Two teachers


In those days classrooms were mostly quiet.  In the still, hot days of February we would sit with sweaty hands pushing our slippery pens across paper that stuck to our arms. Outside the cicadas kept up a ringing chorus, above us the ceiling fans swished impotently at the hot air.  You could hear someone walk along the verandah occasionally; sometimes a squeaky desk would open and close, or someone whisper.


Then the bell went.  We waited and Mr Bee lifted his head and said without expression, “Put your things away neatly and then you can go.”  Then he went back to his marking but not before saying to me, “You can stay for a few minutes.  Bring your work out to my table.”


I stood by his desk while the others left.  Outside I could see Mr Mac’ dismissing a class from physical fitness.  He was throwing a cricket ball from hand to hand while he talked.  We all liked Mr Mac’ even though he was tough.  His warm up was simple. “Everyone run around the goal post and last one back gets the bat.”  When he trained the boys for hockey he taught us how to protect our privates.  “You have to take care of the family jewels, boys,” he said.  And he let us laugh that a teacher would even allude to our balls.  It made us feel grown up even though we were only twelve.


But Mr Bee was different. He arrived in our town over Christmas when it swam in the heated air. The dusty buildings, the bush and ocean floated drunkenly, distorting abstractly under empty Australian skies. He was only young but he seemed dull like our fathers.  His hair was stuck back with some kind of oil; his old-fashioned glasses black-rimmed and large.  When he was on playground duty Mr Bee found a tree and stood under it sipping a mug of tea.  We avoided him like kids do when they know that an adult is slightly afraid of them.


I watched Mr Bee’s hands move and noticed his watch.  10.35.  If he let me out now I would still get fifteen minutes of recess. Up close, you could see the sweat on Mr Bee’s forehead glow.  He kept touching his glasses against his nose even though they hadn’t moved.  I could tell he hated our town, that he would be gone by next Christmas like so many teachers before him.


Finally he said, “You can go.”  I walked to the sliding door and opened it.  The noise of children wafted into the room with the smell of fruit and sandwiches. Mr Bee looked at me from his desk.  “Do your fly up,” he said.  Then he added, “And make sure you don’t tell anyone, alright?” 


I made my way down the verandah past the staff room.  Mr Mac’ came around the corner and bumped me against the wall. “Whoa!” he said. “You OK, feller?” Then he brushed past me and opened the staffroom door.  For a moment I heard grown-ups talking and the clink of plates and cups.  Mr Mac’ slammed the door quickly but I heard him say “Bloody kids!” and some ladies laugh.



Filed under australia, boys, education, memory, school, sex, youth

11 responses to “Two teachers

  1. My blood ran cold when I read this. My word, can you write.

  2. max

    You have such an elegant way of saying something without saying it. I always enjoy your pieces even when the subject matter sometimes hurts.

  3. I sure hope this isn’t true but even if it isn’t for you, it is for so many others. You handled it very well by not describing it, by telling us instead that the boy wanted to get out to play — which was more chilling. Cleverly told — you do these short stories so well. (and thanks for the lovely comment by the way 🙂 )

  4. The displacement in that is particularly well done. Very nasty indeed.

  5. Tim

    For me, the truly amazing part is how deeply you drew me into a land with which I’m completely unfamiliar (Australia). Describing the heat of February and Christmas in terms that I associate with late July and August created such cognitive dissonance that I was dumbstruck by the closing paragraphs.

    It seems horribly sad that I typically envision the land of your youth with so much rose-coloring to my glasses when I compare it with my own. Sadder still that the monster you describe cannot be explained away as a uniquely American creation, and surpasses the bear, the crock, the rattlesnake, and the Great White in its ability to inflict suffering on the soul. – Tim

  6. Laura

    Your writing about such a horrific subject is so poetic. The imagery is excellent, and the diction is so… interesting: I’m thinking of the impotent fan in relation to a powerless little boy and two monsters of teachers. I feel Mr. Mac’ is awful too, in his ambivalence and disinterest in the goings-on around him. I look forward to reading more of your work. Thanks for the excellent post!


  7. My goodness. Unexpected; hard-hitting; horrifying.

  8. Kym

    For some reason, Mr Mac’s indifference strikes me hardest. Perhaps because there will always be ugly little people who hurt others but when the decent people get too wrapped up in themselves and their lives (and I put myself squarely in the decent but not wanting to see persona) that’s is when ugly really wins.

    Well written as always. The boy being outside the closing door says so much.

  9. My first time visiting your site. You write so well! What a story. The narrator recalls the past with candid yet tender detail. The information about how Mr. Bee would soon leave the town called my attention.

    How sad for children to suffer these attacks in silence, many not really remembering what happened until they are much older, after they’ve acted out in self-destructive ways.

  10. A very powerfully moving prose; quite amazingly constructed. As Jo said, I sure hope this isn’t true for you though.

    But you really make the reader stick on, you do. Reminds me of Coleridge; “he held him with his glittering eye”; only here it’s a glittering prose!

  11. I came by yesterday and read this. I wasn’t sure what to say so I didn’t leave a comment. I’m still not sure what to say other than this was a powerfully written and very moving piece.

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