Mr Blaine was still shaking, sweat dribbling down an unhealthily grey face before making a visible escape from his ends of his nose and chin. She hadn’t expected this much of him, to still be conscious for one but also to have thought to call her in and stay at the school long enough for her to arrive. A lesser man would have at the very least skulked off home to hide under a blanket, re-considering his career in teaching and she’d always assumed Mr Blaine was the least of the lesser men. Going by brief and formal parent teacher meetings at least he’d come across as a bit of a mediocrity, an average man doing his job in an average way and passing judgement on her daughter, Theresa, in an average way. As he dealt largely in platitudes for want of anything more useful to say she’d always wondered if he even knew who her daughter was, or if he’d spent the last year offering dull appraisals of some other child in his ignorance.
He certainly knew Theresa now though, no doubt about that and to his credit he’d survived the revelation relatively unscathed. Her daughter’s last three schools and six teachers hadn’t fared nearly so well but then both she and her mother had resolved to make this one work, especially as they were running out of new areas to move to.
Theresa really had tried too, she’d made it all the way to the summer holidays without anything of any interest at all happening. For once Agnes had started to feel that steady mix of pride and disappointment in the feeling that her child was neither a disruption nor particularly noticeable in any way. A relief, really, a necessity given the events at past schools but it was still an experience tempered with a slight hollowness. If Theresa was going to be normal now then Agnes would just have to learn to live with it. Of course that didn’t matter now, not since Mr Blaine had called her at work, breathing heavily and demanding she come in for an emergency meeting. The normality had been, once again, shattered into a lot of very small and very awkward pieces.
You’d never know it though, not if you walked into the room now with Theresa sitting on a child sized seat in the evacuated classroom, legs swinging restlessly and eyes gazing off into one of those daydreams so consuming that only children, with their mixed indifference to and infatuation with reality, ever seemed to manage. Small for her age, dark skinned and still cute looking, baby fat not yet stretched out by a growth spurt, she was usually just another face in any school photo, another gap toothed smile amongst many.
Still, appearances could be deceptive, as Mr Blaine had discovered and Theresa, as perfectly normal a child as she generally was, had moments that could break that image completely. Like today.
“I’m sorry Miss Taylor, sorry to have called you out of work at such short notice but Theresa’s had an… episode… and I really thought you should be here to take her home for the day.”
Agnes nodded at the euphemism. The poor man may not have been worth much but he was trying and ‘episode’ was a nicer term for it than the ones they usually used.
“I’m very sorry Mr Blaine – and I’m sure Theresa is too, aren’t you?”
The girl smiled vaguely, recognising that they were talking about her but barely paying attention to the adult conversation.
“I’m sure she is and that’s good but, well, I really don’t know what to do here, I’m not entirely sure what happened but I know I wasn’t trained for it. Have you ever considered taking Theresa to a doctor?”
“Oh she’s seen doctors. And priests, nuns, psychiatrists, Voodoo spiritualists, witches, preachers, scientists – the lot. None of them know what to do about her and she really doesn’t mean any harm by it, honest, she doesn’t. People barely ever get hurt and the children love it, not that she does it on purpose.”
Agnes stressed the last few words, the other children did love it but she didn’t want the teacher to think that Theresa ever intended for it to happen.
“I’m sure she doesn’t, but I’m not sure that helps really. I mean, it was really very impressive and I’ve certainly never seen anything like it but is the classroom really the place for it? All I asked her to do was to read her story out loud and…”
His voice trailed off. He was worried about repeating the ordeal out loud in case it made him sound insane, Agnes knew the feeling but hesitated to throw the floundering Mr Blaine a rope.
“… and suddenly there we were. I was a pirate. Short, fat, pirate… I only had one leg and… someone stabbed me.”
Agnes nodded, silently cursing herself for letting Theresa watch Pirates of the Caribbean. It had seemed like a safer bet than Frozen, which had left three small children lacking frostbitten fingers at the the last school. Plus it didn’t have any songs, which had to be a step in the right direction. She craned her neck forwards, if Mr Blaine was still lacking a leg, or was sporting any serious wounds, then it didn’t seem to be bothering him too much. Another bonus, sometimes they came back just the way they’d been while… whatever it was, was happening. That was when the real trouble usually started.
“Well” Agnes put on her cheerful voice, the one that she hoped made her sound calm and happy even though she suspected that to everyone else it made her sound stressed and slightly mad “that must have been a bit of an adventure for you. You made it back in one piece though, didn’t you? And the children..?”
“Loved it…” the colour was coming back to his face, he looked relieved that another adult had taken his admission in their stride. Lucky bastard, Agnes thought to herself, first time it had happened to her they’d sent the men in white coats around and threatened to section her. At least they had until Theresa had sent them off on a really strange trip with monstrous vacuum cleaners and toilets that ate people alive. She’d been younger then though and it had almost certainly been unintentional, although they did leave her alone after that, or what was left of them did at least.
“No harm done then really. They must have learnt something too, you could call it a history lesson.”
“A seven year old turned into Captain Jack Sparrow.”
“There you go, a sailing lesson too, bet the other children don’t get many of those do they?”
“I think he was the one that stabbed me.”
They were both silent for a moment. Theresa had started to hum to herself, Mr Blaine was starting to sweat again until Agnes gave her daughter a gentle push in the shoulder to quiet her down.
“Look, Mr Blaine, I know you’ve had a bit of a shock but trust me, you’ve taken it well and Theresa really doesn’t mean for it to happen. Please don’t expel her, not for this, she’s been to so many schools already…”
To Agnes’s surprise Mr Blaine looked shocked.
“Expel her? Of course not, of course not” She could see that he meant it, his eyes had sharpened at the mention of expulsion, some educator’s instinct that she’d never have guessed he’d have was kicking in.
“She’ll certainly need some, erm, special attention… but we’re an inclusive school and I’ve never expelled a student in my life. Not even suspended one, I’m a Teacher.”
He was off now, the certainty in the job title was working it’s way through him, stifling the nervous sweats and getting the blood pumping again.
“I mean, a child’s imagination is a wonderful thing, it should be encouraged, not punished.”
“Absolutely” Agnes said, doing her best to suppress the memory of Theresa’s recurring nightmare about the Muppets, although ‘wonderful’ was, she supposed, one word for that.
“Yes, well, Theresa, you’ll really have to make sure you don’t let this happen again, I’m sure you don’t mean any harm but what you did today could have been very dangerous.”
It was the first time he’d spoken directly to her and the innocent smile she gave him in return would have convinced anyone but a mother that she’d never picked her nose and eaten it, never mind helping her classmates to stab their teacher. Agnes let it go though, it was no time to go pushing reality into the face of Mr Blaine.
“Well, I think I need a drink and a good night’s sleep. You too I should think, the sleep that is, er, not the drink. I’ll see you in class tomorrow Theresa, don’t forget your homework.”
From there it was all strained goodbyes and handshakes as Agnes rushed to get her daughter out of the room before he changed his mind. He was insane, obviously, or very stupid, to know the risks and shrug it off so easily. That wasn’t much of a disadvantage though, sanity had never worked all that well in the past and she was willing to take any chance that was offered.
It was only as she shoved Theresa out of the door, silently willing her daughter not to say, do or imagine anything else, that Mr Blaine said anything that had the dangerous edge of rationality to it.
“Erm, do you think it might help if I started bringing a sword to class? Or a gun maybe? You know, just in case it’s a dragon next time or something?”
It wouldn’t, Agnes knew, nothing passed over between the real world and the fantasy except for the person experiencing it. Still, if it was a comfort…