When I was six the teacher said: “We’re going to learn a poem today. It’s called Ding Dong Dell.”
I knew that poem. Surely everyone knew it. But I’d also heard a Revised Version, much better than the original. I think it was my elder brother who taught it to me.
I said: “I know that poem”
“Good boy, Howard. Please recite it for the class.”
So I did:
“Ding Dong Dell
Pussy’s in the well.
‘How can you tell?’
‘Go and have a smell.’”
It was funny but Mrs Paulette did not smile: “Howard Jonathan Goldenberg. Leave the class. Go to the storeroom.”
I went to the storeroom, a narrow room lined with shelves stacked with classroom necessities.
I stood there alone and listened to the silence. I felt a thumping, fast and hard, in my chest.
I knew perdition. I knew exile. I knew terror.
I stood in fear and misery. When would a captive be released from the storeroom? How would Mum know where to look for me when she came after school?
A sound at the storeroom door. I shook harder. The door opened and I stopped shaking. I knew the face, the freckles, the buck-toothed grin, the red, red hair. I knew my older brother Dennis.
“What are you doing here, Howard?”
I shook my head.
Dennis went to a shelf and selected a piece of red chalk, one of blue and a white one.
“What are you doing, Dennis?”
“Mr Frobisher sent me for chalk.”
Dennis opened some packets, discovered a treasury of pristine plasticine. Methodically he peeled off thick strips and pocketed them.
“Does Mister Frobisher want plasta too?”
“Nope. I do. You can have some. I’ll leave a bit for you.”
I looked around and saw riches. I saw Aladdin’s cave. I saw opportunity.
I touched nothing. I stood and trembled at my own thoughts of wrongdoing.
A sound at the door. Mrs Paulette’s face and pony tail and round bosoms appeared in the narrow space. I saw what she must see, the open package of plasticine. I saw the signs of theft and I thought – not of Dennis’ actions – but of my own wicked impulse.
Mrs Paulette said, “It’s recess, Howard. Go outside and play.”