Older man: (smiling with vague conviction) Enjoy the summer – don’t waste it all indoors, will you.
Daniel: (addressing him nervously) Yes Sir, no Sir.
Sir: You get going now; I don’t want to hold you up.
Daniel: That’s OK Sir. I wanted to ask…
Daniel: I was wondering (he teeters on the edge of speech) could you tell me why the moon and the months are meant to be in time but aren’t?
Sir: Well you see, Daniel, the moon takes 28 days to orbit the planet and our months are 30-
Daniel: (interrupting) no, Sir, I know that, what I mean is why did we decide to make the months two or three days longer than the moon cycles? It would have made more sense to keep them in time.
Sir: (with forced patience which sound more like patronisation) Well then a year would be too short wouldn’t it, Daniel?
Daniel: Only because we have 12 months in a year. We should have 13 months of 28 days and it would kind of work.
Sir: (locating a convenient flaw in the boy’s argument and seizing it) Ahh – you see – ‘kind of work’ you say…Creating a calendar is difficult indeed and we owe so much to the man who achieved it.
Daniel: (testing – a little imperious) And who was that?
Sir: Pope Gregory XIII, I believe – for our current calendar.
Daniel: No Sir, it wasn’t, he just arranged for it to happen. Aloysius Lilius suggested the reform.
Sir: Is that so? (Pausing to rub his hands uncomfortably together) this interests you, does it Daniel?
Daniel: Yes Sir.
Sir: Right. (Pausing uncomfortably again) won’t you parents be waiting for you?
• It is the last day of term; the sleek, sprawling preparatory school is amok with children and parents and laughs. Families splatter on the car park and swim in their anticipatory happiness.
• The love and longing for summer is palpable – sports day, awards day, exams – all hurdles have been hurried out of the way and there is nothing left to stop them from breaking the tape across the finish line.
• People will leave the building and send their memories of hard work and timetables into storage as they waltz off into the hypothetical sunsets of the weeks to come. Summer is when you realise that your hands are small enough to be pulled from their handcuffs although you still haven’t found a way to unlock them
• The car park is riddled with mess, like string loosed from a spool. It is so untidy, Daniel thinks. His parents must still be retrieving Jasmine from her school so he lingers in the main reception, too afraid of the foreign spillage of parents to venture out into it.
• He likes a lot of things about school; he likes the way that lessons don’t run into one another and that they give you interesting things to do and that the lunch trays in the canteen are ridged into compartments like the trays you get in tills so the wrong foods can’t get mixed up together.
• It is the persistent dirt and noise and scuffle of school that he hates.
• He also dislikes the other children who don’t know how to talk to him and who he struggles to talk back to and he is terrified of Chemistry. Chemistry is the worst of his subjects because he wants to like it – indeed some part of him is actually attracted to it – but each lesson his interest is stifled by the all-consuming fear that he will have to pour a chemical into a test tube. Even though they use funnels for safe pouring, he somehow can see the liquids running down his hand. Occasionally he can even feel the imaginary dribble of danger. He hates it.
• Summer is freedom from Chemistry and making himself laugh by parading around in his sister’s sunglasses and staying up dangerously late to write out moon charts and playing star wars games in the garden…
• Is he too childish still?
• He’ll be in year eight, his last year at this school, come September; the thought of having to move on terrifies him. It is not just the newness and the enormity of a proper secondary school but the inexplicable fear that wherever he ends up going there will not be lunch trays with separate compartments. He is not like those other kids who jostle in the race of who can be grown-up fastest; the future scares him.
• Because, what sort of future can you construct for yourself if you can’t even construct an air fix model?
• A familiar green car pulls up in the car park.
• Daniel runs to it; tired, grateful and wondering obscurely at how the end of the school year feels like the end of film. Mum reels him into a hug; she’s all perfumed and sparky today and he relishes it with an incomprehensibly pensive detachment. As though he really is just watching the embrace on a TV screen and feeling sadly that the characters are running out of screen time.
• He cannot for the life of him explain why he feels like this and so he chucks his school bag into the boot and buckles himself in next to Jasmine who smiles the sort of smile that unhooks him from his pensive brooding.
Dad: Good day, Danny Boy?
Daniel: 50 percent.
Jasmine: That’s a glass half full then?
Dad: Of course.
Daniel: Not really. It’s not half full or half empty. It’s not half-anything; it’s just half.
(Dad and Jasmine laugh a little but it is like a bonfire that’s made of damp wood – it doesn’t take hold and soar)
Daniel: Teachers aren’t as clever as they pretend to be.
Dad: (thoughtfully) You think?
Jasmine: It’s true – they’re quite good at being blind.
Mum: That’s something else entirely, isn’t it? There’s a difference between being blind and being stupid, especially if they’re meaning to seem blind in which case they might actually be being very intelligent.
Dad: Yes, I suppose the deciding factor is the question of whether or not it is stupid to let your students see that you’re not perfect.
Daniel: That’s not what I mean. He thought he knew the answer but he didn’t.
Mum: I hope you didn’t tell him.
Daniel: Of course I did! What else was I supposed to do? He was wrong.
Jasmine: The thing is that teachers don’t like being told that.
Daniel: We’re watching Star Wars tonight aren’t we? *
Dad: Of course we are!
Daniel: Good. 51 percent.
*A SHORT NOTE
This is a tradition Daniel has come to expect; the last day of term equals Star Wars, together, without complaints. Daniel knows all the lines but he never says them out loud in case he ruins the magic of them.
• The family stretch out across the sofa and the floor and the bean bag. They are a picture of lethargy; the very epitome of physical comfort as they fold backwards into plush while an old and over-used film lulls them like a grandparent comforting an infant.
• The curtains are drawn although the sun is still awake and fat and orange like a flipped two pence coin and they watch the film without need for words.
• Daniel is on the bean bag, set apart although his legs are tangling with his sister’s. He holds himself still; afraid to hear the rushing rains of its contents that would stream if he were to move. He has seen the film enough times to be able to retell it backwards but he doesn’t want to miss a single detail. Distractions are condemned by this religiously attended tradition.
• Mum and Dad are curled around each other on the sofa – playing happy families although they both look shattered. They press their shoulders together like they need the support of another human to keep them from keeling over. Mum is wrinkled, Dad is grey, but they smile at the way their precious son is so peacefully absorbed.
• Jasmine is laid like a concertina at their feet; she lolls back against her parents’ slippers and tries hard to remember to be interested. Daniel. She has to remind herself, this is for Daniel. Her mind is not really on the clashes of light sabres but drifting elsewhere and the melancholic nature of them is showing through the mask on her face.
• Daniel leans forward as though he wants to fall inside the images he knows too well. Perhaps, after all, in such a world as the one depicted before him there’d be no such thing as Mentally Ill, he speculates.