Self-Isolation by Mike Hickman

Alan scratched at the foot-sweat dust between the wooden floor tiles that zig-zagged away across the school hall. Snatching looks at Jonny to one side of him and Paul to the other, he lifted a finger, sniffed it, took some pleasure from the smell as only a filthy child like him would, and he closed his eyes to concentrate on the rhythm of the rock. 

I’d have thought – you know, a change of circumstances like this – he must have shown some reaction?” 

He takes everything well. That’s his problem.” 

Half-term approached and big bully Barnitt at the front of the hall was frustrated that he’d be without his daily assembly, that he wouldn’t be able to extemporise on the inconsequential to the 320 children who had to listen to his meanderings around the non-hymns like Yellow Submarine and If I had a Hammer.  

Upon closer examination, although predominantly white, the foot-sweat dust was mixed with what looked like brick dust and the crumbs from a thousand fetid school dinners. Sensing a change in the big bully’s pitch, Alan wiped his finger on the hem of his shorts, glanced up, checked he was safe, and transferred his attention to picking the scab on his knee. 

Barnitt was off about something or other, and Alan recognised the attitude all too well. He was cross at recent behaviour in the playground. He was cross that the classes didn’t line up in good time. He was furious that he had to blow the whistle eight times this morning and all ten classes had been standing there for half an hour before he was satisfied that they were all quite still. 

This was normal. Nothing to bother Alan there. Just another few minutes to go and then he’d be back in class with Mrs Stone – who, herself, hadn’t been especially chuffed at standing outside in the drizzle for half an hour while Barnitt reprimanded her class for swaying in the breeze, Alan maybe most of all, because that’s what a fidgety bastard like him did. There might be a wordsearch. There might be colouring in. Alan didn’t mind. Alan never minded. 

 “So, you’re concerned that he’s not concerned, is that it?” 

 “I’m concerned at the passivity, Mrs Miles. That’s what concerns me.” 

That’s not what he’s like.” 

Alright. Maybe not. Have you ever asked yourself why?” 

Clem Simpson started crying first and it was Alan’s fault. 

“Alan Miles, when you’ve quite finished picking your nose, perhaps you’d like to tune back in?” 

Barnitt had grown bored of his own rambling and Alan ought to have realised it was coming. The point, three or four minutes before the end of assembly, when someone Got It. It had last been Alan’s turn at the start of term, so he was due another. He should have realised that.  

“We don’t have to have half term, Alan. In fact, none of us do. How about we all of us stay here for another week and learn to pay attention to our betters, eh? Boys like you need to learn respect.” 

Clem was joined by Kerry in the waterworks. At least one kid in Class 1, when Barnitt was wound himself up to his full fury, tried to protest about holidays and the Theme Park and “nanny” coming over for a picnic and Barnitt, oh, he loved that. He really went for that. By the time he was done, there were three of them standing against the wall next to the staff room door. Alan picked at the brickwork with his finger and investigated the dust. He liked that almost as much as he liked a Friday wordsearch. 

We’ve got a national crisis going on and he hasn’t talked about it? Don’t you think that’s what you should be concerned about?” 

You wouldn’t say that if it was your sofa he’d ruined with his rocking, the little tyke. You don’t know what he’s like.” 

Alan stayed in class at the end of the day, as he did every day. Mrs Stone was precisely as happy as she always was that he had to wait for Sharon from the corner to pick him up when her own school chucked out. 

When the gum-chewing girl finally showed up and he went to collect his bag, he turned to Mrs Stone and said he’d see her next week. 

She knew better than to correct him. 

But, then, Alan wouldn’t have been bothered if she had. That was just what he was like

Mike Hickman is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx. He has recently been published in the Blake-Jones Review, Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, the Potato Soup Journal, and the Trouvaille Review. Twitter: @MikeHic13940507