Friday, June 22, 2007

Cassie's Monday

More than four hours of sleep is a luxury only afforded to the very organised. Sunday night is the only time for doing homework. Rubbing one’s eyes as you lethargically walk up to a form room at 8.44am is normal. Such were the truths of Cassie’s morning routine. Despite many pledges to reform, Cassie had always been unable to break out of the emotionally stirring excitement of nearly missing a deadline; be it a hand in date, a coach in the morning, the doors slamming shut of the Ceptik dining hall, or that ominous meeting with the Head of the Sixth Form.
‘Norf Wes’ Lundun’ is a particularly bleak and wet part of the world for no reason other than to ruin the morning of a student. Having partied the weekend away and worked from 11pm to 3am on Sunday night, Cassie woke up bright and early. 6.45am is not a pleasant time of day for anyone but night workers finally getting to put their heads on pillows. Towelling herself off after a ludicrously hot, steamy, and sleep inducing shower, she walked across the slippery tiles to the sink. The razor was getting old. The cut was ever so slightly less effective than it had been the day before, and Cassie had to sweep twice before she was satisfied with her now silky smooth legs. Whoever had the brilliant idea of putting a clock in the bathroom did not realise that like every other surface, the clock’s face fogged up as soon as the shower door opened and the mist belched out into the freezing echoing chamber. She smiled in satisfaction, sliding her tongue across her gleaming teeth and savouring the minty freshness that would last until the crunch of the mandatory bar of sickly sweet calories or bag of fried fat.
Still walking lazily around in the darkness, the humidity of the room was too intense. Beads of sweat were beginning to appear on her forehead and having just showered, Cassie was having none of that. With an awkward movement around the sink, requiring a slightly dangerous balance on the cold wet floor, she turned the levers ninety degrees and pushed hard on the glass pane. The blast of freezing air whirled into the small dark enclosure. Reacting instinctively, Cassie sprung back slamming the window closed. Slowly but surely, the hair on the back of her neck stood erect and goosebumps protruded from her delicate arms.
Leaving the bathroom half asleep, Cassie returned to her room, disrobed and got dressed – all actions that had devolved into a programmed set of muscular movements rather than any conscious decision-making. 7.10am, she had to slip into something appropriate for the stern Head’s approval between now and 7.15. Grabbing the nearest faded and worn out but brand new t-shirt, well scrubbed jeans and an exquisite sweater from her wardrobe, she quickly got dressed whilst making a mental note of which books and files needed to be stuffed into her bag.
Five precious minutes before leaving the comfort of a warm, cosy, and snug kitchen, she picked up an assortment of whole grain, whole wheat, and whole everything delicacies from the vast array in the snacks cabinet. A thermos containing today’s exotic tea and just the right amount of milk and sugar was waiting on the dining table. The person responsible for this convenience had disappeared into another room to prepare a legal brief twenty minutes ago and would not emerge from behind her notebook computer for another hour, not even to say goodbye to her daughter. Cassie swept out of the house with all the force and grace of a silent whirlwind.
The gravel’s delicious crunch was more satisfying than any other pleasures she would allow herself to enjoy as judged by her in her infinitely jaded teenage wisdom. Soon she would be on the coach, iPod firmly planted in her perfectly formed ears to protect her from the rash, brash, and pathetically energetic younger children chatting excitedly in the front of the coach.
Her thoughts raced from the essay to be handed in, the explosions rocking her grandparents’ hometown, the aural lesson after lunch, her philandering boyfriend, and the teachers she would have to encounter that day. The meaninglessly cool music provided a gentle backdrop to her intense thoughts. Drifting onwards at fifty miles per hour alongside a blur of dull grey roads, faded gunmetal grey barriers, dirty brown and green pastures, bare trees, and a perfectly complexioned melancholy sky, the velvety smooth ride lulled her into a much-needed slumber. The smoky jazz of Norah’s latest album did much to soothe Cassie’s aching mind. Having drifted off to sleep, she was lucky to miss out on the grinding traffic jams of Toheritje Lane, Apex Corna, and the A42, but not lucky enough to avoid the effects… grunting, grumbling, and spraying greasy fumes across peaceful Hertfordshire, the lumbering coach breathlessly panted up the gradient to the modernist hut at the top of the incline. 9.00am was not a good time to arrive at school, regardless of how good your reason was. Sublimating irritation, Cassie walked down the long drive past the Preparatory School, full of snotty squealing children and overwhelmed idealistic teachers, towards the more mature and gentle Main School. Illegally and surreptitiously dashing across the court, she snuck into the brand new science block, past the eagle eyed prefects and the roaming teachers. Slipping her coat into an inadequate locker with a dented door, she composed herself before venturing out into the corridor and sliding down a banister towards a one-way door, en route to her first lesson.
The distant rumble of middle schoolers’ conversations assured her that she was in the clear; now empowered with plausible deniability she could stride confidently into the building. Designed by a man with only right angled plastic instruments and a belief that the fewer the windows the fewer the number of people staring out daydreaming, the hopelessly overwhelmed sixties architectural mishap stood at the far end of the school, surrounded by unflattering grey tarmac, with promisingly lush vegetation just beyond the line of gleaming Audis, BMWs, Mercedes Benzes, and Land Rovers parked in the teachers’ covered, red carpeted, and valet serviced parking area.
Cassie walked into her tiny classroom. Immediately curling up her nose, she exclaimed;
‘Oh God no! The stench of third formers!’
A murmuring acknowledgement followed her as the other students dragging their feet into the room settled down in absurdly cramped seats with folding desks. Idle banter about the preceding weekend followed for five or ten minutes as the class waited for their teacher. A diminutive figure glided into the room, a wave of unadulterated freshness following her into the room. The boys, previously focused intensely on PSPs, texting, and frantically scribbling down answers to maths questions, sat up showing renewed attention to events around them. At barely thirty, Mrs Jennings was a brilliant thinker who had excelled at Oxford just a few years ago. Her ideological desire to educate the future generations led her to Bunbury Aldersey. While her academic credentials were impeccable, her popularity with the sixth form male population had very little to do with that.
‘Morning boys and girls. As usual we continue studying the worthlessly dull text prescribed by PDS’ Cassie looked up in astonishment, and then realised Mrs Jennings had said nothing of the sort. As the various coffee drinkers poured the miserably bitter Nescafe filth into paper thin plastic cups, Cassie, Mrs Jennings and the other refined people waited patiently for their chance at the hot water and the much more dignified English Breakfast blend resting inconspicuously next to the large gold and red ‘Nescafe Cheap Blend Xtra’ bottles.
The lesson progressed in a manner typical of an affluent middle class school, polite niceties were generously laden onto every sentence and each point was succinct and comprehensive. By the time the class had ended, Mrs Jennings was pleasantly reassured of her set’s abilities. As the bell rang, Cassie and some of the other girls packed up their belongings and headed out while a line of boys waited to speak to Mrs Jennings.
‘Cassie!’ The voice was familiar. It belonged to a man who had not received a single essay from her all year. Mr. Livingstone was a man who would be described with absolute certainty by everyone in the lower schools as the most frightening man in the world. When a student progressed through the school into the rarefied air of the sixth form, they would get to know the reality of his personality. He was one of the kindest people in the world, something that had surprised Cassie immensely, having spent many hours experiencing the Mr. Hyde side of Mr. Livingstone on many occasions while in the middle school.
‘Cassie dear, you owe me thousands of pages worth of work, but I’m sure you’re progressing through that mountain of work with the same zeal with which you choose your outfit every morning’
‘Mr. Livingsone, I threw on this stuff without really thinking about what I was putting on. 7am is not good to me anymore’
‘I don’t think 7am is good to anyone Cassie.’
‘No sir, it isn’t. I assure you I will hand in the reams of work before the end of my time at school.’
‘I don’t believe a word of it!’ he chuckled.
They parted ways, bemused and cheered up. Mr. Livingstone knew that Cassie was handing in new work and was conscientious enough to be worried about the backlog. He knew she would be fine, despite her difficulties this year.
Cassie’s face fell after she walked through the excessively lacquered rotting double doors, down the crumbling stairs, and along the blue-stained-grey carpet, which was peeling away at the edges. She was grateful for kindness like the discourse with Mr. Livingstone, but understood the reason for the preferential treatment. From time to time Cassie’s mind returned to 11.30am, Saturday 30th September 2006. A police barricade shut off Kingsway in North Finchley, at the base of a new building. Cassie’s father was waiting in a traffic jam caused by the inconvenience when a garbage truck commandeered by stoned delinquent joyriders ploughed a hole through the Maserati. The navy blue Quattroporte did not growl up the driveway that night, instead replaced by the high-pitched whine of silver Vauxhall Astra police vehicles.
Cassie frowned, bit her lip, and resisted the urge to let a tear roll down her cheeks before looking at her watch. The absurdity of fashionable watches was that one could not really tell the time from them. Giving up, she looked at a wall clock and moved on down the crowded corridor towards the counsellor’s office in Hanbidge House. These sessions had become increasingly repetitive, worryingly introspective, and often by the time some breakthrough would be on the verge of appearing, time would run out. In a tired effort to rid herself of frustration, Cassie decided she would eliminate this worry from her life. It took up a free period, and as one of the models for the forthcoming fashion show, she wanted to spend her time preparing for that event.
Forty minutes later, Cassie emerged, as she always would; troubled, perplexed, and confused. This session focused entirely on her inability to release anger. Exactly what that had to do with her father’s death did not reveal to her, and she shrugged off the session as another tremendous waste of time. English people were supposed to be phlegmatic! Her inability to release anger apparently stemmed from her belief that it was undignified to do so. Cassie disagreed; she though it just added to the potential for wrinkles, led to shouting which is not sexy at all, and looking ungainly. While walking along the main court, she came across Ms. Ashton, an energetic and pleasant graphics teacher who enjoyed encountering various people and finding out just how they were feeling. Ms. Ashton’s kind curiousity turned her into a source of information for various teachers, a role she vehemently refused to play.
‘What Cassie told me is between her and I!’
‘Anne, Cassie is in my class, and I am desperately concerned about her.’
‘I am aware of that but I believe if she feels someone has betrayed her trust, in her vulnerable state, she will sink into depression’
Battling off various inquisitive members of staff, Ms. Ashton was a confidante for many of the students at Bunbury Aldersey. They felt she was trustworthy and that she understood the confidential nature of the secrets she was entrusted with. Cassie was unique in that she was very open, a quality that many teachers had foolishly misdiagnosed as evidence of her ability to trust people. Cassie’s openness was a result of the utter scope of the shock she was going through, and her bewilderment as to what to do with the gravity of what had happened to her. She did not know what else to do with herself, she feared that if she shut herself off, she would become an emotionless workhorse only able to cope with emotions by letting them ricochet off her defences.
The French aural lesson went very well. Cassie loved French, she enjoyed the flirtatious anecdotes spoken by Claude in his delicious accent. Claude, the bearded French assistant was a stunning example of what happens when the French try harder to produce pretty men. His gruff manly exterior belied a soft interior. Claude cried during sad scenes in films, his mood was very temperamental, he would spend lessons in ecstatic bliss when the class answered questions correctly, would be horrified if someone swore, and would be depressed if someone made a foolish mistake. Claude was a highly-strung, passionate man who had been hurt badly by the news of Cassie’s father’s death.
‘Mais she is such a good person!’ Claude protested to the Head of French
‘I know Claude, such a thing should never happen to anyone but it is all the more tragic that it happened to such a sweet and bright young lady’
‘Ce n’est pas vrais!’
‘Je sais Claude. Je sais.’
Cassie’s day was coming to an end. It had been truly exhausting. The English lesson had been typically engrossing and the French lesson engaging, but the counselling session had upset her and her delicate composure. She had woken up fine in the morning, lethargic, but capable of producing a smile when a friendly teacher passed her on a path or in a corridor. Angry with herself, angry with God and furious at the unnecessary nature of her loss, Cassie choked down a scream, instead deciding to go up to the Library and curl up in a reading corner. Now sobbing uncontrollably into the monochrome pages of Shalimar the Clown, Cassie was inconsolable. The librarians made an effort to speak to her, but she remained silent. Exasperated but sympathetic, they left her alone. She did not look up or turn the page, but after fifteen minutes the tears dried up.
The sky had darkened significantly. Cassie had descended to the Foyer and walked through the front doors. Looking out across the campus she saw the bright lights of square maths windows, and the silhouette of the music school. From the middle of the seldom-visited music school, a light was on and a solitary piano added the perfect accompaniment to the ambience of Cassie’s evening. 5.20pm was drawing closer, and the second round of coaches would be leaving soon. Reluctantly she got up and began to walk again, stumbling a little at first, but knowing with certainty that in time, she would regain her balance, but also knowing she would have to do it on her own.

Written For A school's magazine, won the best piece of literature of the year.. Was actually written as a draft on Friday 22nd December 06' when i was at the London Airport. Peace \m/

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