It could be the lengthening of the days, warmer by vital degrees, that invites the mind to enter that zone where all is made clear — the alpha state, is it, or perhaps it’s beta?

As the class attends to some task which produces that rare thing, silence, the ear attunes to the sounds of the body educative. In the near distance, there is the honking of some instrument in counterpoint with the unavailing pleas for order from a colleague under siege. The shoes of authority beat the bounds on the linoleum and there is laughter from the staff common room. All seems ordered, even the scratching of hard broom on pavement as the day’s miscreants sweep clean the paths.

But the alpha state (or it might be beta) is also capable of transporting you to another place entirely. And so you find yourself back in a classroom where a curious-looking woman in her middle years is stirring the soupy air with an improvised fan and providing a detailed update on the medical histories of her family.

She has been persuaded to do this with very little prompting by a question with that specific end in mind. We know so much about her Aged P (she actually calls him that) and the sister rendered vegetable-like by a car accident (we have relived with her that terrible moment of impact again and again), and we know so much about the woman herself — her habit of bashing the side of her head, for instance, to stem the violent tics to which she is prone, episodes she terms her “nervous dyspepsia” which demand frequent medication with spearmint Lifesavers.

Like a soap opera, we are addicted to these details. It gets us through the days in this cramped room with its tin roof and walls ticking with the heat.

Once, during a heat wave, the woman retired behind the mobile backboard to divest herself of her petticoat.

“No peeking!” she said waggishly.

“As if,” the class revolutionary said in subversive sotto voce.

“Was that you, Donald Halloran?” the sibylline voice behind the blackboard asked, although it was nothing like a question.

Our Grade 6 teacher was a silly old thing but sharp for all that. And in us she inspired a mixture of affection and terrible childhood contempt.

“Earth to Mr Diogenes.”

“I’m sorry.”

“A million miles away, eh sir?”

“Not as far as all that, young Tarquin.”

O how the wheel becomes it.

Peter Fray

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