Scorpio weaves another tale for us. Grab a cuppa, relax and enjoy the story for this month.
It was the first day of the new school year. The Year Three children were a little anxious as they were moving into Mrs Sword’s class. She would be more formal than their previous teachers and had a reputation for working her pupils hard; after all, they were “growing up” now.
Their first surprise was that their desks were all in rows. There were no cosy little groups sharing tables as there had been in the previous years. All the friends got together so they could sit close, but Mrs Sword smiled and said, “Now children, you all have your own place. You can read your own names, can’t you? (Nods of varying degrees of certainty) Your names are on your desks. Go and find them.” After quite a lot of noise, the children found their places. Most of them, anyway. Mrs Sword checked and moved one or two. One child was left standing.
“What’s your name?” Mrs Sword asked a chubby little girl. The child looked down and mumbled something. “Speak up,” said Mrs Sword. “I can’t hear if you talk to the floor.” “It’s Florentine, Miss,” chipped in a Sword boy. Mrs Sword gave the boy a look, and turned back to Florentine. “Your name is Florentine?” she asked. The chubby girl nodded. “Shall we go and look for your name?” and she propelled her round the desks. Florentine looked blank. “She can’t read, Miss” piped up the Sword boy. “Can you see your name anywhere?” asked Mrs Sword, quelling the Sword boy with another look. “There,” Florentine pointed. “That’s Eight Wands’s desk” said Mrs Sword. “Can you see an empty desk?” Florentine started to look mutinous. “Look, that’s your desk there,” Mrs Sword pointed, anxious not to delay things any longer.
It always took a while to get a new class bedded down. As the early weeks of term progressed the Sword children settled in quite quickly, the Wand children followed the Swords, though with more fidgetting and huffing, the Pentacles got their heads down and worked placidly, and the Cups took a while as they were finding it difficult to get used to the more formal approach instead of the “touchy-feely” atmosphere of their first two years.
Florentine just went her own way. She did not talk in class, she did not answer questions, she just sat with her arms across her chest, expressionless. Oddly, she did not cause trouble, either. She just sat. It was the same in the playground. She sat by herself, talked to no-one, did not join in. It was a little more worrying when she would not join in the exercise classes. “This isn’t playtime,” said Mrs Sword, “this is a lesson, like sums and reading. You can’t sit out.” “Why? Mam says exercise is bad for you.” “You won’t know until you try,” coaxed Mrs Sword, “Go and join that group there.” Florentine stood with the group but did not move.
As the first half term wore on it seemed that “Mam” thought a lot of things were not good for you. “I can count to twenty,” said Florentine, “why do I need to count more? Mam says counting’s a waste o’ time.” “Don’t you want to count your birthday money?” asked Mrs Sword. “Mam counts it.” It was a similar tale with reading. “What about reading the signs on the buses?” “Mam reads them.” “What if your mother’s not there to read the sign on the bus?” “Mam’s always there, so she reads them.”
The only activity that seemed to rouse Florentine was eating. She always had a snack at mid-morning, she picked at the school lunch, then sat and ate a hefty packed lunch in the playground. She had a snack before she went home. “Are you hungry?” asked Mrs Sword one day, wondering if the child had some kind of appetite disorder. “Mam says I have to eat reg’lar.” “How many meals do you have a day?” asked Mrs Sword before remembering that Florentine might not be able to count. “There’s the one on the bus after breakfast, and the one in the morning, and the one after we come out of the dining room, and the one before I go home, and the one before I go to bed.” “So that’s six,” said Mrs Sword, eyeing the child’s fingers. “What about the meal in the dining room?” “Mam says that’s not a meal, it’s got green things and orange things and leaves. Mam says it’s not natural.” “Are you hungry all the time?” “No, not really, but Mam says I have to eat.”
“What if you just took the extra food back home if you’re not hungry?” asked Mrs Sword. “Then you’d just have breakfast, school lunch and supper at home.” “Mam says I’ll get skinny if I don’t eat.”
“I need to see the Head,” said a loud voice. “Do you have an appointment?” asked the School Secretary. “I want to see the Head now” said the voice, and its owner barged past the Secretary and into the King of Cups’s office. He beheld a large woman with jet black hair pulled into a Croydon facelift, savagely black-pencilled brows and several chain necklaces round her neck. She sat down without waiting to be asked and glared at the King. “What are you doing to My Little Girl?” she asked. “That class teacher told her to stop eating. I’m complaining to the Council about it. It’s cruelty.” “And your daughter is?” “My little Florentine. She’s stopped eating all the proper food I make for her. She says she isn’t hungry.” “Does she need extra food? Does she get breakfast before she comes out?” “A’course she gets breakfast, and then I do sandwiches and stuff. Or I did. Then that Class Teacher told her to stop eating and now she eats that rubbish they serve at dinnertime. Carrits, and apples. She’s getting skinny. It’s cruelty.”
“And another thing,” said the woman. She’s been learning to read and do sums. I’ve said afore she don’t need that. Waste o’ time.” “What about when she’s old enough to leave school and get a job?” asked the King. “Oh we don’t get jobs in our family. Waste o’ time.” “I see,” said the King. “I want to speak to that Mrs Sword,” said Florentine’s mother, fiddling with the chains round her neck. “She’s in class at the moment, but if you wait outside I will ask her to come when the children have left.” Florentine’s mother glared but went to wait outside the office.
Mrs Sword and Florentine appeared. “Hi Mam,” said the little girl, “wot you doin’ here?” “Are you Mrs Sword?” asked the mother, raising her considerable bulk from the chair and advancing on the teacher. “Mam,” Florentine tugged at her mother, “that’s my teacher.” “Yes and you told My Little Girl to stop eating,” boomed Mam. “I don’t want all them sandwiches and crisps and stuff,” said Florentine, “I told you, I want to be like the others.” “Carrits, termaytos, apples ….. that’s no sort of food for us.” “Mam, I want to be like the others.” “Skinny, you mean?” “No, read and do sums…” “I’ve told you afore, we don’t do that, waste o’ time.”
Mam grabbed her daughter’s hand and swept out. “Come on, Mam, our bus is coming.” “How do you know?” asked Mam. “Acos I can read it. Number 15. I can read all the bus numbers and names where they are going.” “What???” shouted Mam. “I can read the bus numbers. And words. Like the others.”
Mam fidgetted with her chain necklaces. An unpleasant thought came to her. Was Her Little Girl escaping her clutches?