‘Gareth has such lovely hair.’
‘I suppose the only way to tell you this, Mrs Crocker, is just to come out and say it,’ the educational psychologist announced, demonstrating her superpower for stating the obvious. Even at my tender age – and with all the emotional depth of a hamster – I sensed that what was to follow was not necessarily going to be magnificent for me.
‘And don’t get me wrong,’ she added. ‘I adore Gareth. He really is such a nice and energetic boy. So full of life.’ She then looked down at me and searched for something else kind to say. ‘And he has such lovely hair. The nicest hair, really.’ I watched as my mother folded her arms. Hmmm. That was interesting. It didn’t feel cold to me.
‘You see, the thing is, I believe that Gareth would be better served by … uh … attending a school more equipped to deal with his … er … condition.’ ‘I’m not following you,’ my mother replied, firm of both lip and tone. ‘What condition?’ As usual, I was one step ahead of my mother and now understood precisely what this meeting was about. I obviously needed to be sent to a school for kids with remarkable hair. Oh what a relief. Sound the trumpets. Let loose the monkeys from their cages. I wasn’t in trouble after all.
‘Well, for a start, it’s his reading ability.’ My mother leaned forward a touch. ‘What about it?’ ‘Yes. Well … you see, that’s the thing. He doesn’t really have any.’ I nodded at that. It was true enough. Nothing to be ashamed of. I had a great head of hair after all. That was the important thing here. ‘But he’s only been learning to read for a few months. Surely the children all progress at their own pace?’ The psychologist considered her response, before deciding that her point would be better made with a demonstration. She turned to me and smiled. I smiled back, the way a lemming possibly grins at a cliff-edge, and ran a casual hand through the best hair in the room. Probably in any room.
Dr Cruella then reached down for a stack of picture cards that sat, a tad coincidentally, on the table beside her. She lifted the top card and turned it towards me. ‘Gareth, can you tell me what this is?’ I was met with a picture of a cat sitting down, underneath which was a short word. Well, it didn’t take a rocket scientist, did it? Particularly since we had two cats of our own and I often saw them sitting down. ‘Of course, Miss. The word is Cat.’ I then decided to show off a little. ‘Cats have paws and tails and like to climb trees. They also like to lick their bums.’
In my peripheral vision, I noticed my mother bringing her hands up to her face. That’s odd, I thought. It seemed a little early for her to be so tired. ‘Let’s try another one, Gareth,’ she pressed on. ‘What is this word?’ ‘Dog,’ I replied at once, before adding a useful nugget of information about Canis lupus familiaris. ‘Dogs like to lick their willies. I don’t think they can reach their bums.’ My mother glanced up at the card and then returned her head to her hands. Only some time later would I be told that the cat was, in fact, sitting on a M-A-T. And the dog had a B-A-L-L in his mouth.
‘We believe Gareth suffers from a chronic learning disability and needs to be sent to a special school where he can one day be taught a trade, say.’ ‘A trade?’ ‘Yes, you know … like bricklaying or boilermaking (or stamplicking). Something where he can use his hands (or tongue).’ My mother must’ve been really cold now because she was starting to shake. ‘A special school is really what he needs.’ I considered this option. A special school. Hmmm. Yes, please. I’ll have some of that, thank you very much. A place where the young folk spend their days playing football and combing their remarkable hair. ‘He’s small for his age. And he’s a December baby,’ my mother whispered.
Hold the phones. What was that supposed to mean? It sounded like she was making excuses for me. Weren’t Jesus and Father Christmas both born in December? The psychologist then reached forward and placed a hand on my mother’s arm. ‘I don’t think another year would’ve made any difference. We also think he should be on medication to help keep him focused. He’s a perfect candidate for Ritalin.’ Oh sweet Mary in Heaven. I had no idea what this Ritalin business was, only that my mother thought very poorly of it. Very poorly indeed. Her face switched from concerned mother to rampant serial killer. It was as if she had swapped heads with Jeffrey Dahmer. If I’d had either the wherewithal or the common decency, I would’ve told Dr Cruella to leap up from her desk and to not spare the horses on her way out the office.
‘Let’s get something straight right now,’ Jeffrey D. snapped. ‘Gareth will never be on Ritalin. Do you understand me? Never!’ ‘All I’m saying, Mrs Crocker–’ ‘Get up, Gareth!’ she barked, frothing at the jowls. ‘We’re leaving.’ You can do this to an adult? Wait until my mates found out! As I stood up to leave, a question occurred to me. ‘What’s a boilermaker, Miss? Does he have to sit in the roof all day waiting to make the hot bubbles for bath time?’ She smiled back at me, but seemed to be sad somehow. She must not have known the answer. Because she didn’t answer. I think she was mesmerised by my hair. I could hardly blame her.
Ka-Boom! by Gareth Crocker is published by Bookstorm and is available now. This extract reproduced by permission of the author.