It was draughty where they were sitting. The hallway was cavernous. When the staff opened and closed doors or walked along the corridors the noise was deafening. The left hand side of her face was so cold she pulled her black shawl up close to her ears in an effort to keep warm. How could it possibly have come to this?
Her husband, Mike, sat opposite; his newspaper gripped so tightly that she could see that his fingers had turned white. She doubted that he was even reading it. Seth sat next to her reading a little book that he had picked up when they arrived. It was intended for younger children as there was only sporadic violence in it and just one or two death scenes, but at least he was reading something decent.
In spite of the embarrassment she was glad that they had come. She had been pushing for this visit for some time. Ever since the unsavoury incident at the school when Seth had decided that he ought not to kill the guinea pig but instead to set it free she had known that there was something wrong with him. Every other child had killed their pets without any bother. Thankfully the offending guinea pig had been caught by the other children in the playground and had been kicked to death. There followed an awful lot of gossip from the other mothers as to why Mrs Snyder’s son had thrown such a tantrum.
The first that the Snyder’s had known about the incident was a brief letter sent by post saying simply that they should call the school to discuss a problem with Seth’s work. The meeting consisted of brief details of what had happened and the resultant punishment meted out by the school. Their initial meeting was with Seth’s Teacher, Mr Thom. Apparently there had been a few other occasions where Seth was reluctant to join in, notably during the school’s annual bee kill in the local park.
“I am afraid that it is just not normal for a boy of eleven to – how shall I put this, without wishing to offend – show such a nice nature; especially towards a dumb animal. They are, are they not, simply here for our amusement? We may use them how we please. It deeply upset all of the other children. You must understand our position!”
Both Mike and Sarah winced at the mere mention of the word nice being used in connection with their son but they had little appetite for a fight with the school. There was nothing that either Mike or Sarah could say on his behalf. Each knew that Seth displayed some worrying characteristics. Just look at the amount of television and computer game violence he misses out on by insisting on colouring in. They were asked to make an immediate appointment with Doctor Vogel at The Institute for Bad Behaviour.
“Seth is a very normal boy you know”, said Doctor Vogel. “He really is quite a charming lad and, whilst you may have concerns at present, I can assure you that he will grow out of this phase. It is all perfectly normal. He does have some rather unorthodox views about violence but these will change as his life experience grows. You wait and see.”
Saint Lucifer’s didn’t quite share the optimism shown by Doctor Vogel.
“We shall of course take him back, Mrs Snyder, but it will be on the understanding that Seth does not have a repeat of such nonsense”, said Miss Regina Valerie, the Headmistress. “We have our reputation and our standards to consider after all.”
The meeting with Miss Valerie was the last straw. Sarah convinced Mike that they must seek further medical help for Seth. They both wanted what was best for him after all.
Within a few weeks she received a letter inviting the whole family to, “come along for a fun weekend of socialising to The Institute for Bad Behaviour”. They had to arrive on a Friday so that their induction could take place. Here they would meet and greet the other participants. To Sarah it sounded just dreadful, to Mike it sounded like suicide.
“Why do they need all three of us?” He protested.
“Because they do and we are a family after all”, she said, raising her voice to make the point.
Mike had known Sarah long enough to know that it was not worth his while arguing further. After all it might not be that bad. It was a weekend in the country and it had been such a long time since he’d shot fish in a barrel.
prose © copyright Brian Shirra 2011