Thursday, 30 April 2020

End of Term

End of Term

By Pauline Barclay

Everyone had left. The classroom was deserted, but Kate lingered for a few moments of reflection before she left High Elm School for good.    

   Standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by empty desks and vacant chairs, she held her school bag in her left hand and with her right arm she gripped a pile of well thumbed text books. She had been waiting for this moment; the moment when she would leave High Elm School. The exams were all over and it was time to move on, but the joy of leaving had temporarily evaporated. The excitement of a new life suddenly daunted her. She had fond memories of her years at this exclusive girls’ school; “A school for young ladies.” Miss Thackeray, the Headmistress, had reminded them all on a regular basis. “A school where good manners and good breading matched the quality of education taught.”    
   She was right, Kate thought as she recalled Miss Thackeray’s well voiced words; everyone took away something when they left High Elm. For Kate it would be memories; good ones, with just a hint of the odd shades of grey.

She could clearly remember the day she had arrived. The grandness of the school and how the staff were so well organised had daunted her at first. The imposing buildings that housed the classrooms and the main hall areas, the long corridors and high ceilings. Yet, despite this, she’d had a feeling of belonging as soon as she had walked down those hallowed hallways. The years had slipped by and now she prepared to leave for the last time.
   She let her mind travel back through the years. As if on cue, she could hear Mary Butler whispering slyly, covering her mouth with her hand so that she couldn't guess what she was saying. That kind of behavior never bothered her when the girls did that, she had never wanted to know their secrets, she was different from them and they all knew it.    
   She smiled as Molly's giggle rang in her head, a more infectious laugh she had never heard. When Molly Brogan laughed, the whole class would dissolve into hysterics. Molly, Kate thought, would enjoy her life, her exuberant nature would take her through any difficulty that came her way and she would blossom from it. Of course, there was Angela Mackay, a spiteful girl. A girl who would make life uncomfortable to all who encountered her. How odd, Kate mused, to have known such opposites at the same time.

With her arm beginning to ache from the weight of her books, Kate placed the heavy volumes down on a desk to the right from where she was standing. Released from the weight, Kate fondly recalled the day the Headmistress had summoned her to her office.
   “Do come in Kate and take a seat please.” Miss Thackeray had said as she indicated to a chair in front of her large oak desk. Smiling, the Headmistress continued. “We are all aware that you will be leaving at the end of this academic year.”  Perching on the edge of the chair, Kate expected to be reminded of the school’s exit procedure, but instead, Miss Thackeray enthused about Kate’s future.  “University life will be perfect for you Kate. I am confident that you will be as successful there as you have been here. I am proud of you. I like to think that High Elm as played a part in equipping you for the next stage in your life.”
   They had been kind and encouraging words and Kate would remember them with affection.  High Elm had played an important part in paving her future and now as she stood in the empty classroom, she thought about what Miss Thackeray had said. Though she knew, long before her meeting with the Headmistress, she had made the right decision, University would suit her.

Lost in her thoughts of the years spent at High Elm, Kate hadn’t noticed how cold the class room had turned. And as the cold slowly crept over her, the large old fashioned radiators creaked loudly as they rapidly cooled down. It had been a very cold spring and reluctantly, the caretaker, had left the heating on until the end of term. Looking around the room, she saw that without the smartly uniformed girls with their chatter and laughter the place seemed sparse and out of step with the times. Though, the introduction of the ball point pen and central heating, several years earlier, had marked the move to a more modern era. But despite these changes, the room like the rest of the school still held an old fashioned elegance. Rubbing her arms as the chill took a hold, Kate for the last time, walked over and looked out of one of the four sets of French windows which opened majestically onto a spacious terrace. From the terrace she could see the large stone staircase that swept down to the assembly area. In this school, there was no such place as a playground; High Elm, preparing its young ladies for their future, provided a central area for socialising. No wonder, Miss Thackeray was proud of her school, thought Kate, as she remembered the many hours of socialising that had taken place during her years. High Elm, with its gentleness, decorum and privileges prepared its young ladies for their lives in the adult world. Kate knew she would miss this feminine, elegant world she had enjoyed for the last seven years, but she had chosen Oxford. It would be home from home in some ways, though a new challenge in others. For all her modern thinking she knew she was an old fashioned girl at heart.

“Kate, what are you doing here?” Startled at the sound of Miss Thackeray’s voice, she swung round.   And in a voice that betrayed a hint of nostalgia, she said, “I was just saying goodbye.” Embarrassed at being caught out in her private reminiscing she lowered her head.
   “Well I'm glad I caught you before you left us all together, you see you left this behind.”
   Looking up Kate saw the smiling face of the woman who had been a source of inspiration for the last seven years and she reached out and took the envelope.
   “Thank you,” she said as she looked down at the envelope. “I'm looking forward to the future, but I'm terrible at goodbyes. I said everything in the staff room earlier, but I needed just a few moments on my own. Silly I know.”
   “Kate, you will make an excellent lecturer, our loss is Oxford's gain.” Miss Thackeray, said knowing that ever word uttered was true. “Do take care dear, we will all miss you.” And to Kate's surprise, Miss Thackeray learned forward and kissed her on the cheek before leaving the room.

Kate watched as the woman who had been an inspiration during her teaching years at High Elm left the room. She felt tears prick the back of her eyes. She didn’t stop to wipe them away, instead she picked up her books and walked to the classroom door, she turned for a brief moment, smiled, then walked out closing the door firmly shut behind her.

-The End -

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