Friday 26 January 2024

A Valentine for the Teacher by Sarah Das Gupta, Sauvignon Blanc

 June Brown stared at the cardboard box lying at the back of the empty class room. Wearily she walked between the desks to pick it up. ‘3 A Valentines!’ had been written in bright red across the side. Various drawings of red hearts, red roses and one or two less romantic sketches had been added. The class had been difficult all day until finally the box had been opened. It had been the usual suspects. Things had got out of hand when Tom Sanders poured custard on someone’s cabbage during a fight in the school canteen. Then there had been the predictable tears when some girls had no Valentine cards. Donna
 Hicks with her bleached hair, plucked eyebrows and tan makeup seemed to have secured at   least twenty.
June smiled at her own thoughts. Something had made her more cynical and disillusioned than usual that day. The truth was she’d been bitchy, yes, downright bitchy, when it came to Donna Hicks. She sighed as she opened the first exercise book on top of a big pile. ‘Describe Your Best Christmas Present’ – did she really want to know thirty answers to that? Did she  want to know any, come to that?
   St. Valentine’s Day. Well, you had to have something frivolous between Christmas and Easter. Her first experience at school though had hardly been ‘frivolous!
    A self-conscious, rather serious child, she’d always dreaded the fourteenth of February. One particular year, just after her fifteenth birthday, had been the worst. There had been a gang of boys who dominated the class, hanging around smoking, smuggling booze into school. June had studiously avoided them. Just as she was leaving at the end of the day, the gang had stopped her in the school yard. The leader, Joe Hall, stepped forward. His blond hair was spiked and gelled. He was holding a card and a wilting red rose. He pushed them into her hands, saying, ‘Give us a kiss darling!’
   Before she knew it, she was being passed round the group. Wet lips were pressed against hers, rough hands groped under her school skirt. At last, she had escaped over the playing fields, the rose and card trodden into the mud. Never had she felt so humiliated and used.June realised she hadn’t marked a single book. She blinked back the tears. It still hurt.
    Somehow, she corrected a few essays but her mind was elsewhere. February the fourteenth had never been fun! Well, should she have expected it to be when it came to Steven? Why had she married him in the first place?  Her friends were already married. Many had kids. June would meet them with their pushchairs and snotty children. Their husbands already with beer bellies, standing, propping up the bar on Saturday nights.
   Yet, Steven had seemed different. He drank wine for a start and wore a suit to work. The  honeymoon had been wonderful, the sex great!  But then the phone calls had started, the  weeks away on business trips, the shirts smelling of expensive perfume.  The excuses for  coming home late became increasing implausible. Often, he was drunk or high on   something.
    June had decided to make one more effort on Valentine’s Day. Taking the day off, she had spent hours preparing dinner. The table looked beautiful with posies of snowdrops and candlelight glowing softly.  A silver vase with velvet red roses stood in the hall. Upstairs, the bedroom was openly seductive. Red candles burnt on either side of the bed, new linen sheets and romantic music playing.
   She had sat waiting, her hair styled, a new black dress, rather shorter than her usual choice. The romantic scent of an expensive perfume drifted through the room. Time passed, nine o’clock became ten. Eventually, it was nearly midnight. June tried to stay calm. She flipped through the television channels. She checked the food. She ran up and down stairs. She tried Steven’s mobile. She thought of ringing the Police. Suddenly, she heard fumbling and a key turning in the lock.
   Steven stumbled into the hall. He was in his shirtsleeves, no jacket, tie back to front. His eyes worried June. They seemed to stare into vacancy. Walking unsteadily into the dining room, he abruptly blew out the candles. Angrily he tugged the end of the table cloth.  Cutlery, flowers, tumblers crashed to the floor. Splinters of broken glass scattered over the  carpet! Before she could say anything, June found herself dragged upstairs. Whether drunk  or drugged, Steven was still a powerful man.
   He threw her onto the bed. He kissed her, his lips wet, slobbering. June felt her stomach heaving. She could feel again the mouths of the school gang, their hands fumbling, exploring. Suddenly, Steven released his hold. He stumbled to the bathroom. June could hear him retching. She ran downstairs. Grabbed a coat. Pushed her feet into her old trainers. 

       She had spent a cold February night sitting in the bus station. June snapped out of her reverie. It was after five and the caretaker would be locking up for the night. Stuffing the unmarked books into her bag, she ran down the corridor.
     ‘Night, Miss Brown,’ the caretaker’s cheerful voice came from an empty classroom.
      June pushed the front door open with her shoulder, dragging the heavy bag into the hall. It was exactly ten years that she’d lived alone but she still hated returning to the empty house. She had trodden on something in the dark hall. Switching on the light, she saw it was a slightly crushed red rose with an envelope underneath. Was this a cruel Valentine prank  being repeated? Her fingers shook as she opened the card.
   ‘All my love and thanks to the best teacher in the world.
 I have just heard I’ve got into university.
 I  owe so much to you!
 Very best wishes,
  Jason North’
     Blinking away tears, June put the Valentine card on the mantelpiece and poured herself
a glass of her favourite wine!

About the author

Sarah Das Gupta is a Teacher, worked in UK, India, Africa. Her work has been published in journals from US, UK, Canada, India, Australia, Croatia and Romania. She is progressing in learning to walk again, after an accident. Writing , which she started last year, is a great help! 

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