Vicky has been subdued since the start of term and is not turning up for lessons or palling up with Carol so often. And I haven’t seen her sidle up to Len and stroke his back like she used to. But I’m thankful that she’s stopped asking about my love life and future wedding plans. I don’t need reminders of my extended spinsterhood.
‘Vicky, are you cooking today? I’ve got some ingredients in the storeroom. You can make some jam tarts.’
‘No Miss, I feel sick.’
She lays her head on the cooking table.
‘Read this chapter on Planning Meals and answer the questions. I’ll see you at the end of the lesson. Sit at my desk, out of the way.’
I hand over the textbook, a biro and some paper. Boring, boring work. I wonder if she’ll bother.
Today we’re making quiches and it’s a busy lesson. Cynthia joins me as we check that their shortcrust pastry ends up as a dough ball and not a floury glue that sticks to the tables. Next, the tricky task of easing the pastry into the flan rings, to make the pastry case.
‘No holes in your pastry else your filling will run out.’
Bake it blind, make the egg and bacon custard, put it back in the oven and Voila. A golden, set custard with a crumbly pastry. They’ve done well.
As the class packs away, Vicky edges to the door.
‘Vicky, can you wait for a minute. You’ve not taken part in lessons for ages. What’s happened?’
‘I told you I’m sick, Miss.’
‘You were sick last week. Did you go to the school nurse or see your doctor?’
She winces at the suggestion.
‘They can’t do nothin’.’
My brain goes Ping. I have the answer. Of course the school nurse and her doctor can’t do nothin’.
Headstrong, exasperating, gossipy Vicky is fifteen, desperate to leave school and become a hairdresser. And now some of her wishes may come true. Len has joined his mates and is edging out the door. No glance back. No recognition. If she’s pregnant she probably won’t come to school, and may spend weeks in the unmarried mother’s house a long way from here. She might have to give birth in a faraway place and be told it will be best for her baby to be adopted. They’ll no doubt teach her to cook but she won’t take any exams and she can’t come back to this school. For now I suspect Vicky’s dreams of becoming a hairdresser may have been shattered.