Authors: Veronica Bennett
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary Fiction, #Teen & Young Adult
By Veronica Bennett
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Rickshaw
Publishing Ltd, 102 Fulham Palace Road, London W6 9PL
Copyright © Veronica Bennett 2013
The right of Victoria Bennett to be identified as the
author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from
the British Library.
All characters, other than those
clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance is purely
Cover designed by Richard Smith.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may
be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by
any means, without the prior permission in writing of Rickshaw Publishing.
Printed and bound in Great Britain for Rickshaw
Publishing Ltd by Print CPI Group.
In March 2011, I was lucky enough to be elected a
Hawthornden Fellow, and spent a very productive month at Hawthornden Castle in
Scotland, working on Moderate Violence
The Hawthornden Foundation runs a writers’ retreat at the
castle, where writers can concentrate on their project surrounded by the
tranquility of the Esk Valley.
This is made possible by the continued generosity of Mrs
I am very grateful for the opportunity granted me by Mrs
Heinz and the Hawthornden Committee, and would also like to thank Hamish,
Jonty, Colin, Sarah and James for a stimula
ting and enjoyable four weeks. Without their comments,
suggestions and expertise, the book would be greatly diminished.
Meanwhile, if it hadn't been for Sarah Molloy of A. M.
Heath and Jo Doyle and Paul Michaelides of Rickshaw, the book would never even
have been finished. Many thanks to them.
Veronica Bennett 2013
Jo was leaning on the wall beside the door
that said ‘Mr B. Treasure, Headteacher’. The corridor wall felt cold through
her school blouse. She pressed her shoulder blades harder against the bare
Mr Treasure’s secretary’s face came round the door and
regarded Jo with the sort of look cops give serial rapists in American TV
shows. “Wait there.”
The face disappeared. Something deep beneath Jo’s skin
- maybe her spleen or her gall bladder - rolled over. Here she stood against a
wall, imprisoned. Why couldn’t a school just treat you like a human being? In
the real world, if a secretary was as rude as that to someone waiting to see
her boss, she’d get fired. But if you were wearing a white polyester-cotton
blouse and a navy blue polyester skirt, everyone wearing ordinary clothes could
be as unpleasant as they liked.
The face reappeared, still with its
you’re-going-down-for-life-buddy stare. “All right, go in.”
Jo smiled pleasantly. "Thank you".
The secretary stood back. Jo walked through the outer
office and opened Mr Treasure’s door.
“Ah. Jo,” he said, in the same voice he’d used when Jo
was in Year Seven, and had come to get a Good Work Certificate (the kind that
no one bothered to try to get
Year Seven). He stood up and motioned her to the visitors’ chair. “Sit down. I
won’t keep you long.”
Jo sat down. “Is it about my dad?”
Mr Treasure, who was just sitting down again, stopped
half way, as if she’d warned him that the paint on his chair was wet. His
normally benign expression sharpened. “Well, yes, partly.”
“What’s the other part?”
He settled into his chair, put his elbows on the desk
and made a tent with his fingers. Jo thought he looked very tired. There were
dark patches under his eyes. Being a headteacher was surely a terrible job. “Let’s
take one thing at a time,” he suggested. “Your dad first?”
“Don’t shrug, Jo,” said Mr Treasure steadily. “This
does concern you, you know.”
Jo was annoyed at herself. She could feel herself going
pink. Mr Treasure was just so good at being
When he was telling you off you always felt like an idiot.
“Your father had an appointment to see me today…” – he
glanced at the open diary on the desk – “…at twelve thirty. But he didn’t
appear. I think you probably have a good idea why, don’t you?”
Jo went pinker. “Yes, sir,” she whispered.
Mr Treasure sat back and looked at her calmly. “I don’t
like being messed around.”
Jo tried to look at him, but her nerve failed and she
looked instead at her hands. They felt sticky and school-stained. She spread
them on the blue skirt that soon, with luck, she’d never have to wear again.
“No, sir,” she said. “I’m sorry he let you down.”
Mr Treasure didn’t go all martyred and teacherish. He
said, “Look, we both know that he’s either got to sort this out himself or
someone else has. And meanwhile, some sorting out has to be done in
life too, doesn’t it?”
Jo still couldn’t look up. “Is this the other part of
why you wanted to see me?”
Mr Treasure didn’t give her an answer. He gave her
another question. “How do you feel, Jo?”
She didn’t know what to say. “Now, do you mean?” she
ventured, finally looking up at him, searching his face for clues. “Or in
Jo still couldn’t work out what he was fishing for. “I
feel…OK, I suppose,” she said warily.
He didn’t speak. He waited, alert for her next words. That
thing inside her, whatever it was, rolled over again.
“Er…lots of people manage without their mothers,” she said.
“I mean, she’s not dead or anything.”
He still didn’t speak.
“And it’s not as if I’m a young kid,” she added.
She felt weary. Today hadn’t worked out
well. Pascale had told her that she and Ed Samuels were having a trial
separation so, since Jo sat next to Ed in History, she’d broached the subject.
“Your limit of endurance is three months, then, is it?” she’d said casually as
he’d slid into his chair. But he’d given her a God-you’re-stupid look and
slammed down his history book, swearing at her under his breath.
Holly had explained. “Pascale’s trying to make Ed
jealous by pretending she wants to go out with Tom Clarke. “You know what she’s
“Why, though?” Jo had asked. “Ed’s her slave.”
Holly had gazed at Jo, her eyes full of sympathy. “You
just don’t get it, do you? Pascale has to have at least two boys drooling over
her or she won’t even get up in the morning. And she’s got this extra thrill
with Ed, because
too.” She’d paused, still watching Jo. “Well, you do, don’t you?”
Jo sighed, doing her best to look straight
at Mr Treasure so that he didn’t think it was a shifty, or insolent, or
teenage-moody sigh. It was just weariness. “Look,” she said, “I’m not going to
jump out of the window like Serena Wilkinson did when
mum and dad split up. Honestly, I’m
His eyes left her face. Jo watched while he altered the
position of his blotter, very slightly, and moved the fountain pen lying beside
it a few millimetres. “Sixteen isn’t a young kid, I agree,” he said. “But it’s
not quite an adult either, is it?”
did he want her to say?
He took a cardboard folder from a drawer and placed it
on the desk in front of her. “These are copies of your reports for this year,”
he said. “Do you want to look at them?”
“I know what they say, sir.”
“So do I.” He leaned forward. “But I also know that
despite what they say, you’re apparently about to leave us.”
“Sounds like I’ve got a terminal illness” said Jo,
wondering if she was smiling or grimacing. Maybe she
have a terminal illness. Terminal inability to work out
what was going on.
“You know what I mean, Jo, so leave out the acting
tough, will you? You’ll do very well in the Sixth Form, and afterwards at
university, so why give up now?”
Into Jo’s mind came a picture of Ed Samuels sitting in
his usual place by the window in the science lab, one elbow on the windowsill
and the other hand doodling on his notepad. Jo’s seat was in the corner behind
him. She could watch him without anyone seeing. “Um…” She tried to concentrate
on what Mr Treasure had asked. “Well, it’s not because of my parents splitting
up, sir. I mean, I’d want to leave school even if they hadn’t.”
His face didn’t change. “Why?”
“I just don’t see the point of it any more. I…I think I
want a rest from it. Or I want a rest from
She looked into his face. “I don’t know what it is.”
“Had enough of exams?” he suggested.
“Maybe. Or maybe just…the whole thing.”
Jo didn’t know how to answer. She thought about how
weird it is that by the time you’ve been in a school for five years it might as
well be five hundred. The place is wired into your consciousness as indelibly
as your name. For the rest of your life you’ll remember the smell of the gym,
the wads of chewing gum stuck on the undersides of the desks, and every single
annoying thing about every single teacher. School would be with her whether she
left now or in two years’ time. So it wasn’t school as a
. It was school as
, and Jo’s life was what she wanted to
have a rest from. Or maybe escape from. She just wanted to be somewhere she
wasn’t right now. But she couldn’t say all that to Mr Treasure.
He waited a long time for her to speak. When she
remained silent he said, “Right.”
Jo looked at the unopened folder on the desk, waiting
for what was coming next. Mr Treasure never shouted, so he wouldn’t do that. But
once he’d opened that folder, she knew that whatever he said would make her
He didn’t open the folder. “Will you do me a favour?” he
asked quietly, with no undercurrent of frustration. “In fact, two favours?”
She nodded, watching him. His face didn’t have that
bunched look teachers’ faces usually had when they were disappointed with you. He
spoke calmly and gravely, like an actor in an appeal for a cancer charity.
“First, pass my message to your father and ask him to
make another appointment.” When he saw that Jo was about to protest, he raised
his palm. “No, don’t say there’s no point because you’re leaving school anyway.
I want to speak to him, as arranged. And second, whatever you decide, I want to
speak to you too. Come and see me…” – he consulted the diary – “…at two o’clock
on the twenty-eighth of August.”
“That’s in the holidays,” said Jo stupidly.
“I’ll be here.”
Jo felt small. She seemed to have lost some sort of
argument. “Why do you want to see me?”
“You’ll find out then.” He pushed back his chair. “Two
favours, then. Don’t forget.”
Jo stood up. “I’ll put a reminder in my phone.”
“Good idea,” he said, standing up too. The interview
* * * * * *
“Come on, Trev, one more step. That’s it. You
can do it, now.”
Jo’s dad was even drunker than he’d been on the day
Wales beat England 33-5, when he’d vomited into an empty dustbin then fallen
asleep in it, upside down. He was too unsteady to find the front door without
his friend Ken’s help. And Ken had had a few, too.
“I know where my own bloody house is, man,” said Trevor
Watching from her bedroom window, Jo saw him push Ken
away, stumble, sit down hard in the hydrangea bush and burst into laughter. Jo
ran downstairs and opened the front door. “For Christ’s sake, Trevor!”
“For Christ’s sake, Trevor!” said Trevor and Ken
together in high voices, and then collapsed into laughter again. Trevor was too
weak to get out of the bush. He half sat, half lay among the broken branches,
clutching his chest, his mouth open, his eyes blissfully closed.
“Will you help me get him out of there?” Jo asked Ken. “If
you’re sober enough?”
“Don’t you be so bloody cheeky!” bellowed Trevor.
“You’re not too old for a punishment, Jo-girl.”
He allowed Ken to take one arm, and Jo the other, so
that they could pull him on to his feet and guide him, lurching, into the
“Jo-girl, Jo-girl, give it a go-girl,” said Trevor in a
sing-song voice. “Jeez, I should be a bloody songwriter.”
to be a songwriter now, mate,” said Ken. “Come on, Jo, let’s put him on the
“What?” asked Jo.
“I said let’s put him – ”
“No, about him having to be a songwriter now.”
Ken, who was younger and chubbier than her lanky
father, looked at her with watery, just-stopped-laughing eyes. “Oh…” They
lowered Trevor to the sofa, where he lay with his head on a cushion, snorting. “I
think I’d better leave your dad to tell you.”
“He’s asleep,” said Jo.
“No he’s not, he’s just arsing around.” He jabbed
Trevor’s shoulder. Trevor didn’t move. “All right, he’s asleep. But it’s for
him to tell you.”
“Is it the reason he’s been in the pub all afternoon?”
“Well…” Ken sat down in an armchair and put his elbows
on his knees.
“He’s lost his job, hasn’t he?”
Ken looked at the carpet. Poor Ken, thought Jo. Trevor
had dropped him in it, as he had countless times before. He shouldn’t have to
be doing this. “Yep,” he said. “But they’ve given him a redundancy payment.”