually heading over your way to see someone about upholstery – so it’s right on track. Come on, hop in,’ she said, gesturing to the Audi. ‘And I can bring you home again too!’
Yvette has some kind of pretend job Kirsten has never understood. Interior design brokering services or something. It basically means everyone else does the work and Yvette is mentioned in lots of magazines, which she reads out to people over coffee.
‘Yvette, you know that’s unnecessary,’ Kirsten told her, voice low. But Ian was already walking (unsteadily) to the car. ‘Ian, tell her it’s fine,’ she pleaded with him. They’d squabbled, sure, but it was their marriage, right?
Yvette turned to Kirsten, allowing herself a little smile. ‘I know lots of things, Kirsten. Let me be the judge of what’s necessary.’
Her words chill Kirsten, even thinking back over them again now. I know lots of things, Kirsten. What did she mean by that? She’d moved in just after Harriet came along. Bought the house through a private sale, friend of a friend of their previous neighbour. Who, if Kirsten isn’t mistaken, didn’t know anything about what mattered.
‘Ian!’ Kirsten called to him. ‘I’m sorry, OK? We’ll talk this evening.’ She tried to muster up some tenderness that she didn’t feel. Never start the day in the middle of an argument, right? But he wouldn’t even look at her. She could feel her eyes tearing up – life was not meant to be like this, her marriage was not meant to turn into this – so she had to turn her attention back to Harriet.
She tried to persuade her into the Lexus with as little fuss as possible.
‘Let’s see if I’ve got any mini-cheddars, hey?’ Kirsten asked her, in her best sing-song voice.
Harriet looked momentarily interested. Kirsten rifled round in her handbag and found a rustling packet.
‘Ooh, ooh, this sounds promising!’ Kirsten said, hoping it wasn’t sanitary wear. She pulled out her spoils. Oh. Crisps. Not even kiddy ones – those posh Kettle Chip things, an emergency snack. ‘Oh sorry, sweetie, it’s not mini-cheddars. You can’t have these.’
But of course, Harriet reached out her hand. Kirsten gave her the crisps, and stooped down to wipe away her tears. Harriet wriggled her face away.
‘You’ll understand one day,’ Kirsten told her.
But Kirsten hoped she wouldn’t. She hoped Harriet would always be innocent. As innocent as she could be, anyway, considering.
They had the same problem getting into school. After a difficult car journey, Harriet was on strike. Once they arrived, Kirsten had to sit next to her in the back, reading her a story. Then sit on the pavement and coax her out with the bribe of chocolate for supper (hoping she’d have forgotten by then). Thankfully, Kirsten didn’t think any of the parents heard. Although, when she turned back to face the school, she saw Harriet’s new teacher standing there. She didn’t know what the teacher saw, but it couldn’t have been the worst. Kirsten waved to her, made a little grimace, but the teacher went back into the building. Harriet, suddenly willing again, ran after her and was gone before Kirsten even had time to kiss her on the head.
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