It was always a slog, the long winter term. The days were getting shorter. Geraldine left home in the dark and it was dark as well when she got back. The children were fractious. They too were tired. And over-excited: Halloween, Guy Fawkes and Christmas. It never stopped, not even on Sunday.
The words in the exercise books began to dance in front of her eyes. Black or dark blue on off-white. Occasionally her own green pen marks. Green was the new red. “Don’t cover their books in red marks,” her PGCE tutor had said. Now, students were just as threatened by green.
She picked up the next one. It smelt musty and smoky. What kind of home does this child inhabit? She saw the name on the front cover. Ah. That might explain it.
“How’s it going?” said Tom.
“Getting there,” she mumbled. Except she wasn’t. She still had almost half of them to do.
“You really must keep on top of your marking,” Chris Arnold, the deputy head and her mentor had said. How? Seven classes of thirty students each? That meant 210 a week. Each one took at least twenty minutes to mark. What about the other things she had to do?
“Come on,” said Tom. “It’ll be dark soon. A break will do you good.”
She sighed. Yes it probably would. But she would worry about the work still left.
“Pack up now,” said Tom. She held her breath. He looked so good in his petrol-blue anorak and matching bobble hat. He was holding her bright red coat for her.
How could she resist?
She pulled on her boots and seconds later they were leaving the house.
Now she felt alive. The smell of wood smoke. The tingle of the cold air. And the vibrant oranges, reds and yellows of the leaves that were still left on the trees.
“Are you okay?” asked Tom.
She nodded. This was what she needed. An antidote to bland exercise books. “It’s so colourful,” she whispered.