Sonja Nic Rafferty

Swan Song

I want to release the hand that is holding me, somehow I can manage. Yet I am not free. The second hand has been grasped, breaks free. Impatiently I look at my watch, have to go. Words shrilly penetrate my ears. It tears me to pieces. Since days I haven´t heard well. Deaf and dumb, now! That would be the best, that would be the worst! I make promises: “I´ll take care about it“ get left alone. “Skive off work“, is the advice of a female colleague. “Get really healed completely.“
We are having champagne. Celebrate starting her new job. We sit at the round table. Lilac oil tablecloth, winter´s still life: cookies, candles, corks, stars, cups wrapped in film, piled up. The film cover picturesquely hangs down in scraps. I pull at it, say “cheers“ to my colleague. Want to know how many service years she has to face. She´s shrugging her shoulders!
The male colleague carefully puts his fashion coat on a clothes hanger, smoothes out folds. He views the cover timetable at the door, that is surfaced with brief reports. Frown. I watch his gestures and facial expressions, do not take my eyes off his features, want to talk to him. He puts cookies on the table, smiles. I cannot. Not now. “We all feel washed out“ remarks the female colleague, “half of the staff is already ill.“
The break gong hasn´t worked since a long time. Either it is not ringing at all or at the wrong time. It reminds me at my first working place. The rector put his head in the opening of the staff room door, always just after the gong was ringing – last call! Here conspicuously a clock framed by a garish green case is hitched up to the wall. Shared department store achievement. The view on the clock hurts. Living timelessly would be nice. “You live slower than me“, philosophises the male colleague. “I live faster, maybe I´ll die earlier too. “
I am an Art teacher. I´ve learnt to paint with statima, occasionally I also sketch, cursorily hints. But life as fast video scene change, in a split second? I love details.
He is starting up from his chair. I sit firmly, fimlier, the firmliest. Still putting the cup to my mouth. “Move your ar.. aside!“ My look. His answer. “It just has been a joke.“ He attends class 7 H. Last lesson I was there. After him I´ll be there again. Covering. Management leaches me out. He doesn´t stride, he is pulled. Quite so near I do not let pupils come. I rummage about in books and jotters and disappear in the endless throat of the stairwell. Monday in a German school.

In the dining hall is hanging a picture of the Queen. Unnoticed on white, lonely wall. Above the decorated fir. Over the heads of the students in uniform. Making clatter with the dishes, cheerfully but muffled chats. Properly queue at the chow line. The English colleague expresses politely, kindly reunion pleasure. His unostentatiously pattern of tie is coordinated with his greyish suit. He makes an excuse: “The discussion with the head of department.“ Clears up his dishes, on his face I notice the dignity of an educationalist, as a personification, meanwhile leaving the room. The blancmange, that by all appearances is a cake, tastes delicious. With warm vanilla sauce.
In staff room, besides the fitted bar, are hanging photos of school celebrations. Fascination. I discover myself on a picture of “Roman Evening“, wrapped in a sheet, next to slightly drunk female and male Romans. Silly seasons, happy celebrations! The end of a school day. “You are one of us“, the English colleague is saying. The common Guinness at the weekend. “I still want to celebrate many school fairs with you.“ The colleague draws beer, nods. “How are the colleagues in Hong Kong?“ “It lasted a long time until they have settled down. The P.E. teacher lives in the 17th floor, once stuck with an elevator, electricity breakdown! He is always happy when he returns home for holiday,. He was very devoted, you know.“ “Why did he go?“ “One after the other went, until his whole set was there.“ I saw him just before his migration. He sold his ski equipment in staff room. “Don´t you like it here anymore?“ I asked him. “Certainly, here I like it very much and I will miss all of you. But sometimes the day has come!“ A simple statement. It effects. Effects me. Me. “Christmas they´ll spend in Thailand. Fir tree and T-shirt.“ The French foreign - language assistant is raring with laughter, not tensed up, unforced. He is twenty. Enviable. Because of his laughter. He stays for a year. 400 British pounds per month. That is not much money, nowadays. For “La Dolce Vita“ it is much. They don´t need him. Mostly he is off work. “Let us make a n exchange again“ recommends the English colleague. She crosses her slim legs. Roe deer brown thin knitting tights under short, checked flannel skirt! I wear, like arranged, a similar ensemble. No jeans. Not here. I find this unusually feminine. Not bad at all. But uncomfortable.
Our Rector orders the local press. Smiling for the photo. The article: “Exchange teacher at Notting Hill“. Friday in an English School.

Dear Mrs Abel, please come to me at once!“ the new headmaster is calling. I should have taken the ferry. The come off appears too suddenly. The flight lasted not much longer than my daily official channels. I am not really here. Not yet.
“We need you. As a presenter for the concert“, the Music teacher emphasizes. “Why just me?“, I want to know. “We have no microphone. It is broken. Your voice always is heard from far, soprano!“ The Music colleague prepares the concert with me. Sings professionally, baritone. Since years he has taken singing lessons. Would like to go to the opera house. On a trial basis. The risk here to lose his job is too high. He has got his dreams.. Me too. We should not let us taken our dreams away.
“Don´t dream, work!“ is the motto of my male colleague. I work! Team teaching. I want to talk to my colleague. I want to talk to my pupils. “Don´t rack your brains too much“, soothes me the female colleague. “Changing is good for pupils. Everybody is to replace. We pull ourselves too much into it.“ The male colleague is crossing his long legs. Smoothes the denim. “The long official channels!“ I defend myself. “Not the official channels!“ he counters. “Where will you live from? From your painting?“ “What´s a year? I´ve rent out my flat. Afterwards I´ll teach at a school in my new home town.“ “Have you ever come out of that dump?“ I laugh at the top of one´s voice, tensed up, artificially. I am forty-five. I feel sorry for myself. Because of my laughter.

Hall. I slip into my black evening dress. All chairs taken. Insecurely I stand on the parquet floor, wearing high heels. “Ladies and gentlemen! This is supposed to become a romantically concert. Fine arts, and especially music is a sector which makes the suffering of our world rather bearable to a romantic person. Music is it, that takes him to a better world.“ I have got the text from the Music teacher, he sings songs from Mozart, Schubert, Loewe and Schumann. He will be accompanied at the piano. “Also in Robert Schumann´s songs we´ll find, similar like in Franz Schubert´s, the urge, that the fetters of middle-class convention going to abandon. This song: In the foreign parts, of Schumann´s collection of songs, opus 39, clearly points out the danger which is hidden, leaving all social relationships behind.“ The music teacher gets in peak form. He sings himself on the boards which typify the world. Those, who stop dreaming, stop living too! “Don´t dream, work!“ is the slogan of my male colleague. Those who do not live anymore, cannot work!
Interval. I adore the golden coloured leggings of my female colleague. Champagne. In glasses, now! The headmaster says “cheers“ to me. “Will you set me free?“ “I would feel sorry, but you have good chances. We have 107 % teaching staff.“
Caretaker. The school had many. Not all were loved. The present one is. A great deal. By pupils and teachers. “Don´t you like it here anymore?“ he asks. “No“. His look. My answer. It just has been a joke.
The audience makes their way to the seats. I let my view wander. Want to know whether or not my male colleague is absent. I spot him in the last row. His outlines become indistinct. Since a year I´ve worn glasses. In my bag. He is inclining to the female colleague. Laughs. Has to look for a new team partner.
The text in my hand. The sheets tremble. The voice trembles. A little bit. Always at the beginning. “Again a human being shattered because of weekdays reality. For a romantically person there are only two possibilities to arrange life: Either he settles down in the middle-class world, like the first of the two active fellows of Eichendorff´s poem: spring journey.“ The sheets do not tremble anymore. The voice is clear. I keep my composure quicker than my Music colleague. Mentioned his mother in the interval. She is sitting in the first row. Next to the singing-master. Critical view. Not for me. Pupils further back smile at me. Wave. “Or devotedly follows in romantically manner thousands of voices tempting sirens which seems to be the life of not much use, and hides the danger of an inner decline. Bad fellow! There does not seem to be a third way. “ Curtain. Applause. We are a strong team. Applause of course mainly for the singer. He was outstandingly good. The pianist bends to the audience. I know that me too, I did my business well. Now. 13 years! “You are one of us“, says the director of the concert. Sonja, you are welcome in the club.“ Black swan!
Centrally the caretaker switches the lights off. I stuff my evening dress in the holdall. Grope myself through the dark stairwell. Run to the tram. The male colleague! Looks out of the window. I want to explain. Simple. Plausible.
“I am an Art teacher, I know about art. Theoretically. Practically. I am an English teacher. I know about English. Theoretically. Experiences? I´ve lost track of things. I have to travel more to Britain. I think. I explain. The colleague doesn´t understand me. He is looking out of the window. I miss the intimate conversation after done work. Now. Now already! “Shi.. !“ he is swearing.

Airport. I want to bite the hand that holds me. I wind myself. Somehow I am successful. I am almost free. The second hand has been grasped, removes itself. I do not make promises anymore. Thirteen years are enough declaration of love. I want to hold the hand that hesitates me. Staying or going? There is no third way. Tempting sirens. Active female fellow. Bad fellow!
Impatiently I look at my watch. Last call. I have to go.

© 1993 ~ Sonja Nic Rafferty

I wrote this story after a last event on my working place before moving to another area in Germany. (S N R ~1993)
The telegram style (quite often) is meant to be!
Translating (S N R ~ 2002) is hard work, accept mistakes, please. Thanks ~ Sonja

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Published on on 10/02/2004.


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