After ‘stalking’ her to the bus stop I didn’t speak to Iris for the best part of a week. Or rather, she didn’t speak to me and so I decided not to embarrass myself by talking to her. It was not until we were knee deep in the war poetry lecture that Miss Daigon was brandishing at us with all the passion of a patriotic field marshal that we permitted our words to touch.
“The real tragedy of Wilfred Owen was that he died just a week before the end of the war – he was so devastatingly close to survival and the war snatched it from him…” She paused, misty-eyed.
“Tragic,” Jac mocked in a ridiculously sombre tone.
“Kind of was though,” Aaron said matter-of-factly. “D’ya think he’d have given up on life so easy if he knew he was so close.”
“I doubt he ‘gave up on life easy’ – probably had a machine gun tear him to pieces,” I said, shaking my head.
“I don’t know why she’s getting all upset over some poet guy who died a week before it finished, I mean, there must have been some guy who was the actual last person not to survive the war… like, died in the last minute, just as the armistice signal was going, and he probably lay there and just thought; oh shit, I died.”
“You’re all pricks,” Iris said unexpectedly, turning in her chair to face us.
“Oh thanks, don’t hold back next time you feel a random urge to insult me.”
“I mean it, like, you think it’s worse if you die close to the end. You’re joking about the war like it doesn’t even matter. You’re just assigning greater tragedy to deaths based on the timing of them – saying that some deaths were more of a waste than others because of when they occurred, so some lives counted more, did they? If some guy died of cancer today and the cure was discovered tomorrow, everyone would say what a tragedy it was, but why is it that it should be any more of a tragedy than any other person dying from cancer? Thousands of people died every fucking day in that war – people die every fucking day whatever the setting – and we only fuss over one guy who happened to die near the end of it. Like, how screwed-up is that.”
Miss Daigon had her relocated to the back of the room for “a disgraceful lack of disrespect” which we all found highly amusing.
“I couldn’t find you on Facebook,” Cerian complained at lunch that day. “I was going to send you a friend request but we never got told your last name and there were loads of Irises…”
“I don’t have Facebook.”
“You don’t?” She asked incredulously. “Facebook is practically the only thing that stops us from dying of boredom in a place like this.” It sounded bad but it was true. Facebook was the one thing we had that reminded us of a bigger world and that made us feel like we had friends beyond the people who were close to ignore. It wasn’t exactly boredom that attracted us to the internet but an overwhelming urge for something more than the intimate loneliness of the countryside.
The countryside could be beautiful when you were young, un-jaded and therefore not too self-conscious to admit that you loved it but, equally, it was desolate. Of course we had friends but we couldn’t not have friends because our existence relied on them. People drew together in their basic animalistic desire to share warmth with each other. Sometimes I wondered whether my parents actually liked any of the people that they talked to in the pub or the church but merely conversed in order to feel a little less solitary.
“I thought everyone had Facebook – teenagers anyway.” Cerian said, “How come?”
“To prevent people from stalking me,” she offered me a grin between the stinging bite of her canines.
“Hey-” I protested.
“No, seriously, why?” Cerian wanted to know, her voice shaking Iris impatiently and somehow, in the pause before the answer, the air turned sour. Nobody really wanted to talk or breathe in case the sudden, toxic fibres of tension blemished our tongues.
“My God! You’re what? Fifteen? Sixteen? – Fifteen – What is their problem?”
“I suggest you take it up with them yourself,” Iris said and she stood up and left the lunchroom even though her Sainsbury’s Basics Cheese puffs were all but untouched.
“That was unexpected,” Cerian announced loftily. She spoke about it in a way that suggested that she actually didn’t really care; a way that suggested that it wasn’t her insistence that had brought the conversation to such an abrupt culmination. She seemed to have unhooked herself from the exchange so that she was detached and in no way responsible.
In a way, I could understand Cerian; she was the kind of girl that Bron had been before she’d grown up properly and therefore the type that made sense to me.
Iris didn’t fit with my jigsaw-piece-image of a teenage girl. She didn’t indulge herself in the fashion of melodrama or any fashion at all. She didn’t bemoan her life and her face so that people would say nice things to her. She didn’t clamour for the acquaintance of girls who she’d claim were bitches once their backs were turned. She didn’t even look like a teenage girl.
Maybe I was just an ignorant boy who made huge generalisations – no, screw that - I was an ignorant boy who made huge generalisations – but I knew instinctively that there was no clique or mould or label that had Iris’ name written on it. Iris was too complex, too out-spoken yet withdrawn to make sense to me.
I watched her blonde hair merge with the clutter of the canteen as she disappeared from view under the cover of a mashed-potato cloud of school dinners and school diners.
“What was unexpected; the fact that she has strict parents or the fact that she’s now somewhat pissed off with you for no apparent reason?” Jac asked her and she looked pleased that he’d managed to return his Iris-bound attention back to her. Yes, I definitely understood Cerian.
“Both,” she decided and then ran her fingers over the edges of her manicured nails. “Like, it was just a question.”
“I don’t know. I kind of think that the people who are brought up the strictest are the people who go the most rebellious when they get the chance. I reckon Iris is like that,” I said and then they laughed.
“Please study psychology when you finally grow up then come back and tell me if that’s actually true,” Jac snorted.
Cerian tried her hardest to laugh alongside him but his was snarky while hers was simply confused.
“Can you come to mine after school today?” she asked him.
I stood; “I, as professor of psychology, am pleased to inform you that that means ‘please can you make out with me after school today?’”
“Prick,” Jac said and Cerian pretended to chuck her fork at me which I only found funny once I’d thought it over later.