‘O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you. She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes In shape no bigger than an agate stone On the forefinger of an alderman, Drawn with a team of little atomies Over men’s noses as they lie asleep’
I have broken a promise.
I have broken a promise to one of life’s most fragile creatures.
Only fifteen, she was.
She was one of my lost students…one of those rubies amongst the rough that let me know what I was doing and why I was doing it. Skirts too high, make up too thick. She would look at out me from under her fringe and snarl, or smile, depending on what I was asking from her. Her eyeliner smudged, her frown real. A uniform well worn and too tight.
The others looked to her. She was the Queen. She allowed me to do my job – I was fortunate, she’d liked me. And I her – truth be known her forthrightness and that backbone of steel taught me much as she sat in my class, either as a physical presence or as a memory.
When she smiled, you knew she meant it.
Romeo and Juliet was a painful text study. I was dragging them through the play. They loathed it, as much as I liked it. I tried. I really did. References to Home And Away plot lines didn’t even help. It was 75 minutes with a tough crowd with a tough text…I admit, I was a bit lost. Shakespeare would have been shocked at the unwillingness felt by my class.
The day we illustrated the Queen Mab speech was the day she died. She had actually liked it. The task. She’d hated the play. She didn’t see the point. But for some reason she had really liked the Queen Mab speech and loved the art we did. I can still see her, stretched at the desk. Scratching her pencil as she drew the carriage, the alderman. The dictionary was opened as she tried to work out what it meant.
‘Can we work on it tomorrow?’ she’d asked, bell chiming.
”Definitely.’ I said. Resolute.
‘Really!’ I replied. More terse than I had intended to be.
‘Yes. I promise.’
Such a wonderful speech.
Such a terrible day.
I lived in the area. A rough, tumbled down area that bred their kids big and angry. I had earned my stripes at the high school. I knew I had because I never once – then – had my house egged or windows broken even though all of the kids knew where I lived.
The knock came at the same time the phone rang. A single Mum, I was carrying one child under my arm and spoon feeding the other. Ruffled, I picked the phone up, to silence. The radio was on, a tune and a scene that will be forever in the 1990’s.
The click of a payphone receiver.
Came the muffled voice.
‘Yes?’ I answered. Worried that (finally) this was to be my prank call.
‘It’s bad. Something bad…’
There was sharp inhale. The line went dead just as a sharp knock came on the door, again.
I tugged my toddler to the door and opened it.
I opened the door to a girl from my Year 10 class. Bedraggled, upset and tear stained she stood broken in front of me.
‘We’re all there, Miss. We all saw.’
‘Where?’ I was confused, I reached out to touch her, to bring her inside my house.
‘She’s gone. We were all there. We saw….the car, Miss. The car. It rolled on her.’
She wept. She left.
I cried. I wandered my house. I opened my door to student after student, all searching for an answer I could not give them. All wanting my truth, my solutions.
I didn’t have them – not even for myself.
Six months after the day she died, in a paddock bomb bought for $50, from a local panel beater, with no seatbelt, front seat or working passenger window, driven by a Year 9, I left. I ran.
I ran from the multitude of kids clustered at the makeshift pits, waiting their turn in the car. I ran from the pits themselves, only hundreds of metres from my house and which now hold a brand new housing estate. I ran from the after effects of grief at the loss of a tribe member. I ran from the image of her mother at the funeral and a brother who would also later be lost to drugs, by choice. I ran from the memory of her father standing outside the funeral venue, leather jacket slumped over his shoulders, cigarette in hand. I ran from all of those children, hollowed out with grief and street wisdom, crippled by their loyalty…
I ran, under the guise of promotion or location.
I had felt like Holden in Catcher In The Rye, trying to catch the kids before they tumble over the cliff. ‘Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.’ (Holden Caulfield)
And I was failing.
I wont ever teach Queen Mab again. I can’t.
I wasn’t able to keep my promise to her. For her, there were no more tomorrows.
every breath you take puff daddy