Chapter no 8


DESPITE ITS TWO MALE HEADMASTERS—Mr. Gerald and Mr. Marston, both legends—Ludgrove was largely run by women. We called them the matrons.

Whatever tenderness we got, day to day, came from them. The matrons hugged us, kissed us, bandaged our injuries, wiped our tears. (All except mine, that is. After that one graveside outburst I’d not cried again.) They fancied themselves our surrogates. Mums-Away-From-Mums, they’d always chirp, which had always been odd, but now was especially confusing, because of Mummy’s disappearance, and also because the matrons were suddenly…hot.

I had a crush on Miss Roberts. I felt certain I’d marry her one day. I also recall two Miss Lynns. Miss Lynn Major and Miss Lynn Minor. They were sisters. I was deeply smitten with the latter. I reckoned I’d marry her too.

Three times a week, after dinner, the matrons would assist the youngest boys with the nightly wash. I can still see the long row of white baths, each with a boy reclining like a little pharaoh, awaiting his personalized hair-washing. (For older boys who’d reached puberty there were two tubs in a separate room, behind a yellow door.) The matrons came down the row of tubs with stiff brushes, bars of floral soap. Every boy had his own towel, embossed with his school number. Mine was 116.

After shampooing a boy the matrons would ease back his head, give him a slow and luxurious rinse.

Confusing as hell.

Matrons would also help with the crucial extraction of lice. Outbreaks were common. Nearly every week another boy would come down with a fierce case. We’d all point and laugh. Nyah, nyah, you’ve got nits! Before long a matron would

be kneeling over the patient, rubbing some solution into his scalp, then scraping out the dead beasts with a special comb.

As a thirteen-year-old I graduated from matronly bathing assistance. But I still depended on their nightly tuck-ins, still treasured their morning greetings. They were the first faces we saw each day. They swept into our rooms, threw open our curtains. Morning, boys! Bleary, I’d gaze up into a beautiful visage framed by a halo of sun…

Is that…could that be…?

It never was.

The matron I dealt with the most was Pat. Unlike the other matrons, Pat wasn’t hot. Pat was cold. Pat was small, mousy, frazzled, and her hair fell greasily into her always tired eyes. Pat didn’t seem to get much joy out of life, though she did find two things reliably satisfying—catching a boy somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be, and shutting down any bouts of roughhousing. Before every pillow fight we’d put a sentry on the door. If Pat (or the headmasters) approached, the sentry was instructed to cry: KV! KV! Latin, I think? Someone said it meant: The head’s coming! Someone else said it meant: Beware!

Whichever, when you heard it you knew to get out of there. Or pretend to be asleep.

Only the newest and stupidest boys would go to Pat with a problem. Or, worse, a cut. She wouldn’t bandage it: she’d poke it with a finger or squirt something into it that hurt twice as much. She wasn’t a sadist, she just seemed “empathy-challenged.” Odd, because she knew about suffering. Pat had many crosses to bear.

The biggest seemed her knees and spine. The latter was crooked, the former chronically stiff. Walking was hard, stairs were torture. She’d descend backwards, glacially. Often we’d stand on the landing below her, doing antic dances, making faces.

Do I need to say which boy did this with the most enthusiasm?

We never worried about Pat catching us. She was a tortoise and we were tree frogs. Still, now and then the tortoise would luck out. She’d lunge, grab a fistful of boy. Aha! That lad would then be well and truly fucked.

Didn’t stop us. We went on mocking her as she came down the stairs. The reward was worth the risk. For me, the reward wasn’t tormenting poor Pat, but making my mates laugh. It felt so good to make others laugh, especially when I hadn’t laughed for months.

Maybe Pat knew this. Now and then she’d turn, see me being a perfect ass, and she’d laugh too. That was the best. I loved cracking up my mates, but nothing quite did it for me like making the otherwise miserable Pat bust a gut.

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