Schooled

Three years it had been since Maiko made her vow.

“I’m going. I’m leaving. No more waiting, no more excuses.”

Three years.

Maiko had convinced herself she’d outgrown her school, and outgrown the monotonous routine which swept her from one place to another with such relentless regularity that it had become organic.

Maiko’s cynicism belied her age, and it is why she rejected the flowery sentiments of her elders as they extolled the virtues of the school:

Unity

Safety

Belonging

Growth

Learning

“Spare me…what about Conformity?”

She had decided to finally break free. She would do it this time.

She hadn’t revealed her intentions of course. The school was famously suspicious of non-conformity and of those labelled ‘Free Thinkers’. Kai was a ‘Free Thinker’. He was sceptical, outspoken, uncouth and rebellious. He was accused of ‘swimming against the tide’. Kai was gone.

The mysterious object which regularly appeared glinting in the distance was her salvation, and lunchtime was the perfect opportunity to escape. While the rest of the school descended en-masse to engorge themselves on their daily sustenance, Maiko quietly slipped away and was soon separated from her peers. Her absence would be noted, but not until she had put sufficient distance between herself and the school.

A magnetic force lured Maiko to the mystical object and she floated towards it involuntarily. The temptation and promise of liberation drew her further and further from the school, and feelings of freedom overwhelmed her. She let herself drown in the intoxication of heightened alertness and unparalleled awareness, and thoughts of safety and belonging washed joyously from her consciousness.

The intriguing entity loomed larger and Maiko was able to make out some of its finer details. She drank in its kaleidoscopic facade and the sensual wondrous beauty which so captivated her that its very existence justified her bold escape.

Maiko was also very afraid. She knew intuitively that once she made contact with this object she could never go back; could never return to the school. This is what she wanted, what she’d dreamt of and longed for. But it had taken her three years to seize this moment.

Maiko drowned her fears and approached the enchanting object with a heady mixture of terror and excitement. She marvelled at the clash of colours which enveloped its shape, as well as its provocative swaying.

Just at the moment of contact, a wild thrashing of pulsating, animalistic energy rushed past Maiko and launched itself at the wondrous object with such force that the apparition was entirely unidentifiable. Maiko reeled in shock and remained transfixed as the frenzied being latched onto her prize and wrestled it savagely.

“Nooooooooo,” cried Maiko in utter despair. “My salvation???????????”

The thrashing subsided. Slowly the body fell limp. The being revealed itself.

Kai?

A look of unbridled fear shot from Kai’s eyes and speared into Maiko’s soul. Kai disappeared skywards. He was gone: forever.

Hungry, chastised and humbled, Maiko swam back to the school.

Image: Element5Digital

It’s Over.

It’s over. Just like that. Anthony was in no way prepared for this. Something was certainly different when she first appeared that night, but it gave him no indication of the revelation that was to come.

He stared in silence for a moment and his mood sunk. He felt undeniably alone. He felt tears well up but he was too despondent to cry. He wasn’t sure how to react so he just went to bed. It was probably late enough.

“I sleep better when I’m depressed,” he’d often told himself. It’s not scientifically proven, but it made sense to him. When he was depressed a numbness replaced the agitation that otherwise kept him awake. The realisation that it was over drove him to seek solace in the covers and escape the cold winter evening.

At about 2pm the next day it hit him again. His one day a week in the office had so far distracted him from the heart-breaking news, but now it returned to haunt him. Normally the promise of an evening in would carry him through the final monotonous and arduous hours at work better than an afternoon caffeine hit, but not today.

It was at this hour that he would customarily gift himself a mental power nap, a brief daydream, as he pictured the scrumptious evening meal, the choice of dessert and the pure pleasure of “slipping into my trackies and ugg boots for a few blissful hours in your company.” Rain pouring on his roof enhanced the comfort that was always better shared.

“You don’t share my comfort, you are my comfort,” he’d always said.

Colleagues had labelled him mildly and harmlessly eccentric as he broke into random grins and light chuckles provoked by the memories of the previous night’s adventures. He hadn’t smiled today. The pleasant memories stored themselves in the recesses of his mind but would remain suppressed for quite some time.

He trudged to the break room and shoved some instant into a mug with too much sugar and some ‘girlie milk’ – no full cream left.

Today, pouring rain reminded him that he’d forgotten his umbrella.

Working from home would be even harder now. At first the idea had excited him. No more commute. Snacks and meals at arm’s length. No need to shave, no need to dress up. He’d reached a top score of 3390 in Solitaire; surely that was something to celebrate. But now the emptiness was omnipresent, taunting him in his open-plan living area with impromptu workspace. The single lounge chair looked lonelier than ever.

“I’m supposed to leave it all behind and move on,” he chided himself. “I have to accept that it’s over. It’s life. Nothing lasts forever, as myriad soppy love songs remind us. I should start dating again,”

But how does one date during a pandemic?

Social distancing is not conducive to romance. Flirtatious conversations in dimly lit restaurant corners are just a memory, and dancing is discouraged or banned – although maybe the latter is a bonus for Anthony.

What of the post-date?

Various scenarios run through Anthony’s mind.

He enters his unit with the lovely young woman. He offers her a seat and a drink. She relaxes in the lounge chair while he sits on the kitchen chair and the table renders them more socially distanced than in a restaurant or on public transport.

“Maybe I should paste on the lounge chair a green circle with “Sit Here” and a tick on it,” he suggests to himself.

The single lounge chair could, on the other hand, be a pretext for intimacy.

“We’ll just have to share,” he flirts.

“Or there is space for both of us on the bed.” In his wild imagination this sounds cheeky and charming. In real life it’s probably sleazy.

Self-isolation and

a wild imagination,

a dreadful situation and

a lethal combination.

“Loneliness is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” claims the psychologist on the radio.

Anthony thought sitting was the new smoking and he reminds himself to stop sitting alone in cafes lest he be fined or kicked out. On that reasoning, his daily exercise routine is therefore redundant. Maybe there’s no point dragging himself out of bed on winter mornings to slosh through the mud and rain. It always boosts his mood and offers a great sense of accomplishment, but if he’s virtually smoking 15 ciggies a day, what’s the point?

The clock grinds towards 5pm and he prepares to walk home. Then he stops.

Why go home? What have I got to go home to? You’re not there, and his mind races back to the previous evening…

He’d sat in numbed silence. It had finally come to an end. You’re gone.

What do I do now?

He started at the screen

Play Season 1 Episode 1.

Argenta and Gold.

It’s time to act, decided Bethany, as she reflected on the preponderance of silver which cast a gloomy pall over her bursting trophy cabinet.

She summoned the detective.

“It’s impossible,” declared detective inspector Gordon G. Wilson, before offering an explanation.

“The problem is Sapphire’s collar. It has heat, fingerprint, voice and retina activation. What’s more, the replacement collar would have to avoid detection from Sapphire’s first groomer, psychologist, stylist, brand manager, second groomer, nutritionist, physical trainer, photographer, massage therapist and third groomer before the dogs even enter the arena.”

Bethany was unmoved.

“You fail to understand detective, that this is my last chance to beat Lady Hamilton. There are strong rumours of ill health at Hamilton Manor.”

“It simply can’t be done,” Wilson reiterated.

The hand that had been lovingly stroking Argenta now reached for a photograph. Bethany slid the single polaroid across the lavish suite’s ornately finished table.

“I’m sure you’ll find a way detective,” she stated, fixing him with a cold unflinching stare.

Wilson sunk in the chair. The colour could be seen draining from his face even in the faint light of the flickering fire. He excused himself and set to work. He would need 12 months and all of his police smarts to accomplish this task.

Bethany was bursting with nerves and excitement. She clasped her clammy hands as she positioned herself behind the judges in the hotel’s elaborate auditorium. Her heart pounded as the parade of pampered Bichon Frises elicited gasps of adoration from the audience.

“Sapphire!” beamed the announcer, and the audience burst into rapturous applause. Bethany’s stomach churned with familiar disgust until she remembered her clever ruse. Her beloved pet was wowing the audience and the judges.

“Argenta!” strutted in to the arena and Bethany’s conflicting emotions resurfaced. Her breath shortened and her mouth dried.

‘Argenta’ paraded brilliantly and camera flashes lit up the auditorium.

Then something happened. Something almost imperceptible. Sapphire lacked her customary rhythm, her famous je ne sais quoi.

Had the judges felt it?

Had Bethany felt it, or was she simply intoxicated with the overwhelming emotions of this daring subterfuge?

The wait for the judge’s decision was torturous.

“The winner of the gold medal, category Bichon Frise, 2020, is…”

Bethany couldn’t breathe.

“Sapphire!”

Wilson now found himself in the same chair, in front of the same fire. The detective’s eyes settled on the photograph sitting next to another silver medal on the ornate oak table.

The detective pleaded his case.

“The switch was made. The task was completed, as per your orders.”

“Then where is my gold medal?” demanded Bethany, who had banished Argenta to the pound.

“It confounded us too,” testified Wilson, “until we swapped the collars back after the competition and discovered that the rumours of ill health were well founded,” outlined Wilson.

“But how? Lady Hamilton was alive and well and gloating pompously on the dais yet again,” protested Bethany.

“The Lady was always healthy,” Wilson paused,

“but Sapphire wasn’t.”

Image: Gabriel Crismariu