The English teacher, a young, energetic-looking young woman with soft blonde curls and shining blue eyes appeared and, seeming not to notice any negative feelings between her students, unlocked the door to the room. She turned to me as Don and Lor walked in, smiling dazzlingly.
“Hey! I’m Julie. Everyone here calls me by my first name so don’t feel like you have to use my title.”
“Okay, Julie,” I said warmly.
“So you’re Penny, are you? Like English much?”
“I love it,” I told her sincerely.
“Great!” She led me in and gestured to the seat next to Lor.
“You’d do better to sit there than next to Don,” she told me.
I sat down, trying to hide my disappointment and anxiety.
Julie went to the front of the classroom and smiled at all of us.
“So, since Penny’s here, Lor you’re going to do a recitation. Whenever you’re ready.”
Lor rose to his feet, his expression thoughtful. Could it be that he knew more than one poem by heart?
Lor began, his voice a low murmur but as expressive as the act of giving a rose and mystical-sounding as though he saw not the classroom in which he stood but the secrets behind starlight and the dark side of the moon.
A transformation of the world we know;
An altered form of life and love and death;
A colour-hating realm where shadows breathe.
I wonder how we slumber without fear.
A petal in the chasm of the air -
A gloom-pervading cave that stills our hope;
The shadows claim the flower’s drifting soul.
The petal lies abandoned on the floor.
A terrifying bleakness of the heart;
A fall through nothingness: an empty door.
And you, my dear, have sent me to this fate.
And life is ever haunting, ever here.”
I shivered at the last words of the poem - words which seemed to beckon death with skeletal fingers.
Julie clapped and I joined in but I couldn’t seem to remember what being impressed was. I was frightened, vulnerable, dejected.
Lor sat down, his expression blank.
“Well done,” I whispered.
He shrugged and refused to look at me.
“You’d make a wonderful actor,” Julie told him.
“No woman would fancy him, though,” Don called out.
Julie rolled her eyes.
“It’s not about that, Don. If you can’t appreciate what writing or performing is about, I think you should consider dropping English.”
“Oh, you don’t want me to,” Don said cheerfully.
“I’d prefer my students to be keen,” she replied.
“Oh, but I am keen, Julie. I love ‘Romeo and Juliet’.”
“‘Romeo and Juliet’ is one play, Don. Did you redo that piece on ‘The Wolf Call’ for me?”
Don nodded, pulling a sheet of paper out of his schoolbag. Julie went over and collected it.
She returned to the front of the classroom, placed Don’s homework on the desk and wrote two words on the whiteboard with a board pen: THE MOON. She turned.
“Okay, folks. Open discussion. What comes to mind when we think of the moon?”
“The night,” Don called out, a wide grin stretching across his face.
“Yes, that’s the obvious one,” Julie muttered, but turning to write ‘night’ below ‘THE MOON’ all the same.
“Shifting,” Lor said quietly.
Julie looked a little disappointed, as though she’d expected Lor to say something more poetic but she didn’t pass comment and wrote the word above ‘THE MOON’.
“A cycle,” I called out timidly.
Julie beamed. “Yes, that’s a good one, Penny. The moon phases every month, or twice a month in the case of December, and patterns and cycles can be very important in writing.”
‘Cycle’ she wrote, to the right of ‘THE MOON’.
“Women,” Don called out.
Julie looked frustrated by him but nodded, saying, “Yes, Don, the moon can be associated with women.” She wrote that to the left of ‘THE MOON’.
“Mystery,” Lor called out in a bored tone.
Julie smiled, not seeming to notice the tone.
“Yes, the night can be seen as mysterious and since the moon is almost the epitome of the night, it can be seen as mysterious too.”
She wrote the word on the board, at another spot on an invisible circle around her first two words.
“M-magic...,” I called out hesitantly.
“Definitely!” Julie said. I could tell she was passionate about her job. “Magical things happen beneath the moon. Like the opening of the Chanson flower.”Another word for the board.
“Beauty,” Don called out.
That also went down.
“Transformation,” Lor said. He interpreted many connotations.
“Yup. Things that you might trust in the day seem like things to be wary of in the night. Also, the moon is like another form of the sun.” She wrote that with visible enthusiasm.
“Love,” Don called out.
No comment but the word was written.
“Illumination,” Lor said, almost sighing at us.
“Great! And that’s both kinds of illumination. Light and revelation. Well done, Lor.”
Lor looked like he’d received praise many times before: like he was used to it and it didn’t make him happy anymore.
I noticed a certain proud flourish of the pen when Julie wrote down Lor’s good ideas - I could tell that he was her favourite student.
“Sadness,” Lor said, neither Don nor I having suggested anything.
“Oh, brilliant,” Julie said. “There is something melancholic about the moon. You’re on a roll, Lor.”
“Darkness,” I suggested. “As in, things hidden in the darkness.”
“Yup,” Julie replied, writing ‘obscurity’.
“Spirituality,” Lor said.
“Right on!” Julie said with energy.
“The supernatural - not just werewolves,” I said.
“Blood,” Lor said.
“Eclipses,” I said.
“Music,” he said.
“Poetry,” I said.
“You two are just hitting sparks off each other.”
“Liquid silver,” Lor murmured, his eyes sparking.
“The perfect analogy.” Julie looked as though she idolised him. “Well, that’s great, everyone. Now you can write me a poem about it.” She looked to me. “I’ll go get some paper, Penny.”
She stepped down from the platform and was about to get some paper when Lor pulled a blue A4 ring-binder out of a brown satchel by his feet and opened it to reveal sheets of A4.
“I’ll give her some, Julie,” he offered.
Julie beamed. “Oh, thank you, Lor.”
She went to her desk and sat behind it, picking up a book and beginning to read.
Lor took out two sheets of paper and handed one to me.
“Thanks,” I said quietly.
“You’re welcome,” he said, and his tone was a lot softer than I’d expected it to be. Perhaps being in English had improved his mood. I was still sorry for shouting at him but I settled down to the task in hand, guessing he wouldn’t appreciate my apology.
After a time, Julie announced it was time to stop writing. I noticed a clock on the wall behind her and was surprised to see that it was half past three.
“Right, who would like to read out their poem?” Julie asked.
“Oh, can I?” Don asked.
Julie looked reluctant but since neither Lor nor I (a little too shy to go first) offered to read ours, she nodded.
Don stood up and cleared his throat.
“The moon,” he stated, evidently reading out the title.
“Its rays illuminate us, love,
as we glide beneath the stars.
You are as divine as she.
I am your worshipper.
I am a monster, a demon, a man.
You can heal the pain of my existence.
You can soothe the fire in my heart.
Oh, my precious love, I’d
sing you songs till the night was through
but you are beauty
that I must be a part of.”
Julie nodded, a wry smile upon her face.
“You write good poetry, Don. I mean, I wish it wasn’t about love all the time - you almost tire the subject out - but you write well. I like the line saying ‘I am a monster, a demon, a man’: it cleverly links the three, and proves a nice contrast with the word ‘divine’. Since men and women are opposites, it really works.” She looked at us as Don sat down, nodding in thanks. “Who’s next?”
“Penny?” Lor asked me.
“Okay then,” I said quietly. I stood up and tried to focus more on the words in front of me than the people I would be reading to.
“You can do it,” Julie said encouragingly.
And in a very muffled voice I did.
“The creatures are gathering.
With bated breath I watch and wait.
The silence swells to fill my ears
and darkness falls across my eyes.
Their magic is the starlight,
though the moon rays awakened them.
Their sight is music in my mind,
their laughter a flutter in my heart.
Their forms appear, sparkling, silvery,
unnatural and unreal,
no place for them on Planet Earth
yet even so they’re here.
Their astral beauty lights the woods,
their fingers leave a shiny trail,
without them we’d be souls of ice,
lacking hope and dreams.
And slowly my awake-ness fades,
a slumber’s creeping in.
I’m happy to retire now
I’ve seen the beings of Moon.”
Julie looked amazed. “Wow! You have such an imagination! You should be really proud of that, Penny: it was absolutely beautiful.”
“Thank you,” I said, flushing and ducking my head.
“You’re welcome. Well done! Such talent!”
I sat down, warm with delight and pride.
I watched Lor as he stood up. Now was the moment I would see if he was as great a poet as he was a reader.
He seemed to look nervous, and Don was smirking at his desk on his own.
Julie smiled at him.
“The moon is a maze,” Lor stuttered out quickly.
“And I am amazed by her.
“A haiku,” Julie said, an encouraging smile on her face. “Well done. A nice play on words. You’re getting there, Lor. Really getting there.”
Lor’s face was red and Don was suppressing laughter. I felt sorry for him. What a shame it must be to be an excellent reader of poetry but a not-so-good writer of it.
Lor sat down, looking like he wanted to run out of the classroom. I had never seen him so ashamed.
“You did well,” I told him. “Don’t be down-hearted.”
“Easy for you to say,” he muttered, crossing his arms on the table and burying his head in them.
“Well, now, it’s your free time,” Julie said, looking sympathetically at Lor who didn’t take any notice of her. “You can go for a walk if you like. Tell any teacher you meet that you have my permission.”
Lor quickly stood up and exited the classroom. I cast a glance in Don’s direction. He was looking at me expectantly. But instead, and I even surprised myself here, I followed Lor. I guess it wasn’t so surprising. I still needed to say sorry, I remembered, and it wasn’t faair to just let him be upset about something he couldn’t help.
Lor hurried along the main teaching corridor, down the stairs to the lab and out through the door which led outdoors.
I didn’t say anything till we got outside.