We now have a quorum.
That was the moment in their meeting, that Maria arrived out of breath.
“Sorry I’m late. I got sidetracked for ten minutes by the head mistress. We are all scheduled for a tuberculosis test at the hospital over the next couple of weeks. Chest X-rays or something like that. It’s posted on the board: names and times.”
She put her class books down and recovered a small cotton bag from her pack.
Morgana opened the top, pushed her hand into it, and blindly selected a marble from those in there, and held it up for all to see and take note of.
“Green marble rules, so watch your language, or there will be some weighty forfeits if there is any awkward language or impoliteness.”
Maria looked at their usual scribe. “Dolores?”
“I’m ready. My pencil broke and I had to fish another out.” She focused on her page and scribbled. “Green marble rules.” She looked around the table and started to write down the names of those present, now that they had a quorum.
As usual, Maria, the oldest girl in the school, presided, as she often had the most to report, with a foot in both camps; teachers and upper school, though they knew she had much more in common with them, than with any of the teachers.
“We visited the boys’ school, and met with Miss Prendergast. She obviously wasn’t sure why we wanted to be there to talk to her. We weren’t going to learn anything from her about how a male might fare in our school. However. I learned something, even if the others didn’t. She didn’t seem insecure or even threatened, as we speculated in our previous meeting, though she probably didn’t tell us everything. She teaches Biology and Chemistry, and her nickname is ’stinky Prendergast.” There were some smiles. “No-nonsense from her. She knew all about boys, and the tricks they get up to…” their ears perked up. They wanted to hear about those too, “…forever trying to… and yet she was a lady in every way, at least by my standards, in the midst of—clearly, she regarded them as hormone driven animals (she must have had a brother, to be realistic about boys and their peculiar habits), even if she didn’t say it out loud.”
Margaret could not stay out of the conversation for long. “Sperm flying everywhere if they are anything like my disgustingly horny brothers. The are always wanking off, morning, noon and night in their beds, in the toilet and even in the garden. I help Mam with the wash and I know what their sheets look like.”
Maria continued. “She was not complaining of it; she was just, well, realistic about it, and seemed to know how to deal with it; even regarding it as quite amusing, though at least one of the teachers helped her get over some of the problems there.”
Maria looked about the table. “If I report verbatim, in places and am outspoken, I don’t get hit by that green marble rule. Right?”
“Agreed!” They seemed prepared to bend formality for this occasion. She cleared her throat. “Miss Prendergast seemed to enjoy everything she did in that school. She said that she loved the environment, where she was obviously treated like a queen, once she’d overcome certain minor difficulties, and even told us about some of them. She said how she was already quite used to boys, having brothers of her own. She even was instrumental in getting the Chess club going, as well as a debating and a photographic society. We should set up those latter two, here. Just think, we could have had a photograph of our little adventure in that fell top pool with just about all of us showing our bodies off for posterity and the older us, to see and marvel at after our tits hang down to our navals, and after we show stretch marks from a hundred advanced pregnancies.”
Another girl broke in. “So what are some of the things that males get up to, as if we hadn’t heard enough of their antics? Not that it will have any relevance to us! And I don’t envisage us treating him as a king, either.” There were nods of rebellious agreement around the table.
Maria gave them an abbreviated and slightly expurgated version of what Miss Prendergast had told them about how she had calmly dealt with a toad in her desk; rescuing it without any sign of disgust or horror, and sending a boy up to the biology lab with it, and then finding a dead mouse on her chair, picked that up too by the tail, and turned that into a practical experiment on oxidation, as well as of decomposition. She wrapped it in a wire mesh cage and hung it outside of the laboratory window so that they might observe the slow process as maggots dropped off it. After a few more attempts, unsuccessful, to get her to fly into a panic and become hysterical, they seemed to have given up in that direction.”
“But that was all about what boys get up to, boys, and not men, and none of the juicy stuff, so it’s not what we can expect from an old male teacher in this school with us. Men don’t play with toads or mice.”
Margaret chipped in. “No, they prefer to be playing with themselves, or with us. And as for Miss Prendergast, I bet she didn't tell you everything that happened to her; about being invaded in her bath and unable to escape for an hour or two, or being out on a stroll, only to be pulled into the bushes, disrobed, and fucked endlessly there, and in her bed as well as in the bath and in her toilets.” She sighed. "With perks like that associated with that job, I'd sign up in an instant."
“Forfeit, forfeit!” Helen was a nitpicking bitch, so was not well-liked.
Margaret pushed back. “Why? Don’t be daft. I didn’t swear. I said, ’play with us’, I did not say, fuck us. Although I suppose I did, didn't I?”
“Forfeit, forfeit again! You used the ‘f’ word twice now.” Helen dogmatically tried again.
Margaret pushed back. “No, I didn’t, I clarified what I said, and what I didn’t say, for the benefit of a numpty like you.”
It threatened to get complicated and tied up in logic if they were not careful, and to degenerate into personal insults.
Morgana intervened for the sake of not wasting time. “We’ll let it slide this time. But only this time.”
Helen glared at Margaret, vowing revenge.
Maria glossed over the interruption and waited until they settled down. “I’m not going to get into deciding what the differences will be between Miss Prendergast’s experiences in that school, and what we might expect, I’m just reporting what we learned, no matter how little it will apply to us in this school.” She looked at her brief notes from that visit, and decided to describe Miss Prendergast’s experience on the stairs, and the origami cube, filled with red ink.
“Miss Clarkson—Sissy—started it going downhill when she made some comment about the main stairs being dangerous for a woman, with the obvious gaps between the stair treads. Except that the space under the stairs she was referring to, seemed to be used for storage. The other teachers with us for that meeting were forever looking for things for a woman in a skirt to worry about with a man around, like the open-fronted desks, and boys forever dropping pencils so that they could look up her skirt. She could see how those stairs had been poorly designed and would not protect a woman’s modesty, with her in a skirt, and going up and down them. Boys and men could still lurk under there in Sissy’s suspicious mind, or be hiding in the pile of desks there.”
Margaret added a comment. “The stairs here are the same, but I can’t see a man with any sense hiding under them, hoping to see our underwear or lack of it. Not with hundreds of girls watching him all the time. Besides, there are any number of the girls who would be more than happy to let him see their scuts at any time. He would just have to ask, and they would be willing to lift their skirts and show him a lot more than that too, and probably will, every chance they get.”
She looked defiantly around, challenging her critics to call for a forfeit for even that mild language and suggestive circumstance. No one, bit.
Maria smiled and continued. “Miss Prendergast told us that it was used as a storage area now, but that it hadn’t started that way. She explained that there always seemed to be a group of boys seeing to their bikes, clustered beneath them, when it had been used for the oldest boys’ bicycles. She soon learned that they were there deliberately watching for her to go up to her classroom, intending to try and look up her skirt, before they dispersed until the next time. They got away with it just once. She described how she had been taken off guard by that, but that she soon solved the problem with help from a sympathetic male colleague—Mr. Parsons—the art master.”
Margaret had something to add again. “I heard about him; the art master. He’s fucking Miss Prendergast every chance he gets, and vice versa. I expect she didn’t tell you that, but it’s one of the benefits of her working in that environment. Unlimited, great sex.”
Benefit? Some of the girls were puzzled as to why, being sexually assaulted on a regular basis, was a benefit.
There was an instant clamor. “Forfeit, forfeit! You can’t escape this one, you used that ‘f’ word.” Helen sat back with a triumphant smile.
“I told only the truth. How else would you have put it?”
Dolores made a note of it as Margaret continued in defiance. “Well he is, they are, it’s a fact, so why should there be a forfeit for saying what is true? They even live together in his house, so my brother in that school told me. He followed them one day and she never came out until the next morning. I think he and his friends took shifts to spy on them. Only one bedroom-light went on in the whole house the entire night.”
Maria paused and waited for Margaret to be quiet again before she continued.
“Mr. Parsons taught her how to make an Origami cube (among other things he taught her); an ingenious little object, and presented her with a bottle of red ink to go along with it. He had described, how that paper cube could be filled with water, or any fluid, and would even hold it for several minutes—depending upon the strength of the paper, which one tests, beforehand—before it fails. He told her how they can be made to fail catastrophically, if dropped, especially from a height, and onto stairs. It seems that some of the teachers and even some of the more responsible older boys, were quite happy to help her avoid other, similar embarrassing problems, but without saying too much. I think her presence there actually brought out the best in some of those men and boys, and taught them how they should behave around a woman, so it was a good experience all round.
“She soon became aware for herself of what might be going on, so it was not an entirely hostile environment for her, as this one would be for a man.”
Or maybe not. Some of the older girls might be sympathetic, or more than sympathetic to him, while others would be aching for mischief and might even try to spy on him in the bathroom that he would be assigned. Maybe there wasn’t such a difference after all, between the sexes.
“Miss Prendergast related how, the next time she had gone up those stairs, later that same day, she had her Origami cube, freshly filled with red ink, and had carefully dropped it to land half way down the stairs behind her. It broke on the stairs about four feet from the bottom of that second turn. It showered those boys huddled beneath the stairs with splotches of red ink for all to see, as though there had been a mass outbreak of measles; identifying them, their faces, and their shirts for the remainder of the day to their everlasting embarrassment, marked as sneaky, ‘peeping toms’; voyeurs, trying to peer up Miss Prendergast’s dress to see her panties. If she bothered with any after Mr. Parson had finished with her.”
Helen managed to look offended. “Typical boys!”
Morgana chipped in. “The boy is father to the man, don’t forget that. They are all just big boys. The only difference is that there may be more hair on it, as with us, and it gets a lot more use in the right way, which we don’t, unfortunately, rather than just to be peed out of. Not yet anyway.” A few girls had bewildered looks on their faces. No one called for a forfeit as nothing so very terrible had been said.
“How can a boy be father…?”
Maria ignored the interruption. They would soon learn what was meant when they grew up a bit more.
“Under-stairs were used for desk storage after that. Miss Prendergast earned her stripes with that(another expression that confused some of the girls), both with the teachers and with most of the students, though those boys could never be sure that what had happened had been deliberate, or had been an accident, and they weren’t going to risk it happening again.”
Dorothy added from her own experience. “Most men do that; given the chance. They try to see up your skirt and even touch up there too. They don’t seem able to help themselves, just like they can’t ignore breasts or anything else about us!”
As she mentioned that, she didn’t notice Iris, guiltily recalling what Morgana had said about her standing over that Harcourt youth as he repaired that wall after clearing the wasps out, and she had been doing the same thing for him, but unintentionally. Except he hadn’t reach out to touch her. She wondered what that would have been like if he had. How would he have touched her there, and how should she have responded if he had?
She’d better think about that and be ready.
The bell sounded along the corridor.
“There’s a class in here now for the next hour, so we’ll have to pick this up next time.