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In response to the growing concerns about a rumour that Glumfan is still technically at war with Germany, I have it on good authority that an investigation is currently taking place, headed by several representatives from the town’s historical society and the Deputy Chief of the Welsh Department for National Security.
‘So when the new borders were made,’ Goffin swivelled back to his computer to hammer something into the keyboard, tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth like a child’s drawing of a snake, ‘When the new borders were reconstituted in 1941, Glumfan was overlooked, falling into neither England nor Wales. And it hasn’t technically been a part of either since. Which explains why, and judging by your grins you’ve already worked this out, we are still technically at war with the Germans.’
Above the computer, half-covering the metastasis of a recent damp, a Soviet poster smiled out across the office. Printed in red along the bottom, Every man must play his part!
As Goffin began to rehearse his exposition again, a gentle knock announced the arrival of sleight woman in an oversized suit. From behind, she could have easily passed for a new Form 1 boy trying his best to prop up an older sibling’s blazer.
With the speed of a present-browsing boyfriend, Goffin closed down his thesaurus tab, which he would later rue as a missed opportunity.
‘Hi Mike—just wondering if you’ve finalised your list of students for next week?’
‘Afternoon, Jen, yes, right, the list.’ Goffin, out of an illogical habit he had picked up early on his teaching career, peered at his timetable sellotaped to the wall. ‘I will have that in your inbox by, let’s see,’ a thin sheet of moisture lay upon the laminate covering, ‘by close of day.’
Too polite to remind him the deadline was that morning, Jen OK-sure-no-problemed her way back out of the office. The door shut with a click.
‘Close of day, close of day, close of day,’ Goffin interrogated himself, gazing out of the window.
In his excitement to take the only office in school with a submarine porthole, albeit a far cry from his beloved U-40 model, Goffin had not taken the precautionary step of looking out of it. Unlike the offices on the other side of the building, which opened up on to a birch-lined street, the porthole offered only a concentrated lens into the classroom of Steven Steel, Glumfan Academy Teacher of the Year for the past two years.
A rivalry between the two men had begun when Steel announced that he would be running his Philosophy of Death Club at the same time that Goffin ran Twentieth-century German History, which had long been in danger of being discontinued by the powers that be. If fewer than five students signed up this year, it would be cancelled. At the time of Jen making one final plea for a list of names, the count stood at four, three of whom Goffin had bribed with promises he was only half-certain he would be able to honour.
He refreshed his e-mail.
Students were meant to have sent their choices through at the start of the week, but Goffin was holding out for a few stragglers. He refused to acknowledge the correlation between Steel’s arrival and the waning numbers in Twentieth-century German History over the past three years. The kids had simply forgotten how exciting that period was. In a moment of caffeinated madness one Sunday evening, Goffin had considered changing the club’s name to History of Death. Thankfully, he had come to his senses by the following morning.
He refreshed his e-mail.
Please could you send the list to me by 4.30 at the latest, if that’s not too much trouble?
After several edits, which brought him back to his first draft, Goffin fired off an assurance that the list would be sent by then. Tapping his foot on the carpet, the part of his brain undistracted by lists and clubs detected an unmistakable squelching sound. But the alarm was raised only to the part of his brain that glibly evaded students’ difficult questions with Rest assured: I will respond to that at the end.
With thirty minutes on the clock, Goffin went on the offensive. He sent a flurry of e-mails imploring students to sign up. By the sixth, his writing had become virtually incoherent. The eighth simply read please and was addressed to no-one.
He refreshed his e-mail. Water started to pool. Goffin paid no attention, mistaking it for the sweat that was streaming out of every pore on his body. Jetsam dumbly bobbed against his legs, pistons that were generating a miniature undercurrent in the room.
Eyes sealed, head tilted to the ceiling, Goffin repeated fragments of his exposition with an incantatory fervour. ‘Technically still at war, technically still at war, technically still at war.’ The computer cut out with a short-circuiting hiss. The overhead lights flickered. Goffin was hoisted up on the crest of a wave, and cast into the centre of the room. ‘And it hasn’t technically been a part of either since.’ A whirlpool dragged him under, then spat him back up. He coughed, gasped. ‘Judging by yours grins,’ down he went and up he came, ‘you’ve already worked this out.’ And once more, he went under.