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Cupboard Love by Pseu

Cupboard Love by Pseu

A Boa Book 2010


he rumour was that Miss Rosenthal had been found in the chemistry lab store cupboard with Mr Armitage with her blouse undone, and buttons missing, and her hair all over the place, and that the headmistress had called them into her office to discuss their future prospects at the school. Sheila never knew who started these rumours or if there was ever any truth in them, but at an all-girls school the occasional male teacher was bound to make a bit of a stir, especially a slim, fit man with a good sense of humour. Miss Siobhan Rosenthal was the Irish accented, dark haired beauty who had recently started as biology teacher to cover a maternity leave. She was in her early thirties. Mr Bob Armitage was a married man in his early forties. He had a smattering of grey at the edges of his sand-coloured wavy hair. With his bright blue eyes and a ready smile he was very appealing, and he was a good teacher. He made physics fun. There had, of course, been a huge surge in uptake of physics amongst the girls choosing their ‘O’ and ‘A’ level subjects in the three years since he had started at the school. Sheila was the lab assistant whose job it was to set up the experiments, source the materials needed and ensure safety as far as it was possible in all three science labs. She was largely disregarded by the girls who considered her function to be primarily that of a cleaning lady

with special responsibilities and this, she found, gave her a certain invisibility that other members of staff did not have. It was unlikely that the little madams had any idea that she was an ex-Abingley High School girl herself, and was studying on an Open University program that was way beyond their reach. University hadn’t been an option for her when she left school, but she was making up for lost time now. This gave her a quiet, shy superiority as she silently went about her tasks. The first question that sprang to Sheila’s mind when she overheard the rumours (told in hushed tones by Sophie Ellington to three of Abigail Johnson’s clique as they waited for the bell) was this: why were the biology and physics teachers loitering in the chemistry lab cupboard? If there was preparation needed for the lessons they generally (the lazy types that they were, in her humble opinion) asked her to sort it out. Each lab had its own store cupboard, with its own supplies and she could think of no reason for either of them to venture over to Mr Matthews’s domain. James Matthews, the chemistry teacher, was the only other male teacher in the school. He had a large, untended bushy beard and wore nylon shirts: he therefore attracted less attention from the girls than Mr Armitage. He strode around the place, hands plunged deep into his white coat pockets, not really caring what im-

pression he made, just as long as he could transfer enthusiasm for his subject to at least a few of the brighter pupils. Mr Matthews did not engage in any flirting or teasing and seemed immune to the overt feminine wiles of the students. He was the one person in the school that Sheila had told about her studies. He was the one person in the world who seemed to take any interest in her and the only person to whom she would now confide her latest snapshot of gossip. At the end of the morning Sheila went straight into the chemistry lab and found Mr Matthews intently writing out a formula and a series of questions on the blackboard in readiness for the next class. “Were you planning on having lunch in the staff room, or up here, Mr Matthews?” asked Sheila. “Kettle’s on,” came the reply. He hadn’t turned around, but continued scribbling. “Have you bought your sandwiches? There’s a packet of biscuits on the top shelf in the cupboard.” Sheila opened the unlit cupboard and was hit by a pungent smell which she couldn’t identify, plus the sound of the kettle coming to the boil. She clicked on the light and reached up to the top shelf to find a packet of chocolate digestives. Had he been thinking of her when he bought them? Was he starting to be attracted to her? Oh, how she hoped so. Sheila let her imagination

boil over as she waited for the kettle. He was shy, she knew that, but maybe with the right encouragement things may develop? Mr Matthews was just finishing his blackboard scratchings as she carried the coffee through to the classroom. He had taken off his white lab coat and had his strong muscular back to her. She knew he was a keen swimmer and often went scuba diving in the holidays. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever be able to master her claustrophobia enough to manage to join him in the scuba diving, but she was a sound swimmer herself. She knew he was also a musician – a guitarist with a local band, and she could sing, though up to now folk music had been her interest. She was sure she could adapt if needs be. “Coffee’s ready, Mr Matthews,” she said. “Ah, good.” He gave her a rare flash of a smile. “Thank you, Sheila.” He took a mug from her. “But ‘Mr Matthews’ is a little formal, perhaps, when there are no students around. Call me James.” “Force of habit –” she hesitated. “James,” she said, and smiled. James opened up the patio window at the back of the classroom, which led out onto a small flat roof. This part of the school was modern, built less than 10 years ago, in the early 70s. It had been designed by an awardwinning architect and it had a few unexpected foibles,

including a bell tower accessed from this flat roof. The area acted as sun trap, and in recent weeks Sheila had once or twice sat out with James at lunchtime on the pretext of needing advice about her chemistry project, which she had to send in to The Open University before the end of the month. “How’s it going?” he asked as he unwrapped his sandwiches. “Nearly there. Would you mind looking over the final draft for me in the next day or so, James?” She handed him an envelope. “It’s all in here.” He took the envelope and placed it on his knee. “You have worked so hard, I’m sure it will be excellent. I just wish some of the girls would show your interest and enthusiasm.” He put down his coffee cup and started to open the envelope. “Oh!” said Sheila, “Please don’t open it now and spoil your lunch break. Leave it until later, then I won’t get so embarrassed!” He smiled at her again and put it back down on his knee. “Any plans for the weekend?” he asked her. Sheila’s heart thrummed against her chest. Was this it? Would he ask her out? “No, not really,” she said. “Just the usual.” She hesitated. “What about you?”

“The band’s playing tonight at Hightown, and then tomorrow Siobhan and I are planning a meal out at The Swan. Do you know it?” “Siobhan?” “Siobhan Rosenthal, the new biology teacher. She was lucky to get the job when Jo Evans left to have the baby. Makes our lives a lot easier.” He wasn’t looking at her. “Before Christmas we were travelling between here and Cantbridge every weekend, fixing our gigs around that.” He was focussing on his sandwich, talking between mouthfuls. “Of course,” said Sheila. “Does she play in the band?” “She’s the singer. Wonderful voice,” said James. “It’s what attracted me to her.” A moment later he said, “Did you know she’s discovered a colony of bats up in the bell tower here?” He gesticulated over to the modern monstrosity. “A rare and protected species, none-theless,” he said. This was the most he had ever said to Sheila outside the language of chemistry tuition. “Really?” she said. “How interesting.” “She’s recruited Bob Armitage into the project. Apparently he came up the other evening after school to help rig up some ultrasonic equipment so that she can get some recordings. It’s all wired up to the chemistry

lab store. And she’s after a small camera to be set up there too, with infrared technology.” “Incredible,” said Sheila. She took a bite out of her sandwich and chewed slowly, while her mind buzzed. Were the rumours true, or at least based in fact? Had Bob and Siobhan been caught kissing or were the rumours complete fabrication? And should she say anything about them to James? She imagined how she could comfort him if they turned out to be true, how she could support him through his grief, and maybe that way he would come to love her? There may still be a chance. She glanced up and found he was looking at her. “I hear there are rumours going about the school,” he said, “that suggest Siobhan and Bob were caught in a compromising situation in the chemistry cupboard by the caretaker.” He laughed. “It’s incredible, isn’t it, what the young overactive female brain will concoct out of thin air given a shred of insubstantial evidence!” He shook his head. “Would you believe it?” “Crazy,” she said. “Absolutely crazy.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Of course, no one in their right mind would believe that sort of thing, would they?” She glanced at her watch. “I’d better be going.” She stood up and took hold of the back of the

chair to steady herself. “I’ve just remembered something I omitted to include in my write-up. I’ll need to take the essay back, James and find a way of slipping it in. Can I give it to you on Monday?” “Of course,” he said, “I wouldn’t have much time this weekend anyway.” “Thank you for all your help,” she said, taking the envelope, resisting the urge to snatch it back, feeling the shape of the card she had put in there, written the night before, after a glass or two of gin and tonic, declaring her feelings, asking him to dinner. “Have a good weekend,” she said. She held the envelope to her chest and walked to the French window and through it, back into the room, seeing the classroom in a blur, through her tears. As she reached the classroom door Siobhan Rosenthal came in and smiled at her with a wide, innocent smile.

Cupboard Love  
Cupboard Love  

A short story about compromising situations