There Was No Normandy by Cassandra Moss


NORTH-WEST ENGLAND.
COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOL. OCTOBER 1995


SUTCLIFFE: It was all basically fine. Basically, what you’re doing is getting through the curriculum requirements and that’s what I wanted to see. There were definitely things that you were doing right. Areas to improve in obviously but all of us have them. I’d say the children are definitely learning something, which is what we want so that’s, I’d say we want them to learn something each lesson even if it’s going over something we think they should already know if they’re from good primary feeders, not all of them are, or have the inclination to... But, does that make sense to you?

DAVIS: Yes, thank you. I was probably a bit nervous because it’s different when someone’s watching you.

SUTCLIFFE: Of course.

DAVIS: I mean

SUTCLIFFE: But we all have to be watched. Observed.

DAVIS: Yes, absolutely.

SUTCLIFFE: And they're a nice bunch overall.

DAVIS: I like them. I suppose, they’re, the children, they’re at that age, aren’t they?

SUTCLIFFE: Oh yes, it's lovely teaching year sevens.

DAVIS: Where they begin to suss you out a bit.

SUTCLIFFE: Not much we can do about the mix. No sets until year 8 as you know. Some of them, well they’re from all over. One girl’s dad’s in NASA I hear. Didn’t she bring in the space ice-cream? Then we have a lot of free lunches, and glad we’re here to provide it, but, you know, you sometimes wonder how some of them will get through the next five years.

DAVIS: They know they're human beings now. They don’t really know what that is but they get that you're, their teachers that is, you're in opposition to it.

SUTCLIFFE: The thing, I think, and it’s not really a criticism because everyone’s got their own style, some are the life and soul anyway, but the thing is that I think they expect to be entertained. If things are fun, then… It’s, I suppose history’s not the most popular subject at this age because it’s, well, obviously there’s great merit in learning, being exposed to facts from an early age, but you’re competing with a lot of distractions. What’s the Romans, you know?

DAVIS: I sometimes, when I’m in the middle of a lesson and I’m talking to them

SUTCLIFFE: Something I noted down, actually, was the talking. At this age, there’s only so much talking they can take. It’s not, I know it’s easier said than done and some of them were probably listening, but at this age you have to remember that talking can be a little bit boring. It’s, I imagine, their parents talk to them, not all of them obviously, but, you know the ones I mean, their parents probably talk to them and so school’s just another thing to tune out.

DAVIS: Sorry, yes, I'm working on... I’d prefer not to talk at all.

SUTCLIFFE: Yes, all of us are working on the silent method. And I don’t mean they have bad parents or they’re damaged or... I hope I don’t sound too cynical to you; I don’t mean to be but I’ve noticed
this over the years that you just don’t get through when you talk, even to the bright ones. Activities are the thing now. Involvement. Bringing it to life.

DAVIS: Yes, I, we did that in training, thank you, and I'll try to do some of that in my next lesson. Only, when I have to say these people were called the Romans; they had an empire; they invaded a lot of places; there are ruins; this is a recreation of a Roman standing on a road, which they invented and things like that

SUTCLIFFE: Okay.

DAVIS: they're necessary to say.

SUTCLIFFE: Yes, that is necessary.

DAVIS: But I have a feeling that they know I only know this because somebody told me and

SUTCLIFFE: Everyone knows something because somebody told them.

DAVIS: and, but that’s what I mean, that this is information that’s available to everybody. That’s all it is. And they know that.

SUTCLIFFE: Do they? How would they know what books to read? You’ve got to, I know that it can be difficult when they’re coming at you with all sorts of questions about this and that and whatever it is that’s on their minds that day, but, really, they’re children and they take it as gospel most of the time.

DAVIS: Yes, of course, but that’s not what I, it’s that I think teaching it’s, obviously we’ve all been taught by someone and this is the way it goes and, but do they

SUTCLIFFE: They take a like to some more than others. I can tell almost instantly which ones are going to like which teachers. It isn’t a popularity contest but it’s easy to forget that. But as I’ve said and noted down it’s got to be brought to life. You want to think about interactivity. That’s what it is
these days: interactive activities. Cutting things up, sticking them down, collages, etc. Every year we do the Magna Carta with teabags and put it in the oven to make it look old and it always works a treat. Obviously you can add to it if you like. There is, also, a pupil that I wanted to discuss with you, just to bring it to your attention if you don’t already know.

DAVIS: Jessica.

SUTCLIFFE: What? What’s wrong with her?

DAVIS: She won’t learn.

SUTCLIFFE: If she’s not doing her homework or paying attention then send her to me and I’ll have a word.

DAVIS: She does her homework. Always listens.

SUTCLIFFE: Does she talk back?

DAVIS: Never. But she won’t learn.

SUTCLIFFE: I’m not sure I understand.

DAVIS: She copies down what she’s supposed to and does well enough in tests but she isn’t learning any of it. It’s as though she knows it won’t make any difference so she’s better off stopping the process now. It's better she accumulates information on the surface so it's easy to get rid of once it's served its purpose. Or maybe she thinks it’s corrupting her, that it’s bad information. Or she thinks it's irrelevant. I don’t know. But… There in class she looks at me, right at me, and she listens to every word and I’m sure she knows what it means but that thing where people learn, they come across something new or something from an angle they’d never thought of before and they take it in and it changes the composition of their thoughts and they’re not the same as they were just a second ago. I don't think she... And I just worry

SUTCLIFFE: I think I remember her parents. Very nice. Encouraging. They’re, I'm not sure what they do exactly, but they’re semi-professionals, obviously want to put their kids through full education, university and so on. There could be a problem at home, though. It’s always possible.
DAVIS: It’s nothing to do with her parents. Or maybe it is. Everyone’s parents are… I think she knows, though. I think she, for some reason, just knows she can pretend

SUTCLIFFE: Look, if she does well then everybody’s happy. No, I don’t mean to be flippant, but what I’m, just don’t worry about it. That’s the least of your, our, because what we have to take seriously, or be aware of, are pupils like Jack Harris. Already got a reputation. His parents are, well, they’re, it’s difficult not to stereotype here, as I’m sure you're aware of, but, you know, father’s in prison, mother’s got five children by three or four different fathers and it’s, it’s really very sad. And Jack, you know who I mean? You know Jack, don’t you?


LONDON. JULY 2012

So she’d put this off for another night until she felt she knew no better. What she thought was God damn it because you can't get away with that kind of verbal mugging in this century unless you know what you're good for. Somewhere near five minutes ago she’d looked at her phone, checked she’d got the right place, and seen plenty of shots of frippery and morbidity to plug into when her last gout of sociability has dried up. By all accounts Tuesday evenings are the lowest of the low. Not a one surpasses the last. Perfect for a first date. This being the kind where you advertise yourself like a new TV show that’s going to stick with you through the middlings of adolescence and make you painfully wistful for them after a train company declares you've finally grown up by making you pay full price.


He responds to the name Marcus as he said he would. It's a relief to be confronted by a face she’s already seen front on and in profile. Though his face was an afterthought on his body, chosen for its 3:5 ratio of angles to curves. Her stomach makes to flip. Being nervous about something she's disdainful of is wearing. But before he's anything else he's a composite of everything that's ever gone wrong with another person. Plus, she never used to know boys like him she's sure. A status she read today said 'Next time you’re hunched over the luggage space in a night bus, convulsing and heaving after a drink too far, it’s useful to remember that you wouldn’t have a story without it, no need to recollect the occasion at all, so it would simply vanish, so don’t hope for the alternative, the one where you aren’t convulsing and heaving on public transport, because it’s that hoping that causes nothing but psychic trouble and your own untimely, ghastly demise.' This is her seventh date in three weeks. Reported to the appropriate friends have been the silences, the teeth stains and the horrendous spasms of misplaced self-regard and at least got the responses to almost justify the means. Her last date, she tells Marcus, the man was struggling with the basics of space and time. And not as in 'Don't we all', but in this perpetual indecision over whether he was moving or not, speaking or saying nothing. It made for three long hours of something not quite lulling enough to be boredom.

Conversation rears itself out of the electronically swapped details. Marcus has a job and says he hopes he knows where he’s headed and is heading to a place that is ready for him. She takes aim as he's the type who needs corralling to get past his own biography and the repetition of 'Why?' produces a pleasant toothless, round and wide shaping of her lips. What is beyond the biographical is an undertaking she's always on the way to meet but still never quite prepared for the garrulous voices she might encounter. For a second her sight-line shifts, distracted by the knots in the table wood, darker-set in the oaky deluge, provoking blood-clot thoughts, the sugar in her drink becoming a felt presence in her body. A quick turn around during her slip sees Marcus assert himself and makes her answer:

Yeah, well before PR, actually I was on a graduate scheme for one of the big four and it was, you know, as those things go, good actually, but I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.
I’ve got friends who did exactly the same.
Yeah, it’s the thing, the best thing to do in terms of something that's quite interesting, challenging, I suppose, because working with people always is. And what would the world do without the defence of things that are mainly indefensible?

He nods in agreement. An image of his decapitated body sits in fronts of her, yet in the absence of the head is still a feeling of watching exactly the same thing, a phantom head, phantom nodding, there nonetheless. What she's thinking as he talks is of the intestinally trying ordeal of finding a co-inhabitant to split the rent with. Earlier, a girl (no way a woman) had sat on her sofa and given her the inches of her five foot three, one by one, packaged particularly stringently to retain the moisture. Then, in the silence following the pleasantry she’d ceded to the girl, a rat ran from one end of the room to the other and disappeared into a hole where the ends of the skirting board meet. Neither of them addressed the matter directly. What was said was that there’s a cleaning rota, which no one needs to be anal about, but that has a discernible objective. The girl said it was the best place she’d seen so far and she could move in anytime. Someone with such rank standards could never take the bedroom next to hers. A thrum makes itself known in her chest and moves up into her throat: like a slow drive along autumn country lanes. If there weren't a pause dictated by a sensory cypher trying to reformulate Marcus' words to demonstrate a witty, observing, tuned-in character, she probably wouldn’t know it was there. As is, she feels like veering off the conversational route before she’s even begun speaking.

Everyone falls into things eventually, don't they?
Sorry?
Like you were saying about getting into PR.
Yeah. That's what happens. Although I think... I mean it's like, y'know. Like I read about this girl who hanged herself this week because she wanted to be a porn star. And, you know, she was really beautiful actually in the way that you wouldn't expect from a porn actress.
You wouldn't?
No, they’re… They're trashy.
I think that’s fine.
Really?
Yeah, why not?
You can't tell me you’d want to have that whilst, I don't know, while unblocking a u-bend or queuing up at the supermarket. They’re not that kind of good-looking.
Not what watching porn's about.
Exactly. She transcended all that. She could've been in real films. But the point is that she had this, this haemorrhoidal condition, and like I don't know exactly what that, that, y’know, but it was purely cosmetic, they weren't doing her any harm. But they must've been quite a cosmetic issue because that was the end of her career.
Who was she?
Her name was Felicity something, from America. She'd had some moderate success.
One of those things. Who wants a haemorrhoidal porn star?
I bet some people do.
No. No they don't. Trust me.
Probably not a lot of people but
Then she could've cornered the market for those sick bastards.
But she wanted to be mainstream. Thing is that the creams didn't work and she couldn't afford to get them removed and they flared up when she was stressed and she was always stressed because she knew she wouldn't get work if they flared up.
Couldn't she have done something else? Retrained?
Of course she probably could have but she didn't want to. This is what she wanted to do.
She must've really liked getting boned.
Imagine having something that mattered to you that much.



Her profile username is AcmeVixen in oblique reference to her namesake Jessica Rabbit and childhood favourite film. Obviously epithets such as Rabbit, conjuring an overt genital-vibrator-orgasm trinity, are to be avoided. Those who opt for such brash branding, thinking it sells them as liberated women of the world, are merely side-lining themselves into the 'try-hard' category or just simply someone to fuck. The problem with the latter, whilst being fairly integral to the whole operation, is that it isn't' really succeeding in the general dating field because you're not that someone to sit opposite at variously-shaped tables for the many digestive challenges ahead. What's needed for this is a wink and a nod in the direction of the genital-vibrator-orgasm trinity but layered with an assertion of cerebral acumen and independence. Not only does this particular username give an immediate age bracket if the reference is picked up on, it also lays bare the total demographic of the person: the retro-love of 80s American films that colonised her own culture; the post-feminist stance on pornographic cartoon damsels who breathe out double-entendres as something to be admired; the clinging to the kitsch as the apotheosis of combined artistic and commercial endeavour which, should her views be critiqued, can be instantly defended as an entertainment making no claims on her intellectual veracity. Then also there's the connotation of word definition, the highest point of achievement or development, which subtly highlights a decent education and a keen sense of ambition.

Silence is a self-redaction she usually forfeits, going instead for a convolution of words that hit and miss. But, and perhaps it's that she can't ignore the acoustic renderings of famous indie songs that might normally remain as background noise but which are right now heard as righteously plucked phrases aiming to sate listeners with their own mildness, silent she is. The thrum is revving. She has no real objection to the pub, to the music, no objection to the furniture, the bunting, the type of drinks, the menu, the other customers, yet they're in a combative stance this evening. Well, that trip to New York brought up a line about sadness being set in hair follicles, waxed because that's the best way to treat unwanted hair. As they were driven past Brooklyn brownstones, the zeros echoing in the prices, the bodies she’d known were real estate: highly desirable and no longer purchasable for people like her. For her, in the only images she’s tried, a plug with prongs not quite moulded to click completely into the socket is the closest she can get to the thrum. In there, yet the one casing not touching the other. Thoughts of the three-pronged plug always make her yearn for home in foreign countries. It's a certain sensibleness, the earthing pin, that brings forth a comfort, a trust and relaxation. Could her life have gone any other way? She wonders if it’s a thought in the head of every person attempting to do what they have been given to do. A shove. A good shove and it will go all the way in.

An advert for haemorrhoid cream she saw during a family holiday in the states comes to mind. A fuzzy mid-90s vhs transfer shows a tucked-in t-shirt, high-waisted trousers and a notepad with a 'burning', 'itching' and 'irritation' check-list. They both laugh. She taps on another. Then on a parody in a perennial staple of fitting in, viewed every Sunday at six and her offering up the kind of capitulation envied by cult leaders. When she used to watch stacked hours of BA-educated scheduling she assumed it was all for her; she assumed that her isolation was an anomaly, the 'you' mentioned strictly singular. Marcus' older brother, she hears, was brutishly erudite in his control of the remote. In his upper-thigh clenched perch there's potential. She asks him if he plays rugby. Used to, he says. Though she'd known (hadn't she?) that he would have done at his kind of school. He's definitely the type who becomes after the fact rather than becoming and then having facts. Biography first, that's what confidence is. She wants to gas those garrulous voices out: you have to aim above yourself. It is fun to be. Whether it is more fun to do to or be done to might depend on how long you're supposed to keep at it. She had the feeling of almost being able to remember a time she remembered a dream that was just like the moment she was in the other day. It's not quite left her since. And she did feel that this was more or less significant. She did.


NICOLA DAVIS' HOUSE. 2:37am. AUGUST 2002.

What I said to the doctor, I said that it wasn't painful, was a lie. Being up and down like this all night is blades along paper. It's the build-up: there's a twitch and a small, focused burrowing which slowly spreads throughout my abdomen. What happens, the doctor said, when you can't sleep is that your whole body goes into stress mode causing a pelvic reaction. Then there's something wrong with me, I said. I need to sleep tonight. Tonight is a must. A must. This is the fourth sleepless night. Seeing Tom tomorrow will be too much. It can't be as bad as last time. Last time I said I wouldn't again: I can't do this anymore; I have my own stresses, my own clingings and hangings, and Tom doesn't mean it, I know that, yet it must be remembered. He doesn't mean it but on he goes. If I get a few hours, I'll survive. Four is okay, reasonable. Four is enough to grip the day. The morning flies. It’s far better than this time wishing for unconsciousness, afraid it will never come and that I'll never meet myself again. Who would that be? Stranger to me than the parasitical nay-sayer squatting here now. It's fine until three o'clock. Then, all I want is sleep. Nothing coheres after three: buried languages are spoken as cognitional challenges, duelling tos and fros, backs and forths and exchanges baffling in their substandard sense. Better off going to see Tom in the end. Better off with an hour and then seclusion because of the time it affords. Time is all I need. I have it by design. You have to have time to write they say. Nobody can dispute that. I need sleep and time. Tom has both. He says he sleeps like a baby now. He says he closes his eyes at ten o'clock every night and goes straight off and doesn't wake up until seven the next day. Of course he's heavily medicated, but medicated sleep is still sleep. Yes, he's well-rested. About his eyes darkness circles, red lines bloody the whiteness around the blue. Still, sleep is sleep. And in his wakefulness he's now a mighty talker. Educational reform is the main topic. Each verbal draft of his letter to the education secretary goes further into the deep rot of the culture, what he calls The English Stomach Ulcer, mucosal erosions developed over centuries of unjust power and embedded into every morpheme and phoneme of the English language which make up every word and sentence of a rotten curriculum whose decay infects every single child coming into contact with it, making them breeders of sickness and culture. I'll tell him about the A Level results. The best the department has ever produced. Three As, nine Bs and two Cs. When I went in today, I'll say, the bunting was still up. Rage in his sinuses – just hearing that phlegm loosen then coagulate shifts my skin from my bones. He'll guess how Jessica did. Just as we predicted. She looked pleased, the words she said ones of honed humility, the ‘thank yous’ and ‘I never expecteds’. She expected it. But what for? Tom'll ask and I'll say I asked her what she's going to do and say she said she's going to travel on her year out. But what for? he'll say again and we'll finish our thoughts separately. A sparrow on his mother’s bird-feeder might take my attention. I’ll think about his mother’s ageing joints, their lack of strength for taking care of him, where he'll go when they're only ashes. I could look after him. But of his mental state the experts say he's only headed for further decline. Then I'll probably tell him that Jessica intends to take a break from history for a while, have a break from studying to recharge her batteries, catch up on a few novels perhaps, hang out, do something practical, get a job before she travels so then, she said, she'll be ready for the start of another academic year. As she spoke her fingers entwined and pulled at each articulation before she palmed my upper arm. The subsequent absence of her crevices left my shirt sleeve pointed, peaked. I stood waiting for her to induce the tumult I wanted to excuse my leanings towards violence. I stood and she left. Tom'll say it's more proof of the end: what's past is of no concern to Jessica. It's merely a clinical exercise to get her somewhere else. If the mood takes me, or if I'm so tired I can't stop myself, I'll counter that perhaps that's fine. I'll side with her. She has no need to be anything other than she is. She's winning. She will win. He'll tell me she doesn't deserve a balanced argument, she deserves a denouncement. We're right, he'll say. On days that alluded to overthrowing their mechanisms, we raked our discourses over each other. I told him there’s a way to overlay, to get the thickness of the matter stuck up into gums, choking the point across. He told me he couldn’t stop writing. Even when he was caught in his own armature, netted damp deriving grids all over his skin, he wrote. There's no point pretending you know things you don't but that's no excuse not to do your research. I want to find out, he went on, within the narratives and justifications just how insidious the apparatuses are because you can't simply say stop and have it all stop. You can’t rid people of beliefs they don’t know they have by negation alone. His book, his tome, his manifesto. It has to start with education, he says. No longer a book but a grudge. Start with education at the earliest stage; before that it must start with the parents' thoughts before they conceive, they must be affected too; before that the parents’ ageing parents must know their wrongfulness: the alive and the soon to be alive and the nearly dead. Everyone. In Tom's mind everyone must be made to see. They need to see the horror of their ancestry and where it has led them. But, I'd say, how do you know they don't already? How do you know what lies beneath what you choose to see? Action, he'd say. The English have it coming to them, he always says. He is right. But we all have it coming to us. That horror is there, for whatever reason; that horror is present in the veins of the bodies out perpetuating their own fecundity. Once Tom started a year eleven class by writing The sickness is life on the board and said nothing other than that he wanted a presentation on it for next week. He wanted his students to know how little they would ever know. How what they did know was agendaed into them and hardly coincidental. Staffroom snipes lightly mocked but never scorned as no one wants to live in the world they do. Yet they do. Bollocks, he'd said, when I told him year thirteen coursework was on the Cold War. Who won that? he'd said. Said my approach arse-licked Western democratic fallacy: you're rimming a fissure, one riddled with tape worm. You can't demonise one side so thoroughly just for your own answers, I objected. What else would you do? The students had got the gist of the conflict from passing references and the gist had got them believing there was nothing else to be known. No one was to be trusted exactly, they’d gathered, and a degree of self-interested bias was only to be expected. A cruelty I notice only when kindness is needed would have set their future out for them as a line thats end is always in sight but out of reach as it remorselessly goes on. But I prodded with care. You have to approach from the side, find a blind-spot is what Jim Sutcliffe says because, he says, education's a trick, one that makes the students think there is a choice to be made. And so Jessica said there was no Normandy. Without the big event, she said, without, something physical and traumatic, this Cold War was just anti-climatic. At the end of the day nothing that tangible really happened. Not that it's not important and stuff but, you know, without the big set-piece it's a sub-plot of history. It was unpremeditated, said as it happened to occur to her that that was how it was. Tom said there you go. Perhaps she's right in the worst possible, wrongest way to be right, I thought. Her always spectatating eyes, slipping downwards sometimes, she pupates out of the daydreams of her classmates, her right hand moving just behind my words. And so I said to her, to the class, that if you look carefully the details will unveil their own importance. Jessica was not moved. She did all the homework on time. She arranged the salient information into precise, though often grammatically flawed, paragraphs that concluded by demonstrating an original, well-argued analysis of fact and opinion with an excellent reading of source material and evidence of wider reading and knowledge around the topic. I gave her As, only once an A-. During lunch, she sought me out. Said she was sorry to bother me as I ate my sandwich out by the ponds, making sure no child pushed another child in the water, but she had to know what she'd done wrong. Structural sloppiness, I told her. In the midday spring light – green leaves on trees, long, wet blades of grass, the daisies, the daffodils – the benefit of the doubt could have been allowed. Oh, if I were so inclined. A few non-sequiturs that strained the credulity of the argument, I said, and she asked if she could do it again. Next time I gave her an A. Her essay was superior to her peers because it could have been written by a machine: a slick, dehumanised thing that presented events as singularities, all explainable, all traceable to reason, on the surface of experience as examinable, understandable, relateable phenomena. She should be applauded. She is! There she is, turning up to all her lessons, pleasant, engaged and an extra-curricular behemoth: captain of the netball team, very good at that useless game she is, contributing to the school paper and being an integral member of the law team. Giving an opinion is obvious, unburdened by knowledge. She loves to give. She formulates her ideas from conflicting information then takes the view that incorporates an assertion of her subjective opinion buried in the synthesis of the sources. Her small upturned nose flexes such as an afterthought annexed onto the mainframe of unnameable yet vile technology. That complexion she wears glows more and more in the sweatless manner of people whose anxiety is only apparent in the vast number of friends they've accumulated. I always say to Tom her looks are impeachable really because they're on the offensive: they go for you before you can get to what's wrong with them. Students, for him, didn't have faces as to their credit they were people without the appearance of people. The flick of her hair at the bottom never moves, never strays from its position, its role in the armoury of deployable take-downs and reel-ins. She'll have that cut soon enough. As soon as she's out of her immediate surroundings, she'll feel a more pressing need to be the one to make time slow down or speed up as required. So she'll be sexier. She'll drop the boyfriend. It won't be in Australia, too much of a cop out that same-language familiarity of a mind-broadening. No, it'll be in India where her excuses are easier. Her first sight of not being prepared for what she thought would be reflex will grant indiscretion. It will seem momentous when it occurs. She'll worry about what she's capable of, what it means to be blasé about the feelings of someone she's held through the night. The guilt will stay on her for days, nuking protestations before she's fully heard them out. But from the debris a new sense of assertion will rise: a forgiveness for weakness, accentuating the solipsism in her choices and proving her claims to emotional confusion as probable cause. She'll leave the worst behind her. Have I had the worst to come? What is left? As my bladder's got me here curled up and getting up again to go again to go back and lie awake and wait for the pressure to build again and see the morning come in with the dreams starting. But it's much worse when you're awake, Tom says. When you've slept the proper amount of hours and there's nothing downscaling your interiors and there's the right amount of moisture pooled in your eyes, what's otherwise distanced is right there. It's up against your lips and into your mouth. The closeness arranging a performance of the script you'd previously only been reading. So when you're going about as you do you're aware that your actions are ones that can't be redone, that what you say is being taken as what you mean, as you, and you realise that most of the time everything you do is automatic. Everything is processed through a tiredness which makes you think you'll wake up soon and begin again. Yet you are just a thing doing things. If I were awake I'd have to be more able to write, to know what to write, to focus, think more, to do something because it's only starting all over in September. More kids, more teaching. More potential: If they knew the crush of that. A few of them, the kids, they know they have something the others don't. Like Bryan in my year 9 group. His charisma is of the one-note kind that makes for despots and light-entertainers. He lets his followers believe they're in on the secret, that it's all for them. Sloped down the ramps on the AstroTurf, children – adults in-waiting – pocketed in little sects; shirts, ties, scissor cuts of laughter; standing at the top, his fingers hooked through hexagonal gaps of fence, Bryan has the view of the desired. And he's going to be... I don't know. Fail and fail early is what I want to tell him. If you don't fail, you're only in hiding from yourself. If you succeed... If you succeed, you'll be like me. You'll be like Jessica. Though she succeeds and likes it. Thinks she deserves it. Maintaining a life of acceptability aches more than anyone ever speaks of. Yes, you can succeed, yes, and then you must go on as if that's reward enough. I don't know what these kids are going turn into. I don't know what they are. The more time I spend with them the more the gulf is apparent. It's not enlightenment interaction leads to, not that, no, but barriers that shouldn't be possible between two beings of the same species. Tom says that's what he was writing for, to try to remove them, to try to create a space to freely move around in but what happened is that the barriers manoeuvred him and estranged him from himself or from himself in the writing and himself as he lived in every other moment away from writing. Meaning became hysterical to him. To mean something that he had written, even a single word, was ridiculous because how could he know what the correlation was, what it actually was that had combined in him to produce the sick feeling in his stomach when he had to teach a historical narrative. When he had to say this happened and then this which led to this and this was the result and now here's your exam. I am exhausted was all he could say about it. Recovery is not a possibility. He's never going to be a self other than one that's rewound its hands back too far. I'll tell him later that Jessica sent her regards and gave him a card because she wanted him to know he wasn't forgotten. It says, I would guess, Dear Mr. Warburton, thank you for being such an inspirational teacher. Best wishes, Jessica. Would she use 'inspirational' though? Brash, that word. It's brash but toned down by the brevity of the message. Toned-down brashness suits her fine. In social situations she's never off, forever saying, contributing precisely what's needed to placate the listener. She is a placater. She is always exactly what the other person wants her to be. After everyone else had gone to bed, we stayed in the hotel bar because I couldn't leave. Might as well, I thought. She started by saying that she'd loved her experience on the law team, being in court, The Old Bailey, of all the prestigious places, that was unbelievable, and she wanted to thank me for picking her, having faith that she could do the job even though we lost the final. I wanted to tell her, make her see, what a person is, what she's not. Apparently, I'd taught her a lot about how to think critically, a skill she'd take with her to university, she said, and she was looking forward to that new challenge, though my classes and the debates we had would be missed. An image of her with her boyfriend in an intimate moment bothered me. They were arranging themselves. Appendages bumping something like a novice Tetris player's first game. He was pushing it further and then her, realising this was the opportunity to meet that expectation, taking over and removing their clothes. And I thought that she probably gave in to enjoyment. Pleasure was felt, surely, but it was led by her face: it first had to get the right expression by pulling the necessary muscles up in accordance with a sound made as something touched a part of her body she knew she had to respond to. Then it was as if it were natural to have a good time. Fun is something she's eager to have. It's the meaning gleaned from work and non-work, a real meaning that can both efface and edify those roving sets of contradictions within. Jessica, I said to her, you've been such a good student, the best. You're very confident. You go straight in there and take whatever you like on. She said thank you, she hoped so. I said, Jessica, what do you want to do? What, I said, is it that you think you're going to do that's going to make sense to you? She said she didn't know but she was open to the possibilities. She would have a career, have children, probably get married, but it wasn't an absolute, and she would do what felt right, where life took her. Does any of that give you comfort? I got her another drink and continued before she could answer. What I mean, I said, is that do you know how old I am? She said I must be over thirty. Twenty-nine, I said. And what I mean is that, Jessica, you know what you are at four years-old and you start to know it again at this age but possibility fucks everything in between. Is that good or bad, she asked, and I laughed at her. Everyone thinks you're the best teacher because you actually talk to the students – spoken with earnestness, grim and irrepressible, stamped over the void, and she asked if I liked my job. Yeah, what else would I do? She must believe in choice. If you want to feel the sameness of the objects you look at, if you're fine being mistaken for a desk chair now and again, then you probably do have choice. No fun, I said, thought that's what I was. Oh but we do have fun being serious in your lessons. With the best intentions I couldn't like her. I can see her in a house, her house in a nearly-affluent part of a city, having moved on from here and merrily hopped on the property ladder, and she's there lying in bed and sleeping soundly. Next to her, another body turned on his side, an affectionate gap between them. Her breathing is regular, the meditative breaths of a nervous system impervious to mutiny. And the bland content of her face. That face which is the first through doorways and enters a space as a royal descendant, knowing even dissenters are allergic to causing a fuss. There are no pours. The fine hairs fair and neat. No expression she has to take the deserving off her. She doesn’t wake once. She sleeps through the night and the next day she is present; she knows what she says is taken as what she means. She doesn't mind. What if I'd let her be nice to me? Behind us in the bar, single forms were upholstered around low tables. We had to get the first train out. I'd have two or three hours sleep. Coming and going, miraging through reception in ignorance of us, of her, other people with other lives, I thought, are the figments of a very private hell. The tight figures waiting for lucid impressions to drain through me talk in chunks of my own proteins. Gulping the swill in my beer down, high whines, drawn-out buzzes sounded loudly deep inside. Tom saying that if it were sayable, if the most terrifying feelings you have could be moulded into words, you'd never speak again, came back to me. I had another drink and made her join me. Jessica, I said, you're really very mature for your age.


Cassandra Moss read English with Film at King's College London. After graduating, she worked in the film industry as a script reader and is currently an English Language teacher in London. 


She has been published in Succour Magazine, 3am Magazine, Cricket Online Review, And/Or, and contributed to the Genius or Not online literary project. She is working on a collection of stories and a novel and can be found on Twitter as @CassandraPMoss.