Claire Frances Maley
© Copyright 2018 by Claire Frances Maley
Timely ripped from her Mother’s womb, Pol entered the world one snowy November morning. She nearly killed her Mother. “What a bruiser! She’ll play Hockey for England.” The nurse said.
As soon as Pol could stand, she pulled open the net curtain and waved Dad off to work. He’d laugh, wave and blow kisses back. She continued to wave until long after he’d driven out of sight. Upon returning home, Pol waited on him, cooking him an imaginary feast in her plastic, toy kitchen.
At three and a half, Pol craned her neck and stepped on the hospital wall pipes beside the glass crib to meet her newly born brother. Why was Mother speaking to this white, wriggling, strange creature with unusual tenderness? Why did he have an orange cast where hair was meant to be? “Your brother is going to have red hair like your great grandfather,” said Dad ruffling Pol’s blond curls. With his face scrunched, her brother let out an almighty squeal.
On her first day at school, Dad wore a smart suit, he held a briefcase in one hand and Pol’s icy hand in the other. Together they watched the noisy playground. Some children in Pol’s class cried, others looked like they might. “Aren’t you a brave girl?” the teacher said seeing Pol’s stony face.
At night, she often found herself frozen in bed, whispers closing in around her and eerie shadows prancing before her flickering night light. Human figures crawled from the corner of her eye. Sometimes the washing machine demon from downstairs would join in taunting her too. On the final spin, it bounded up the stairs to find her.
While Dad climbed the career ladder and worked long hours, Pol and her brother spent endless hours at home with Mother. Outside Mother could speak softly and say the right things but inside the home, she was dark. Pol was only allowed to sit near Mother when reading her school book out loud. Pol became a good reader.
At seven, she had a teacher who she loved as much as Dad. Pol quietly soaked up every second of every lesson and was overcome with joy when she won the class story writing competition. Her teacher awarded her with a perfect red Chinese lantern. Pol skipped all the way home holding the beautiful lantern out.
Three days later, the lantern vanished. With tears in her eyes, she searched her bedroom. From the doorway, her Mother said, “That thing just collected dust.”
At thirteen, Pol still believed that kissing caused pregnancy. The momentous Biology lesson in which the truth of the matter was revealed, proved too much for her and she plummeted from her wooden stool to the great amusement of her peers.
One parents evening, a teacher revealed to her father that Pol had suddenly started talking and answering questions in English class. His look of pride swiftly faded when the teacher added the change began when the class studied Sylvia Plath poetry. A look of fear flickered across his face. “Could you try and connect with a less depressing poet?” He asked on the way home.
Pol chose to study at a university by the sea and each time she watched the sun drop behind the Irish Sea from the mountains, she felt a moment of peace. From the start, she was randomly housed with four very different people who somehow all got along well. When together, the Famous Five (as they called themselves), laughed from their toes. With the support of her friends, Pol’s voice grew stronger and she found solace and common ground with the literary characters she studied.
On Pol’s first day of primary teaching, she saw a girl run out of her classroom with another student’s lunchbox into which she then defecated. Children lashed out, bit, swore and once Pol found a child weeping in the foetal position on the top shelf of her cupboard. Saying goodbye on the last day of term always proved hard for the children and for Pol too. In her spare room she kept a large and beautifully decorated box inside which lay the many letters and cards from children she taught. Curling up beside the box, she enjoyed carefully leafing through the contents and remembering her children.
Outside of school, two ginger rescue kittens bounded home. They filled Pol’s life with mischief, cuddles, joy and the constant need to hide the bagels.
At 27, life began unravelling. She taught at a school where she didn’t fit. Her laughing and close rapport with the children was pulled under scrutiny. “You’re a brilliant little teacher but then you do odd things and we need consistency,” the Head said. An image of her Mother swirled before Pol’s eyes and she shook. Consistency was not something she was very familiar with but she knew she was good at her job. “Please God, I’m not like Mother, am I?” Pol whispered to herself.
One day right in the middle of a Maths lesson, she froze at her desk and while the class worked, a plan flashed before her: escape, buy pills, buy cat food, ask neighbour to feed cats, drive to the moors with a bag of pills… Outside, a bell rung urgently and children were ushered off the field away from Pol who was striding away from the plenary of the lesson she should have been leading. A deputy head shouted, “You’re not being fair,” to Pol as she shakily climbed the locked iron gates and stumbled to the railway station.
The day of the escape was never spoken about directly by Dad or Mother. When captured by the police and later sent to her parents, Dad told Pol she needed to go to church and eat more greens and Mother asked her if she’d seen any real tragedies on the news lately. After a week, Pol said she was fine and returned north to her flat and work. She knew the right things to say and limped onward trying work at another school in another town the next term.
Pol was more than happy to see the back of her twenties. She wanted to start a fresh, somewhere warmer and more peaceful. It took a huge amount of effort to persuade Dad that it was a good idea to move abroad and an even greater effort to teach him how to use skype. With a few possessions, lessons learnt from life so far and of course her beloved cats, Pol moved to teach in Thailand.