Geography teachers were supposed to be like Mr Mason: tweed jackets, salt-and-pepper stubble, and coffee breath. Or like Miss O’Connor: short cropped grey hair, a mouth pursed up like a cat’s anus and—well, coffee breath again. Geography wasn’t Anna’s best subject, not that she had one, really, but at least there were explosions in Science and mess in Art. She couldn’t see a positive to Geography. Until Miss Wing.
There was Anna, minding her own business, hair unbrushed and crisp crumbs on her shirt, bag slumped on top of the desk, texting Deanna, when Miss Wing walked into the room. Silence crashed through the whole class.
Miss Wing was short and slim with hair cut so sharp you could have guillotined paper with it, a figure-accentuating lilac dress, and the prettiest elbows Anna had ever seen. She hadn’t known she was an elbows girl before. She hadn’t had a favourite body part. She’d been pretty oblivious to bodies, in fact. Deanna could go on about Louis’ arse all she wanted, Anna had only pretended to agree to join in. Miss Wing’s elbows, however, appeared to her as two tiny points of perfection in an otherwise bland world.
Anna sat up straight, phone into bag mid-message, brushed away crumbs, wiped at her mouth just in case, and started pulling out her pencil case and books in imitation of studiousness.
‘Good morning, class, my name is Miss Wing. I will be taking you for Geography this year. Who can tell me anything about coastal erosion?’
Anna wished with every nerve that she knew something about it. God damn Jordan! His grandparents’ house had crumbled off a cliff. Lucky bastard. Miss Wing’s dark brown, perfect eyes were on him.
As the lesson continued, Miss Wing spoke softly but with absolute confidence. Never before had chalky outcrops increased Anna’s heart rate, never before had a word like attrition sounded exciting enough to memorise.
All Anna could think about for the rest of that day was smooth, evenly caramel-coloured skin on twin wondrously pivoted elbows. At lunch she shunted beans with her fork, unable to actually face sticking any into her mouth. Her throat was closed over. In fact, her whole body had shut down.
That evening, she slipped away from her parents to her bed to read her new Geography text book from cover to cover with her thighs tensed against each other. She googled ‘Coastal Erosion’ with one finger pressed between her legs. A pastel-painted cottage crashed piecemeal onto foaming rocks in time with her first ever spasming shudders.
RUE BALDRY’s short stories have previously appeared in The First Line, Pif, The Incubator, Mslexia, The Honest Ulsterman and The Mighty Line. She lives in York, UK, and has a BA in English Literature from York University, and an MA in Creative Writing from Leeds University. She was the 2017 Bridge Award Emerging Writer and a 2015/16 Jerwood/Arvon mentee.