‘Be seated,’ said the headmistress.
Sweat stained the underarms of his white cotton shirt. The knot of his tie hung low. A clear deviation from the staff dress code. He looked away from the curls; his eyes settled on a jar of tiger lilies on the head’s desk, orange and black tendrils. The blooms were fading. He loathed their limp petals, and their brown stems rotting in fetid water. The liquid could have been drawn from the same river.
After forty minutes everyone filed out. The fug pressed sweat and intimacy up his nose and down his throat. Hormones saturated the summer uniforms, unmentionable currents.
‘Bloody teenagers,’ he thought. ‘So lucky, so careless.’
The sister passed close by. Their eyes met; hers were damp. She had reason. She worked her cheeks, sucked in and out and spat full in his face. Then she walked on. He turned back to the empty hall, grabbed the vase of flowers and smashed it. The foul water trickled over the parquet. The sun glanced across the puddle and he saw her face. The girl he had taken swimming and been unable to save.