Dave Rodgers rubbed his straggly beard and sighed. Perhaps he should shave it off? Get rid of the grey. It might take years off him. Maybe then he’d have more luck on the dating app. So far, it had been fairly quiet. The only matches overly made-up and overweight; not one stoked the flames of his desire. Having said that, it didn’t take much to get him thinking about sex these days. He was pretty desperate. From habit, he looked down at his left hand, square and solid on the pitted desk, fingers thick like sausages. The pale line where the ring had lived for twenty years was fading. Soon nobody would be able to tell he’d ever been married. Eight months divorced, nearly a full year without getting any. Who was he kidding turning his nose up at those women? More likely they wouldn’t look twice at him if they saw him in person. His profile picture was at least two years old. Too many trashy sandwiches and sugary donuts grabbed from the garage. Too many greasy takeaways from the Indian on the High Street. Too many Big Macs on the lonely journey home from tedious staff meetings. He’d let himself go. Put on a few pounds, half a stone, probably a full stone. These days, his trousers cut into him, stomach rolling over the top button. He no longer wore a belt. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had his hair cut or trimmed his beard. Yes, it had to go. He’d look better without it; younger, smarter. Saturday morning, he’d take a trip to the barber. He must start cooking for himself again too. Judy had loved his red Thai curry. And get out on his bike. He used to cycle miles every weekend but that had been with Judy for company. It wasn’t the same on your own.
Dave Rodgers became aware of a low buzz in the room, growing in intensity, an angry wasp at a picnic. He sat up straight.
“Er…” he said, “This is meant to be a silent reading session.”
The class quietened. He surveyed the room, scanning for anyone who had decided Pride and Prejudice wasn’t worth the effort.
“Read until the end of Chapter Three, then we’ll discuss the questions on the board. Any more mumblings and we’ll see who’d like to read out loud for us.” Dave Rodgers displayed his best condescending teacher smile.
There were a few audible moans. Year 10C weren’t a bad lot, not the brightest but fairly well-behaved overall. Getting through this Literature GCSE would be a slog. There were a few bolshy lads at the back, lost causes, probably with their mobiles tucked behind the book covers but he couldn’t be bothered to check. It was Friday and he only had to coast through this lesson and lunch duty and he would be finished for the week. He scanned the class again. Abbie Smith leaned back in her chair and stretched. Her large, round breasts straining at the buttons of her shirt. Pretty girl, Abbie. Bit rough around the edges but she had a spark about her. She could stand up for herself, didn’t take any crap from the boys and she got plenty of comments from them. With breasts like that it wasn’t surprising. He watched the shapely, ample flesh bulging at the buttons. He imagined sliding his fingers between those buttons, bursting the shirt open…
“Penny for ‘em. Mr Rodgers.” Abbie said.
He started. Abbie was watching him, disgust spreading on her face, as if somebody at the next desk had farted.
“Sorry, I was miles away…”
A rumble of laughter travelled around the room. Abbie had caught him ogling. Had anyone else noticed? His face prickled with heat.
“Quiet! Has everyone finished the chapter?” he said, “OK, let’s discuss these questions then.”
Slowly, he stood up before the white board, bracing himself to face his pupils. What had he been thinking? He was a grown man, a professional, and there he was fantasising about a school girl’s tits. He must be some sort of pervert. He could get the sack for this. Could he get the sack for this? If she reported him, it would be her word against his. And he hadn’t actually done anything.
“So, who can summarise the chapter?” He turned, ready for the fray.
There were some mumbles, some shrugs.
“Anyone like to start?” He looked around the room, avoiding Abbie’s eyes.
He wished the bell would ring, so he could go and hide in the staffroom. But he remembered he couldn’t. There was lunch duty. Was he a paedophile? No, he’d never actually touch her. But he’d like to. He knew that. A trickle of sweat ran along his spine beneath his wrinkled shirt. He really should get the iron out one day. If he looked tidier, he might get a date. Might not be so consumed with the thought of getting his end away. That was the problem. Judy leaving him, ‘drained and squeezed out like a soggy teabag’ to find a ‘relationship with someone who meets my needs’. Whatever that meant. She was to blame. The bitch.
“I’ll start. Sir.” It was Abbie, her tone confrontational.
“Go ahead.” Dave Rodgers clenched his knuckles.
“Bingley ships Jane.” Abbie said.
“He wants to have sex with her. Mr Rodgers.” Abbie’s voice was like punches to his gut.
Another rivulet of sweat dripped down his back. “Well, certainly Mr Bingley is attracted to Jane as a prospective wife.”
“And that other guy, Darcy. He’s a bit of a snob. Thinks he’s too good to ship Elizabeth. But he will…’cos that’s what men are like.”
Where was the bell, for Christ’s sake? Winded, he wanted to give up, plead an excuse to let everyone go early. Pathetic. He was in charge. The adult in the room.
He caught his breath. “I think that’s a little unfair. Darcy is looking for a suitable match. As Jane Austin says, at the very start of the novel, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’. These social balls were set up for that purpose.”
“Bit like Tinder.” Ben Andrews piped up from the back. Everyone laughed.
“Quiet!” Dave Rodgers shouted.
“The point is, the women didn’t get much choice in the matter. It’s male entitlement. Us women still have to put up with men treating our bodies as objects. Like possessions to drool over and be taken.” Abbie’s statement was a final fist in his face. A murmur of agreement rose from the other girls.
He rubbed his hairy chin. Little cow. “Hold on, Pride and Prejudice is a romantic novel. I think we’re going off topic here.”
A harsh clangour filled the room. With a scraping of chair legs on scratchy floors, everyone jumped up from their seats and began stuffing books into rucksacks.
“Wait!” The class silenced. “Think about the questions at home. We’ll finish the discussion when I see you on Tuesday. Class dismissed.”
Dave Rodgers turned to his desk to sort out his briefcase. He busied himself as the jostling, shouting and laughter receded. When the last pupil left, slamming the door behind them, he collapsed defeated in his chair. Every limb ached like he’d been in the ring with a rhinoceros. He could curl up and go to sleep for a year. Perhaps he needed some time off? The divorce had been difficult. Maybe he was suffering from stress? Yes, that must be it. His mind wasn’t right. After lunch, he’d go and see the Head about taking some sick leave.