The ripple that Iris caused was more dramatic and longer-lived than anyone could ever recall anything causing at Gwenafwy School before, not least because she came “All the way from Llandrindod!” as some of the younger students liked to put it. Llandrindod Wells was associated, for many of us, with cinema and Christmas shopping and so the excitement and mystique of the place transferred to her like charcoal to skin – marking her out as an icon of worldliness.
“It wouldn’t be weird if it was the other way round,” I overheard a year seven deciding in the locker room. “Like, if she was, like, travelling into town rather than out of it to go to school – a better school-”
“Yeah but I heard she got into loads of trouble at her old school – maybe she’s on the run from the police or something!”
I exchanged a glance with Jac and we both half-smirked at the idiocy of eleven-year-olds.
“Seriously guys?” The girl who was standing with them asked with raised eyebrows. “You think Mr Skinner would let a convict in?”
She’d kind of nailed it there.
Why would a Head Teacher infamous for his lack of humour and his inability to bend the rules – a teacher so unswerving on discipline that he was better suited to the job of prison warden than his own – let in such an obvious trouble maker? Why would he let a ripped-jeans wearing outsider into our safe, little, nuclear lives? Why, in fact, would someone with a track record of vandalism and expulsion even be considered for our classrooms?
“Maybe that’s why he’s always so angry, so strict, because of the new girl coming.”
“Nah,” the girl shook off the suggestion vehemently. “That’s normal, apparently; he always acts like he’s got a rod up his arse.”
She'd nailed it again.
For us, as year elevens, there was less fantasy and less conversation but we still felt the after-shocks of her arrival as acutely as the rest of the school. We just kept our questions to ourselves. Perhaps we had unanimously decided that it would be kind of cruel to gossip openly so we kept it ping-ponging eternally inside. We only allowed our blathering thoughts to bounce between brain cells; question after question after question.
I wanted to ignore her, I told myself that I’d ignore her but, try as I might, I couldn’t help myself. She was magnetic and I couldn’t avoid noticing her as she sat among us in class – an iceberg in a sea of students who were all somehow the same.
I noticed that she’d often tune out of lessons – sure, we were all capable of not paying attention – but with her it was like one radio station had been flicked off into another. She’d sit and stare out through the classroom door while her head rocked to the side to rebound off the wall of her palm like a metronome. Her eyes would screen over as though she was watching intently or perhaps was simply hypnotised by the pendulum of her own head.
I noticed that she was left handed.
I noticed that she had this slight twitch which was almost too slight to be notable. I noticed, though; I couldn’t not notice. She was mesmerising. Her chin would jerk over to her right shoulder which would tense and then fall again. It was almost like a wince, aside from the fact that her face was dead of expression.
I noticed that she didn’t smile much but, when she spoke, her teeth were as sharp as the words they carved.
She had three piercings in one ear but they were all missing their twins and the soles of her boots were more worn and rubbed out than the heels as though she tiptoed everywhere; trying to be invisible. I wanted to tell her that she could never be overlooked but I was scared of what she might say in return. She was too captivating to be invisible.
I noticed that she ate lunch at the centre of a big group which seemed odd to me because I’d never discovered anyone quite so individual or so dynamically isolated. I supposed that most of that was just to do with the fact that she was new and sensational and interesting and so people trooped around after her in the hope of catching some of her exoticness.
I noticed that her mouth was always clipped down at the corners but her excessive eye make-up was never smudged. I also realised that I couldn’t imagine her crying; I thought of her as being too frozen to puddle like that. Often it was the most miserable people who couldn’t bring themselves to tears. Tears were for the butterflies of the world – flitting, darting, sunny, fragile, and surfaced – Iris was no insect.
Sometimes her fingers would clench on the coils ornamenting her right wrist; holding onto herself with alarming desperation. Her eyebrows would peak up in the centre into mournful slopes and I couldn’t tell whether she had total control of herself or no control at all.
I noticed that she noticed that I was noticing her:
“What’s up, Stalker?” she asked my ear one morning when collecting maths work books.
“What?” I asked defensively. “I’m not a stalker!”
“No?” she raised an eyebrow. “So you spend your life staring solely and selectively at me for some reason other than being a creepy perv? Tell me more,” she fake requested with fake excitement. I hadn’t really imagined that such a disparaging string of words could be so nice to hear. When she spoke to me I wanted to be able to record it so I could drink myself senseless with her teeth and tongue and get intoxicated by the grittiness of her throat.
“Haha, very funny,” I said mirthlessly because I had so little else to say. I was so intrigued by her that I couldn’t remember how to make sentences.
“Quit drooling, lover boy,” Aaron elbowed me in the ribs and I scowled. Iris smirked. I wasn’t in love; I was captivated. Certainly, I thought, there was a difference.
She stared at me for a few seconds, head angled to one side. I burnt in her gaze like it was ice stuck to my tongue.
“So, do you fancy stalking me to the bus stop after school?” she suggested.
I nodded as calmly as was possible.