The caretaker Jock looked round his five cleaners as they had a quick cup of tea in their closet amid the smell of old mop-heads before school finished for the day and they went off to clean their classrooms. His gaze lingered on David, who was huddled in the corner, as usual, clutching his brush and mop as if somebody might take them off him. Jock felt really sorry for the poor sod. He was one of god’s mistakes, if there was a god – why would god make somebody a spastic, especially somebody as harmless as him? David was 43 years old, still lived with his parents in their semi-detached bungalow, deeply reliant on them, and loved them with a child-like devotion. They were in their early eighties and had told Jock that they were terribly worried about what would happen to David when they died and weren’t there to look after him. He could only manage one two-hour shift a day of undemanding work. It brought in a bit of money, so he could buy himself cigarettes and sweets, and his parents could try to kid themselves that he had some independence.
David couldn’t speak well enough to be easily understood, so, as always, he wasn’t joining in the conversation and was looking down, avoiding eye-contact, especially with the women cleaners. He would never drink tea there himself, because his lack of control over his hands and mouth meant he spilled it all over himself, and he was too ashamed to do that in front of other people. To smoke a cigarette and not have it disintegrate in his mouth, he had to fit it into a pink little plastic cigarette-holder.
Alan now spoke to David. Jock liked Alan, who also pitied David and always made a point of chatting to him a bit instead of just ignoring him in embarrassment, as most people did. Alan said, with a friendly smile: ‘All right there, David? Did you see The Avengers last night?’
David nodded, and Alan went on: ‘ Yeah? Brilliant, wasn’t it? I love that programme, and I know you do. And that Emma Peel in all that tight leather gear – whoah! I bet you wish you were Steed, don’t you, knocking around with her and beating up baddies. I know I do. She’s lovely, she is.’
Jimmy butted in. Jock couldn’t stand the mean-spirited little shit. He never had a good word to say for anyone, and he tried to make up for being a pathetic little nobody by scoring off anyone weaker than himself. He said, with a nasty edge to his voice: ‘Oh no, David doesn’t fancy Mrs. Peel. She’s far too posh for him. He fancies that Anne Gibson – you know that sex-mad blonde in class 4C who was fucking the brains out of that Davis lad, and anyone else with a dick between his legs. I caught David staring at her sexy arse the other day, didn’t I. He was drooling, creaming his jeans. Bet you’d like to get your hands on that, David, hey, wouldn’t you, you dirty bugger? You might actually stand a chance with her – that little scrubber would fuck anybody, even you. You’d like to stroke that plump arse, wouldn’t you, Romeo?’
David blushed and shook his head violently, clearly distressed. His stomach rumbled loudly. One of the women tried to change the subject, but Jimmy spoke over her and continued mercilessly: ‘You could give her a lift in your three-wheeled spazzer car, take her off into the woods and give her one, her on top and you underneath, with your hands round that lovely arse, pumping away.’
He paused to visualize it. Then he snuffled up some mucus and added with a jealous whine: ‘Oh, it’s all right for you. You’re dead lucky, you are – getting a free car from the government. Why should you get one when I don’t, hey? What have you done to deserve it? You don’t really need one. Waste of tax-payers’ money. I wish they’d give me a car for nothing. I have to come to work on me bike, but you live in the lap of luxury, picking up dolly birds in your little blue car.’
David wasn’t sure if this was a jibe or just a joke. He forced out an ungainly laugh (nnnn-HAH), and with a jerky motion pulled the cigarette-holder from his mouth, together with a long string of saliva attached to it. He stared at the floor in misery, wishing Jimmy would leave him alone.
Jimmy was about to wade in with some more crude digs when the bell went, followed shortly by a stampede of children in the corridor. Jock shut Jimmy up by saying: ‘Right. Tea’s over. Off you go, lads and lasses.’
Just under twenty minutes later David was all on his own in an empty classroom. He had finished sweeping and mopping the floor and had stopped for a smoke-break, tired out. He was sitting in the chair at the desk on the platform, pretending that he was Mr. Pritchard, the English teacher, someone with a good job, someone clever and in control. David pointed to imaginary members of the class in turn, ordering them to read out from a book of poetry, while he listened, frowning severely. Then he pretended to be angry at one of them for mispronouncing a word. He mumbled: ‘Anne G – Gibson’ and beckoned her out to the front of the room. Then he slurred: ‘B-bend over’. He got up, stood at the end of the desk and started swishing a make-believe cane. But then instead of caning Anne he patted her on the head, ran his hand all the way down her back and began stroking her buttocks, wet-lipped and red-faced.
David didn’t see Jimmy, who was spying on him through the partially open door and grinning in malicious delight. He’d have some fun with the bugger over this at tea tomorrow afternoon. He’d take the piss out of him something cruel, make a right bloody fool of him in front of the others, get him stuttering and twitching and slavering away, the pathetic little shit.