Headmistress

By: Ruth Gregson

To Racca, the writer who can say it with a rugby tackle





1





Jen headed out of the Principal’s office, her heels reverberating in the empty corridors. This would be her greatest challenge yet. Deputy Principal. And Doctor Soper’s Preparatory School For Girls was certainly a nicer place than her last school, St Rollox’s. Much smaller chance of being stabbed there, for starters.

The new neighbourhood of suited her rather well. The Lake District was only twenty minutes away by car. Her new house was on the edge of town, overlooking the dense woodland of Humbleton Park, and next to it, where the road forked, miles and miles of fields. Just the peace and quiet she needed. All she needed was a term to settle in, find her feet. A term with no upset, no drama. No controversy.

Some chance, she thought. Already she had been given the task of slashing departmental budgets. Normally this would be the responsibility of the Principal - But the Principal, Dr Letchford, had delegated this power to Jen as he considered himself too avuncular to be an axeman. Yes, he had explained, Jen would be much better at doing these things than he would have been - she taught mathematics after all. She was more... imposing. More commanding. Tall, he meant - Jen was five feet ten without shoes on, six feet two with heels and her hair up.

The first part of Jen’s economy drive, Letchford had suggested, would be to scrap plans for a new mural to commemorate the school’s 125th anniversary. The school had hired an artist-in-residence to devise and oversee the project, involving the older children in the creative process. To Jen, this seemed like an admirable plan, but her new boss wanted it canned, and he wanted her to be the one to can it. She had resolved that she could not be persuaded, she would not be sweet-talked out of it. She had to make an impression.

She could smell the paint already. Then she saw the sheeting covering the parquet floor. The wall had been painted white as preparation for the mural, effectively turning it into a blank canvas. And touching up the final areas where the old colour was showing through was a figure in old blue overalls and a baseball cap worn backwards.

“Hello,” Jen introduced herself. “Jennifer Hatfield, Deputy Principal.”

The figure carried on painting. Jen cleared her throat:

“You must be the janitor.”

Still no answer. Jen tapped the overall-covered shoulder. A paintbrush spun past Jen’s head, landing with a splat on the plastic sheeting. She recoiled with a shriek. “What the hell are you doing?”

The figure turned around, taking off their baseball cap. Jen saw chestnut-coloured hair in a low-worn bun, long loose curls from the forehead to the ears. Long, thick eyelashes.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” the painter said. “Didn’t know you were there. Had the old headphones on.” She removed her ear buds.

Jen smiled. “Engrossed in your work?”

The artist nodded. “I didn’t splash you, did I?”

“No, no, I’m fine.” Jen found herself staring into the painter’s eyes. They were a wonderful autumnal colour; red-amber, like a fine ale. The painter was a few years younger than her, slightly below average height. Her overalls gaped at the throat. Jen couldn’t help a quick glance down the gap.

“Oh good,” the painter grinned. “I’d hate to spoil that lovely suit of yours.”

“Oh, this old thing?” Jen couldn’t believe what she was saying. This old thing? It was brand new! Who was she trying to impress?

“Yeah, where did you get it?”

“Canada.” Well, that bit was true.

“Wow, I’ve always wanted to go to Canada. Friend of mine went there, came back with a tin of bear pâté. Have you ever eaten bear pâté?”

“Er, no. Have you?”

The painter shook her curls. “No. Always wondered about it, though. I hear it’s like chicken, but fishier.”

Jen laughed. “Maybe your friend could have got you another tin.”

“Oh, waste of money. I’m a vegetarian. I’d be vegan, but a world without eggs and cheese is like the earth without art. As in Eh.”

“Eh?”

“No, Eh. Like ‘Meh’ without the M.”

“Oh, right.” Jen was confused now. ”Well, I’ll let you get back to it.” She headed off.

“Hey, wait!” The painter was calling after her. ”I didn’t get your name.”

Jen’s cheeks flushed hot and red. Some axeman she was! There were a couple of children about to pass by, so first names would have to remain a secret.

“Miss Hatfield.”

“Nice to meet you, Miss Hatfield. You have a good day.”

“Yes, you too.”