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The International Writers Magazine
: Russia's cold but they drink vodka...

Stone Cold in the Staffroom
Alan Stokes

The woman won't shut up. She's just going on and on about him. How he hates her drinking, smoking, picking her nose, her teeth…
I want to tell her to leave him. I want to tell her lots of things. But I don't say anything. I just sit there, holding my pint. The truth is she scares me. I'd sit somewhere else but I don't have the energy to get out of my seat. My students were crazy today.

Mark walks in. His hair is greased back and he's wearing shades. Mark likes to impersonate people.
- Thought you'd be here, Mark says, pulling a stool out from under the table and sitting down.
- Alright, Jack. How's the painting coming along? I say.
- Can't get it on the canvas. If I could just make that first stroke, he says, grimacing.
I want to tell Mark not to bother, that he should keep his painting in his head where it belongs. But what do I know? He could be the next Picasso.

I start talking about something else, something I've been thinking about all day, namely, why I never seem to do anything interesting or worthwhile with my life.
Mark sticks his elbows on the table, leans forward and tells me that what I need to do is relax. If I relax everything will come easily and naturally to me. But the trick is knowing how to relax. Weed's fine but if you want to achieve a prolonged state of being, consciousness, whatever - he lowers his shades and fixes his eyes on me - you have to explore other ways of getting there.
He runs his fingers through his hair, waiting for me to comment. I don't. There's no point. I look away, lighting a cigarette, and spot Dave Mackenzie.

Dave Mackenzie is in his late-forties and unemployed. He spends his time working voluntarily for a community arts project and hanging out in the pub. He's okay but he bores me stupid. All he talks about is politics and suspect international regimes. Whenever I see him he's surrounded by people who are either not interested in what he is saying or can't speak or understand a word of English. Usually it's the latter.

I pick up my pint and shake my head, wondering what is wrong with people.
Michelle's talking to me. Michelle's always talking to me.
- What do you think? Do you think I should take it? she says.
I've forgotten what Michelle is talking about. I'm always doing that. Soon as Michelle starts talking my mind wanders. I'm like that with my students. I'm like that with everyone.
- Do you want to take it? Geoff asks her.
- Not sure. I mean, I like it here and everything.
Michelle teaches Adult Literacy, like me. I'd like to say she's attractive but she's not. When I look at her I wince.
- Are you sure it's the job? Geoff says.
She thinks for a moment. I feel her edging closer to me.
- Well, I suppose it could be my boyfriend. He's being a right pain at the moment, she says.
Then she goes to say something else but I stop her.
- Time to go, I say, getting up.

I go down the corridor and into my classroom. There's only Janet in there. She's sitting next to the window, eating a sandwhich. She doesn't look at me. Fuck her. I lift my mobile out my drawer and send Katrina a message.
I throw Katrina on the bed and she laughs. Katrina has a great laugh. It rises then falls. I tell her that and she says everyone in her family laughs like that. It's genetic, she says. Like her nose. Everyone in her family has her nose. And her cheekbones and her little mouth.
I slip her knickers off and tell her that I would like to meet them one day and she laughs at that too.
I inhale on the joint. Yesterday I told Mark I was through with smoking weed. I told him all sorts of things. My head felt like it was about to explode. I can't believe Katrina has gone.

- Did you ask her out? Mark says.
Mark's referring to Cathy, a woman I work with.
- Didn't see the point, I tell him
The fact is I asked Cathy but she's not interested. She isn't interested in seeing anyone at the moment. That's what she told me. But it could be that she just doesn't like me in that way. It's possible. I mean I thought she did, otherwise I wouldn't have asked her. I'm not stupid.

Mark gets up and puts on some music. He says I'll get over her. Lots of people say that to me. They say that because they want me to feel better. But I don't want to hear that. That doesn't make me feel better at all. I feel crazy when people say that to me.
I tell Katrina I will learn Russian, chop wood, whatever it takes, and she laughs. Her whole family laughs.
© Alan Stokes Feb 9th 2005

See also Understanding Bill

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