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(A short story of 5385 words)

Phyll and Fog

Literary

by Michael Thomas


This school story quickly darkens into a battle of wills with disastrous consequences, all played out in the context of the entire planet. Voices interchange: narrator, first-person protagonist and a chillingly unidentifiable presence.


Run. Run down all the Americas. Find what waits. Square up. Do what you can’t help. You too. Follow. Seek and hide. Feel fear, feel wonder. Beauty awaits! Triumph awaits!

I could have been a historian. Properly. A contending voice in the pages of journals that matter. I could have run a b&b in Nether Stowey. Stowey. Stowaway. Out of sight. I could have done both. I can organise, I can feel my way round time. Elizabeth Ferguson, historian-landlady: that would have got attention – of the shallower kind to start with, no doubt, but I could have made that work for me. Is it a historian? An historian? I’ve never known. That’s precisely the kind of worry that stopped me going there. To proper history. To Nether Stowey. I always see a little ball of fluff with a whistle twice its size, tooting in the silence. That’s how worry goes. So – teacher-training instead and, Lord, it was desperate. Who were those people with their folders and colour-codes? What came after was worse. Then, briefly, it was wonderful. And now, God help me, it’s this.

2.

Coarsely she complained, calling them the work of nutters. Even so, Phyllis Erika Welford lived with the sentiments in her school reports. This was just as well, for, in her five years at Belvoir School, those sentiments followed her tirelessly about. Belvoir School prided itself on how it tagged its girls’ development. When new index-systems were devised, Belvoir set its shield and Latin at their head. When spread-sheets appeared – and, in time, someone who understood them – those same trademarks wavered on a computer screen’s margin. None of this, however, could capture the likes of Phyllis.

Still, she progressed in her way. Seasons changed, and she graduated from indifferent through sullen to fractious. Negative always lurked somewhere, like a disappointed mum. Mathematically able, except when asked to be, Phyllis once gathered all her reports together, graphing the increase in negative from her first year to her fourth. The curve rose entrancingly to the top right-hand corner. Phyllis at eleven was 42% negative; by fifteen, she was romping home with 87. She laughed at this: no, cackled, like a witch in Macbeth who had weirder doings in hand than bamboozling a thane. She was her cackle.

She soon disposed of ‘Phyllis’, regarding herself as sharp, knowing – as Phyll. One hastily cancelled report dissented, preferring to call her a lump of lard. And there was something lardy in the sight of her up at her boarding-house window, barracking the comprehensive kids who passed below, mad for a response in kind, even a venomous look. When she got either, her eyes would mist like a boozer’s. Then some elder would arrive, dressing her down, sometimes attempting Belvoir’s motto. Phyll would roll away from the sill, choose sullen, confrontational or another mood officially inscribed for her and depart, cackle brewing…

 

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