Read Is Online

Authors: Derek Webb

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Is

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Contents
  1. New Article
  2. Dedication
  3. This is Is
  4. An Arch Rival
  5. River Walk
  6. Under the River
  7. Father Figure
  8. A Cause for Concern
  9. Another Piece of the Puzzle
  10. Big is Beautiful
  11. Sink or Swim
  12. Is is Gone
  13. Thumbs Up
  14. Towards the Light
  15. Isambard Kingdom Brunel
  16. Copyright

Is

Derek Webb

For Briony with much love and thanks for her inspiration, enthusiasm and encouragement.

1

This is Is

It
was
during
my
second
year
of
secondary
school
that
I
first
met
Is.
Mr
Grego
r
y
,
our
form
maste
r
,
swept
into
our
classroom
like
a
great
black
bat
one
morning
with
Is
in
tow.
We
didn't
see
her
at
first
because
she
was
so
tiny,
even
though
she
was
twelve.
Or
maybe
she
was
cowering
behind
Mr
Gregory,
who
really
could
look
very
frightening
with
his
black
cape
on.
All
the
masters
at
our
school
wore
these
capes.
Not
many
teachers
do
now
of
course,
but
this
was
in
1972
and
things
were
very
different
then.

‘Good morning, boys and girls,' Mr Gregory wheezed and his lips drew back as he spoke, exposing his horrible yellowing teeth.

None of us in Class 2F knew why Mr Gregory didn't go and see a dentist with his teeth. Maybe he couldn't find one brave enough to peer into his mouth. I certainly wouldn't have liked to be a dentist coming face to face with Mr Gregory's molars, I can tell you.

Nevertheless, we all chanted back at him in unison: ‘Good morning, Mr Gregory!'

‘I bring you a new girl!' exclaimed Mr Gregory, as if he was bringing a sacrifice to some ancient ritual. Which, come to think of it, he was.

Is scurried forward like a rabbit, her tiny eyes darting everywhere before her. She looked so pathetic and wimpish that most of us couldn't help giggling at the sight of her, until old Gregory yelled out ‘Quiet!'

‘I will not have this behaviour in my class!' he bellowed, and the vein on his neck grew bigger and redder and even more disgusting than usual.

Mr Gregory on a bad day was enough to send shivers through the toughest nuts in the whole of St Leonards School – even oiks like Wilkins up in the sixth form knew not to cross him.

For the newcomer to our class, standing there feebly in front of this great bull of a man, it must have been a truly terrifying experience. Mr Gregory had by now mounted the podium on which his desk was perched and he lifted his great carcass on to the top of the desk and sat there with one foot on the floor and the other dangling loose.

‘This is Isabel Williams,' Mr Gregory continued, indicating Is with his foot. ‘She is joining us today and I want you all to make her welcome. Understood?'

‘Yes, Mr Gregory,' we all muttered with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

‘Good! Right, Isabel, you can go and sit yourself down at that empty desk next to Robert Morgan there.' And he actually nudged Isabel towards me with the tip of his shoe.

She sat down quietly and Mr Gregory went through the morning's ritual of doing the register with everyone calling out ‘Here, Sir' as their name was read out.

When he got to ‘Williams', there was no answer and Mr Gregory repeated her name more loudly. Still she didn't respond, and this time Mr Gregory accompanied his shout of ‘Isabel Williams' with the thwack of a metal ruler on the desk. Isabel jumped at this and answered in a small, trembling voice.

‘Here, Sir.'

‘I am so glad you're awake, Isabel,' replied Mr Gregory sarcastically. He ticked the register and then continued to the last boy.

‘Wilson.'

‘Here, Sir!'

‘Good!' The book was slammed shut and pushed across the desk and we all filed out to the school hall for assembly.

We weren't allowed to talk in class of course. So it wasn't until lunchtime that I first spoke to Isabel. Most of the kids in my class had school dinners, but because I lived so close to the school, I used to go home instead. I was setting off as usual across the playground when I saw her on her own by the school gate. I don't often talk to girls, not even the ones in my class, but Is looked so miserable and was sort of staring at me, so I felt I had to do something.

‘Hello,' I said gruffly, ‘why aren't you with the others? They'll all be stuffing their faces by now!' She just looked up at me and said nothing, then I realised that she obviously didn't know where to go.

‘Hasn't anyone bothered to show you where they serve lunch. What a load of ignoramuses!'

‘No, it's not that,' she replied. 
‘I'm not hungry.' 

‘Not hungry?'

‘Well, to tell you the truth I haven't brought any money for school dinners. No one said anything about it.'

‘But didn't your parents give you any money?' I asked, astonished.

‘No.'

‘But that's silly. You've got to eat something.' I sounded like my mother. ‘Haven't you got any money at all?'

‘No.'

‘And didn't anybody ask your mother when she brought you along this morning?'

‘I came on my own.'

‘You don't live far then?' I said, relieved that she'd be able to go home for lunch.

‘Walton Road.'

‘Walton Road? But that's miles! You got the school bus did you?'

‘No.'

‘Bike?'

‘No.'

‘Don't tell me you walked.' 

‘Yes.'

I stared at her for a few seconds, amazed that her parents would let her walk all that way to school and not even give her money for a school lunch. Then I looked at the new watch I'd got for my birthday.

‘Oh no, is that the time? My mum'll kill me! 
I'll see you later, okay?'

‘Okay,' she replied and I set off down the tarmac path towards the road. But something was bothering me. I hadn't quite got to the end when I had a thought.

‘You can come back with me if you like. I only live two roads away. I'm sure my mum will find you something to eat.'

For the first time I saw her smile. Her face lit up at the idea. But the smile faded just as quickly as a question crossed her mind.

‘Are you sure?'

‘Course.'

‘She won't mind?'

‘Nah, don't be daft. Come on!'

We were over ten minutes late by the time we got back to my house and Mum was not in the best of moods.

‘And what time do you call…' she started to say and then realised that I wasn't on my own.

‘Sorry we're late,' I said in my best, most apologetic voice.

‘So I should think. Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend then?'

‘Sorry,' I said again, ‘this is Isabel.'

‘Is.'

‘Sorry? Is what, dear?' said my mother.

‘My name's Isabel,' she explained. ‘But my friends call me Is.'

‘This is Is. Is is her name!' I said laughing.

And then I knew I would be very good friends with her. 

‘Oh it is, is it?' replied my mother, joining in the joke at last. ‘And I suppose you'd like some of Robert's lunch would you, Is?'

‘Oh, no; not at all, Mrs Morgan. I'm not in the slightest bit hungry, really.'

‘Yes she is, Mum,' I said. ‘Are there some extra chips or something that – er – Is could have?'

Mum smiled. ‘Oh, I expect so. Just sit yourselves down at the table while I have a look,' she said and went off into the kitchen.

‘Your mum's really nice,' whispered Is as we pulled out the chairs.

‘Nice? Mum?'

I'd never really considered the possibility before, but I supposed she was right. ‘She's okay,' I answered with a shrug.

‘I wish mine was like her.'

‘What's your mum like then?' I asked.

‘It's my stepmother,' Is replied and then she lowered her voice until I could barely hear her. ‘And she's a cow.'

The way she said it, with such feeling, I remember actually being shocked.

‘Oh,' was all I could answer.

‘My real mum died soon after I was born,' she explained. ‘And my dad got remarried when I was four. Probably couldn't cope on his own.'

‘S'pose not.'

But then we were interrupted by my mum reappearing with two plates of beefburgers and chips.

‘Here we are,' she said. ‘Get this down you.'

She set the plates down in front of us and then suddenly realised something.

‘Oh, I am sorry Is, I clean forgot to ask… you do like beefburgers, don't you? You're not vegetarian or anything?'

‘Yes thanks, Mrs Morgan, they're my favourite.'

‘Oh, good!' She breathed a sign of relief. ‘I'm so glad and these are ones I made myself too. They're not like your shop-bought ones. Much nicer.'

‘Where do they come from then, Mum?' I asked.

‘Well, originally from a cow of course,' she answered, with a smile on her face. But she didn't expect the reaction she got from the two of us. Is and I had both collapsed in a fit of giggles at the mere mention of ‘cow'.

‘Well, I didn't think it was quite that funny!' said my mum, perplexed.

‘It wasn't, Mrs Morgan…' Isabel started saying without thinking.

‘Pardon?' said my mother with a touch of annoyance in her voice.

‘Oh, I didn't mean it wasn't funny,' explained Isabel, keen to correct any misunderstanding. ‘I mean it was funny, but not in the way you meant it. Do you see?'

‘I'm afraid I don't. Anyway you two, get on and eat up or you'll be late back to school.'

* * *

After that it began to be a bit of a habit for Is to come back and have lunch at my place. She came round a couple of times a week at least. The other days she used to have sandwiches, but I don't remember her once eating school dinners. No wonder she was so terribly small.

Looking back on it, it was a terrible cheek really. Not that Mum minded. Well, not too much I don't think. Although she did mention it once in a roundabout sort of way.

‘Does Isabel not have any other friends then, Robert?' she asked me out of the blue one evening, as she looked up from the magazine she was reading.

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