This story is by Christopher Williams and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The ED Room by Christopher Williams
I was shaking as I stood outside the ED room for the emotionally disturbed, my first day as a sub at Deepwater High in a small country town on the East Coast. The sign was missing the “D”, the letter and the label removed but not erased. It reminded me of my missing emotions since running from Perth as a lamister and leaving everything behind- family, friends, job. That was months ago now.
“See you at 11. Good luck!” Miss Sharp, the DP said. “You’ve got my number, just in case.”
The door closed with an ominous thud that excluded natural light, except for a small bottom sliver. There were windows, barred and grimy, carpet torn and stained and crude penis graffiti to which someone had added: “You wish!” and “In yer dreams”. The smell was like unwashed dog blankets and dead puppies. The five students, Latrell, Oscar, Kendrick, Evie and Justine all fifteen, had their backs to me hunched over computers from the dinosaur age. One of the girls wore a handkerchief sized skirt which wasn’t covering much.
“Hey, check the new guy. Hey, fuck face, what’s your name?”
Sound confident! Don’t show fear! Look them in the eye. Sure as hell some theory.
“Mr Smith. What’s yours?”
“I’m the Rapper or Big Guy or The Man. You can call me Kendrick.”
“OK, Kendrick, it’s nice to meet you. When I put my things down maybe you can introduce the others.”
I wandered over to the teacher’s desk and felt underneath for the panic button. It was broken. I patted my coat pocket for my cellphone. Was it charged? Was it on silent? It didn’t have speed dial. I had two hours to survive before recess. The wall clock was ticking but the hands weren’t moving. I turned the whiteboard so my back was not towards the students and found a blue, calming colour marker pen. Avoid writing in red, I had been told. My memories from my time as an award winning English teacher in Perth were just that. Memories. The cops coming, Helen yelling to get out and the hurt look on the kids faces. Running.
“Kendrick. Who have we got here?”
“Dis is Einstein, my main man. You can call him Latrell.”
“Hi Latrell, nice to meet you.”
“Dis Oscar, we call him Bieber cause he thinks he’s cute, Ha Ha.”
“What about the girls?’
“They’re new here, man, you’ll have to ask them.”
Having determined the pecking order of the group, I asked the handkerchief skirt girl her name.
“Justine. And it’s just Justine. That’s Evie over there.”
“Hi. Pleased to meet you.” In my steadiest, most confident sounding voice.
“This is what we are going to do today, starting with English. Open up Word. Write your name, then write me a story about your best childhood memories. Then leave a space and write down this title: What job do you want when you leave school?”
When I had finished writing, Oscar and Evie had logged on, Latrell was staring at the screen like a Zombie from the Walking Dead, Kendrick was holding down the ‘E’ key EEEEEEEE and Justine was fiddling with her hair.
“How about it Kendrick? You got a story in you?”
“I can write a story about sucking my dick.”
I ignored that and moved on to Justine.
“You need help logging on, Justine?”
“I need help with my hair, Sir. Could you brush it for me?”
She gave me a look that belonged on an older woman. I ignored that too. Instantly a tight feeling grabbed my throat, dry and uncomfortable. I inched my chair away with flashbacks to three months ago and Madison in the back seat of my car, lost, lonely and luscious She said she loved me which means something different with her pants around her ankles. I fell for that with an avalanche of guilt and regret that carried me here. At least she had been seventeen.
Oscar was swinging on his chair and playing Call of Duty. I moved over to see what Latrell was writing.
Latrell: No one eva respected me until I took a baseball bat to my scumbag dad. Put him in hospital. That stopped him hitting mum and me. He neva came back. When I leave this shithole I want to work for NASA, like and shoot off rockets, yeh!”
I was intrigued by the image on his T-Shirt, Albert Einstein with the words: Einstein wuz wrong: Dark Matter Sucks!
“I like your T-shirt, Latrell. What does it mean?”
“Einstein, man, he was the greatest, after Muhammed Ali of course! You know, all this dark matter shit? They know it’s out there but they can’t see it. Why don’t they just like turn the big mother lights on?”
“Interesting idea, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that.”
“Well, it’s like the dark web, man, nasty, shitty place that. You can buy anything there, young girls, boys, drugs.”
“You’ll need good grades to work for NASA, you know that, right?”
“It’s cool, man. I won’t be in here foreva.”
Evie: Maybe 4 or 5 years ago when my dad finally left and stopped beating me mum, she stopped crying. That was the best moment of my life, not seeing that bastard again. When I leave here, I just want to be happy, have kids, not cry.
Reading this made me think about all the bad things that happen in our lives. The worst are usually the ones that remain silent, never spoken, buried under layers of time and hurt like onions that only lose their crumbling, outer skins.
“Justine, how about you? Can I read what you’ve written?”
“Sure Sir. Pull up a chair.”
I moved my chair in close. She casually placed her hand on my knee as if it was perfectly natural. I flinched and removed her hand. She giggled.
“I can go higher if you like? I promise I won’t tell Miss.”
Others were chuckling. I felt my pulse rate rise and sweat form. I moved away to see what Kendrick had written.
Kendrick: EEEEEEEEE. The best thing that happened to me wus when Snoop Dog came to Bondi and I shook his hand. When I leave this place I’m gunna be a famous rapper, like 50 Cent.
I moved slowly back to see what Justine had written. Tears were running down her cheeks.
“Can I go to the bathroom, Sir?”
When she had left, I read:
I wish Mum had taken me to Perth instead of Maddy. The best thing I ever did was leaving Dad after I woke up one night and found his drunken mate in my room shaking hands with Dr Winky. Bastards, both of them. When I leave school I want to work with animals cause they never hurt you.
Followed by one word repeated over and over: Love
There was a knock on the door, Justine entered bringing a kinder, softer light that stirred up different emotions, empathy, warmth, compassion maybe. I thought I’d left these behind when I ran, and was glad they came with me. A hole had opened up in my heart where my kids used to be. That door was like time, open and endless like the distance to that past shore.
Justine sat down and I had to force my eyes to stare at her screen and read what she’d written. That name Maddy. It couldn’t be?
“Is Maddy your sister? How old is she?”
“She’s, um, seventeen now. Her real name is Madison. Hey Sir, you feeling OK? Look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I checked her last name to be sure. I was trembling. This couldn’t be happening.
The bell rang and they burst outside into the light. Justine walked by and gave me a coy smile that reminded me of Madison. I stood silently in the doorway and looked up to see the DP standing in front of two police.
“Can you follow me down to my office please. Mr ‘Smith?’”