- Author: Caroline O’donoghue
Read book online «All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’donoghue (ink ebook reader txt) 📕». Author - Caroline O’donoghue
About the Author
To my family, for being interesting.
And to Harry Harris, for waking up the Housekeeper first.
THE STORY OF HOW I ENDED UP WITH THE CHOKEY CARD Tarot Consultancy can be told in four detentions, three notes sent home, two bad report cards and one Tuesday afternoon that ended with me being locked in a cupboard.
I’ll give you the short version.
Miss Harris gave me in-school suspension after I threw a shoe at Mr Bernard. It was payback for him calling me stupid for not knowing my Italian verbs. To this, I responded that Italian was a ridiculous language to learn anyway, and that we should all be learning Spanish because globally, more people speak Spanish. Mr Bernard then said that if I really thought I was going to learn Spanish quicker than I am currently learning Italian, I was deluded. He turned back to the whiteboard.
And then I threw my shoe.
It didn’t hit him. I’d like to stress that. It merely hit the board next to him. But no one seems to care about that, except me. Maybe if I had a best friend – or really, any close friend at all – I’d have someone to vouch for me. To tell them that it was a joke, and that I would never knowingly hurt a teacher. Someone who could explain how it is with me: that sometimes frustration and rage surge through me, sparking out in ways I can’t predict or control.
But that friend doesn’t exist, and I’m not sure I would deserve them if they did.
In-school suspension starts on Tuesday morning, and Miss Harris meets me at her office and then leads me to the basement.
In the four years I’ve been at St Bernadette’s, the sewage pipes have frozen and burst twice, not to mention the annual flooding. As a result, the two tiny classrooms down here are covered in grass-green mould, and a damp, mildewy smell permeates everything. Teachers try to avoid scheduling classes down here as much as they can, so naturally it gets used a lot for detention, exams and storing extraneous junk that no one can be bothered to throw away.
The holy grail of this is the Chokey, a long, deep cupboard that makes everyone think of the Trunchbull’s torture room in Matilda.
Miss Harris waves a dramatic arm at the cupboard. “Ta-da!”
“You want me to clean out the Chokey?” I gasp. “That’s inhumane.”
“More inhumane than throwing a shoe at someone, Maeve? Make sure to separate general waste from dry recyclables.”
“It didn’t hit him,” I protest. “You can’t leave me to clean this out. Not by myself. Miss, there might be a dead rat in there.”
She hands me a roll of black plastic bin bags. “Well, then, that would go in ‘general waste’.”
And she leaves me there. Alone. In a creepy basement.
It’s impossible to know where to start. I start picking at things, grumbling to myself that St Bernadette’s is like this. It’s not like normal schools. It was a big Victorian town house for a very long time, until at some point during the 1960s, Sister Assumpta inherited it. Well. We say ‘Sister’, but she’s not really one: she was a novice, like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, and dropped out of the nunnery, and started a school for “well-bred girls”. It probably seemed like a good idea when the number of “well-bred” girls in the city was about a dozen. But there’s about 400 of us now, all bursting out of this crumbling house, classes rotating between draughty prefabs and converted old attic bedrooms. It’s obscene how expensive it is to send your daughter to school here. I have to be careful about how much I complain in front of Mum and Dad. The other four didn’t have to go here, after all. They were bright enough to make it through free schools unaided.
St Bernadette’s costs about two thousand euro a term, and wherever the money goes, it’s not on health and safety. I can’t even step into the Chokey at first because of all the broken old desks and chairs that are stacked up inside, blocking the entrance. A fresh waft of rot and dust hits my nose every time a piece of furniture comes free. I try to carry each piece out and make a neat pile in the corner of the classroom, but when chair legs start coming loose in my hand, smacking against my legs and laddering my tights, it gets less orderly. I throw my school jumper off and start hurling rubbish across the room like an Olympic javelin champion. It becomes cathartic after a while.
Once all the furniture is gone, I’m amazed to see how much space there is in the Chokey. I had always thought it was just a big cupboard, but it’s clear it used to be some kind of kitchen pantry. You could fit three or four girls in here, no problem. It’s good information to have. There’s no such thing as too many hiding places. It needs a lightbulb or something, though. The door is so heavy that I have to prop it open with an old chair, and even then, I’m working in near darkness.
The furniture, however, is just the beginning. There are piles of papers, magazines and old schoolbooks. I find exam papers from 1991, Bunty annuals from the 1980s and a couple of copies of some magazine called Jackie. I spend a while flicking through them, reading the problem pages and the weird illustrated soap operas that play out over ten panels. They’re ridiculously dated. The stories are all called something like “Millie’s Big Catch!” and “A