This is Part One of a short fiction.
Aligned in perfect symmetry, the desks of the classroom formed an ordered horseshoe. Upon closer inspection, Mr. Mero noticed that nothing had changed in the anarchic spirit of young independence. Chewing gum pocked the table legs and lurked beneath the surface out of sight. He even allowed himself a smile at a crudely carved penis. After all, he engraved the same in his childhood with some infant inkling of territorial pride.
Mr. Mero was as much an apprentice as the juveniles lining up outside — unfamiliar with his subject and nervous of failure. A large part of him was frightened, imagining merciless shenanigans in bulk from an apathetic rabble. However, another significant portion of him knew that was unfair, taking comfort from his still boyish relation to their antics.
‘Worried, lad?’ boomed the thick, northern drawl of his personal tutor, as if telepathically, from behind the scribbled notes of his lesson plan. As the regular and consistent teacher of the class, Mr. Dransfield fostered a rapport in the room with his presence alone. Mr. Mero, after observing it for two weeks, had come to gawp in awe at its infallible balance.
‘Weren’t you, Sir?’ Mr. Mero squeaked, in case any schoolchildren were in earshot. Mr. Dransfield barely had time to eke out a muted chortle before the bell rang and, like clockwork, his door swung open with the thoughtless temerity of burgeoning puberty. All of their eyes locked on Mr. Mero as they filed in.
‘Are you teaching us today?’ one girl asked on the way to her perch, with a curl of her lip that suggested disappointment.
‘Just get to your desk,’ Mr Dransfield interjected, while the sharp tine of the bell teased a distracting tinnitus in his inexperienced underling. ‘Let me and Mr. Mero handle the teaching.’
‘Mr. Mero and I, Sir!’ Ross shouted from the back — a pupil with a proven propensity for impertinence. His rebellious conflict could have been anti-establishment if it were more considered than instinctual. Preparing for such attitudes kept Mr. Mero from a full night’s rest. Though apprehensive, he charged in out of loyalty to his training.
‘Right,’ Mr. Mero said, standing firm, ‘you can hand the books out then, Ross.’ When his instruction was met with an approving glance from his superior, and supportive mockery (in Ross’ direction) from the assembled harem, he felt comfortable enough to lighten and add, ‘Since you’re such a smart boy.’
It worked, temporarily, as the remainder of the class dutifully busied themselves with the minutia of school-desk preparation. Of course, Ross followed suit with both huffs and weighty sighs. When the register was taken, it wasn’t long before he started to amend his cohorts’ proper names with his own fatuous nicknames.
For Mr. Dransfield, the final straw came when Ross began launching books at the girls. With that as a signal, he reached down into his own desk for a stack of yellow cards. Lifting his inflated, doughy torso from his seat, he waved them knowingly at Mr. Mero, testing his resolve.
‘Here,’ Mr. Mero decreed with a stare (a mistake that Mr. Dransfield had outgrown making), ‘now.’ Awarding Ross his warning was more difficult than Mr. Mero predicted. But, after some foot stamping and a valiant protest, the room eventually settled. Finally, Mr. Dransfield could take the floor.
‘Alright, E4. Pages fifty-six to fifty-eight.’ The demand was punctuated by an almost coordinated trill of ruffling paper. Their teacher’s clear command left no space for ridicule. Accompanied by his first sarcastic grin of the day, Mr. Dransfield confirmed the students’ suspicions.
‘And you were correct, Ms. Pattermore,’ Mr. Dransfield said with a playful edge. As he spoke, Mr. Mero merely shuffled awkwardly, ‘Sir will be taking this class.’ Something about being referred to as “Sir” surged a billowing burst of bonhomie through Mr. Mero’s veins. He took to the empty stage in front of the gathered gaggle. With every step, confidence and dominance fought for superiority in his stride.
‘Good morning,’ Mr. Mero opened with incredible formality. Some students replied with an odd, mistimed acknowledgement. Others, like Ross, saw the greeting as futile and waited for the lesson’s meat to be served.
‘Has anyone worked out today’s topic?’ Mr. Mero commenced a meandering shuffle between the desks, creating an impressive illusion of dynamism.
‘Some more stuff about World War II?’ a particularly eager, but unfocused, pupil offered.
‘That’s what this term’s entire unit is on, Ryan,’ Mr. Mero responded, already disillusioned. He looked around at the group in hope of a meaningful contribution. Mr. Dransfield made a careful note on the nature of his protege’s time-wasting.
‘Are we gonna learn about the bombs yet, Sir?’ Ryan continued. His peers agreed with some scattered gasps of “yeah!” amongst the growing unrest. Just a mention of violence or explosion sent excitement rippling through the room. Within a flash of small seconds, Mr. Dransfield perceived the panic in Mr. Mero’s expression.
Three quick raps from a lengthy, wooden ruler brought an instant silence. While scrutinising each assembled pupil in omnipotent, determined detail, Mr. Dransfield restored total obedience — albeit an obedience perpetuated by a visceral, vestigial fear. Mr. Mero idly rearranged his jacket’s lapels and cleared his throat.
‘Thank you, Sir,’ Mr. Mero said, obviously offended at being undermined. Despite his professional ignorance, and desperate need of practice, he couldn’t help believing that his toes had been stepped on. ‘But sadly no bombs, Ryan.’ The room groaned in reverberating boredom.
‘What about all these smashed windows and that in the pictures?’ queried Ross, a valid contributor regardless of his inherent disruption. A few of his fellow students’ eyes could be seen to light up, now more interested in the coming lesson, as they spotted that he was right.
‘We’ll be looking at The Night of Broken Glass,’ Mr. Mero explained. Unconcerned by their tangents, he tried to leave no chance for interruption, wisely taking heed of Mr. Dransfield’s approach. ‘Pens ready,’ he simply stated, learning from his past error of asking, ‘books ready.’ The lethargic half of the class rummaged in their unzipped pencil-cases. ‘You have fifteen minutes to copy out your pages. Don’t finish it and you can take it home for next time.’
As the class hissed harshly in an undertone, Mr. Mero turned to his chair and sat with his own notes, honestly feeling a good job had been done.