|The events described in this story are fictional. The author makes no assertion about the lives or characters of the real people whose names and identities she has used in the writing of this story, and makes no money from it.|
Cautionary Tale for Boys and Girls
"Er," said Radcliffe.
Monaghan jumped visibly. "Christ Almighty, Radcliffe, you need to stop suddenly appearing and disappearing all the time. You're not a stage magician."
"Sorry," said Radcliffe. "Er ... Headmaster wants to see you." He disappeared again.
Monaghan looked at Wood. He raised an eyebrow. "Well," he said. He sucked Wood's lower lip between his teeth and bit down, very gently, then released it. "We knew it was coming."
"Yeah," said Wood. He smiled a small smile. "Guess we'd better go and face the music."
P.R. Hartley, Headmaster of Holly Wood School for Boys, sat behind a large and impressive mahogany desk. He was testing his cane collection. His favourite was a whippy little birch rod, which he had it on good authority had been used on the backsides of several Prime Ministers. He raised it up high and brought it down slowly, slowly, admiring the technique, the elegance, the sheer style, of his swing.
There was a light knock at the door.
"Come," said P.R. He didn't put the cane down, but went on flexing it in what he hoped was a menacing fashion.
The inside of the Headmaster's office was not unfamiliar to Monaghan. He'd spent a fair bit of time in here over the years, especially lately. He projected a silent greeting toward the cane collection, the desk, the framed nineteenth century maps of the British Empire. Beside him, Wood jittered with nerves and caffeine. Monaghan smiled brightly at the Headmaster.
The Headmaster put down his cane. He rested his elbows on the desk, folded his hands under his chin and leaned forward, the impressive leather chair creaking under his not inconsiderable weight. He observed them through his half-moon glasses for a long time. Eventually he said,
"Foolish, foolish boys."
The Headmaster rose. He rose from behind the desk like a hippopotamus rising from an African river, the voluminous folds of his black gown flowing over his girth like steaming brown water cascading over the beast's flanks.
"It has come to my attention," said the Headmaster, "that you boys have been attempting to thwart my authority. Yes. I use the word thwart, and I do not use it lightly. What do you have to say for yourselves?"
"Don't know what you mean, Sir," said Monaghan.
"I think you do, boy. You have, have you not, been sending secret messages to friends and supporters outside the School, implying certain things about the level of pastoral care you receive here? You have, in short, been behaving like dirty little tattletales. You have been implying that the masters here are somehow repressing you, that we have unfairly curtailed your friendship, that I have infringed on your ... human rights." His lip curled in contempt at the phrase. "Tell me, boys, do you really think you have cause to complain about your time here at this school?"
Monaghan and Wood exchanged glances, and then looked down at the floor. "No Sir," they muttered in unison.
"You have been treated very well, have you not? The best of everything -- food, exercise, facilities. We at Holly Wood pride ourselves on providing a first rate, tip top, all round education for our pupils. And it does not come cheap. Now, you boys are here, quite rightly, because you are talented. But talent, I'm afraid, does not make you unique. Don't think there aren't bright youngsters all over this country, in any number of inner city slum schools and run of the mill comprehensives, who would bite off their own arms for a mere sniff of the golden opportunities you've been offered here. Make no mistake, boys -- I could drop you if I wanted to. Just. Like. That." He picked up a child's exercise book from his desk, held it up for them to see, and dropped it. It fell to the floor with a slap. He stood on it.
"You are lucky, lucky boys," he said. His mouth was stretched in an awful grimace, which Monaghan supposed was meant to resemble a smile.
"And when you are adults, when you leave my care, then you will be free to indulge in whatever disgusting, depraved lifestyles take your fancy. You can go around practising sodomy and frequenting crack dens and riding Harley Davidsons and participating in experimental theatre to your hearts' content. It will no longer be my concern. It will be my lot, then, only to watch in sorrow and contempt from the sidelines. But for now, boys... For now, you do exactly as I tell you. Do you understand? Holly Wood has a fine, fine reputation to uphold, and you, my boys, are its star pupils. You are its shining examples..."
He walked forward until he was breathing into Monaghan's face. Monaghan tried not to recoil. The Headmaster's breath smelt of haddock poached in milk.
"Don't screw it up," he snarled.
"No, Sir," said Monaghan.
"Thank you, Sir," said Wood.
"And don't run crying to Mr McKellen this time." The Headmaster shot the boys a dark look as they turned toward the door. "He has been warned."
When they were out of earshot of the Headmaster's office, Monaghan ripped off his tie, threw it with force onto the floor, and slammed his fist into some unfortunate fourth former's locker.
"Fuck P.R.! Just fuck him!"
Wood took his hand and pulled him gently away from the locker.
"He does have a point, Monaghan. He really could make our lives hell, you know?"
Monaghan sighed. "Jesus, I can't wait to get out of this fucking place."
"Yeah. I guess."
Wood looked around at the empty corridors, and then back at Monaghan.
"Listen," he said. "The thing is..." He hesitated.
"There's something ... the thing is, Monaghan ... it's just that over the summer holidays, I kind of ... well I met this person. Well, a girl, actually, and..."
Monaghan stared at him. "What are you saying?"
Wood let out a long breath. "I guess what I'm saying, Monaghan -- Dominic. What I'm saying, Dominic, is ... I'm saying I don't want to be with you any more. And ... so there it is."
He stood in the middle of the corridor, his arms folded protectively across his chest.
There was a long silence. They looked at each other. Then Monaghan cleared his throat.
"So ... all that stuff about true love, how it was meant to be forever and all that. Turns out none of that was true, then?"
Wood shrugged. "I guess not."
"Huh." Monaghan put his hands in his pockets. "Right then. Well."
"Sorry," said Wood.
"No, don't worry about it..." Monaghan shuffled, looking down at his shoes. Then he looked up. "Actually, what do you think of Boyd? Because Bloom reckons he's fancied me, for like, ages."
"Yeah, Boyd's ... he's really nice. You know, he's a decent guy."
"Great, well. That's that then." Monaghan bent down and picked up his tie. "I'll, er, see you round."
He walked away, retying his tie as he went.
Wood watched Monaghan until he was swallowed up by the dark and cavernous bowels of the old building. Then he stayed where he was for a few moments, standing in the corridor, listening to the echoes of the school all around him. Footsteps, and laughter, and snatches of loud conversation. The privileged denizens of Holly Wood, brimming with confidence and youth and beauty. Between them they thought they owned the world, but in the end they were blind and deaf. They couldn't see further than the school gates. It was all a sham, thought Wood with disgust. Nothing but a big fake. He felt in his blazer pocket for the comforting, illegal packet he kept there, flipping open the lid with his thumb.
He turned and walked
away, heading for his preferred smoking spot behind the gym. As he walked,
his shoes made a clicking noise on the polished floor, and every click
echoed like a gunshot through the hallowed corridors of Holly Wood.