Mmmm, the smell of paint. It was like an elixir. It could mean only one thing.
“Mrs Keely? Are you in there?”
I crinkled up my nose, trying to block out the sound of that thin, reedy voice. Breathe deep, I told myself. There is nothing else. Just blissful darkness, and the heavenly aroma of Chromacryl paint, mixed with the heady scent of Clag glue…
The voice wouldn’t go away. It was like a burr caught in my sock; a vague irritation at the edge of my consciousness. The thing with burrs, I reminded myself, was to stay very, very still, so that they couldn’t work their way through the fabric and pierce the delicate skin… Stay still, and breathe very, very deeply…
There was a sudden draft of air, and light broke over me like a wave. I blinked, feeling somewhat like a rabbit caught in headlights. A gaggle of children were standing at the open door of the cupboard, hilarity and bafflement by turns written on their faces.
“Mrs Keely, what you doin’ in the art cupboard?”
I cleared my throat, picturing myself through their eyes - a middle-aged woman in high heels, slightly plump, crouched precariously beneath shelves crammed with pipe-cleaners and coloured macaroni. A trickle of sweat crawled like ants between my shoulder-blades.
“Um – Mrs Keely?”
They were staring at me as though they’d discovered an alien in the cupboard. I straightened my skirt in an attempt to salvage my dignity. Words failed me. I grabbed wildly for the closest item on the cupboard shelf, which happened to be a rolling pin.
“Ah, children, you should be doing your maths exercises quietly at your own desks. You can’t all be finished yet. I am undertaking some preparations for this afternoon’s art lesson –”
“Why was the door shut? Were you playing hide and seek?”
“Er, no.” Just hide, I thought.
“What’s the rolling pin for, Miss?”
To clip you round the ears with, I thought. “To roll the clay out,” I said, and then thought, oh, flip. Clay? What on EARTH am I thinking? Am I certifiably INSANE?
“Clay? Cool! Hey everyone, guess what we’re doing for art this afternoon?!”
And so it began.
By three o’clock that afternoon, I had picked clay out of five heads of hair; separated two boys who were attacking each other with rolling pins; performed emergency surgery on a freckled child who put clay up her nose and then couldn’t get it out; scraped two acres of carpet; and administered counselling to a hysterical girl after the class bully squashed her clay monkey into a pancake.
By the time the last child left for the day, my right eyelid had developed a persistent twitch.
I looked guiltily over my shoulder like a shoplifting teenager, and slunk back into the cupboard.
Jesus, I confessed, I know where you were coming from now. You know that time you wanted to get away so bad that you got into a boat and taught the people from the lake? Well, I know you were teaching the multitudes, and I’m just teaching Year Three – but I want you to know, I understand. Well, more to the point, I guess YOU understand. And I may not have a boat, but I have a cupboard. And for all these blessings, Lord, I am truly grateful.
I breathed in the sweet smell of acrylic paint, and thought I could hear Jesus laughing with me.
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