by Neil Campbell
Eight sentences per hour, written so slowly Phil could see the thought going into the curve and line of every letter. If Jake could fanny around smoking and getting a coffee until twenty past nine, then he’d do the eight sentences after. Without the fag and the coffee, you wouldn’t have got the eight sentences.
Phil wished he hadn’t read through some of the stuff on Pro Monitor: inappropriate sexual comments that frequently upset Pauline, the previous support worker, fights in class, throwing a piece of metal at the tutor and getting chucked off the mechanical engineering course.
Phil sat there week after week telling Jake to be quiet, or to get off his phone, or stop swearing. And the other lads in the Skills for Life class were funny. Compared to the mainstream classrooms he’d been in, where it was usually just mouthy little twats moaning about everything, he enjoyed it.
You just listened, built a rapport, acted as an advocate. The worst bit was the smoking shelter, standing in the wind and cold, passive smoking, guarding Jake’s fags. Phil was on his phone so didn’t really notice until it had happened, but one day a group of lads asked Jake to smoke a fag through his nose and he did.
Then, after preventing Jake from having the usual thirteen sugars in his Mocha, Phil sat next to Jake in the silent classroom and asked, so, what are we going to write about this morning?
So tired this morning.
Well it’s twenty past.
I told you before, I didn’t sleep last night.
I was with me girlfriend.
Okay. Well doesn’t she know you have to be up for college?
Oh right. What’s her name?
Natasha. You know something?
You know something? I’m going to tell you something now, sir.
It’s nearly twenty five past.
Oh, shut up, I’m being serious, sir.
What? And I’ve told you, you don’t need to call me sir.
I’m going to tell you something now.
I love her. I love her with all my heart, sir.
That’s nice, Jake.
I know. I’m a nice lad me. Aren’t I a nice lad? Do you think I’m a nice lad?
Jake, you’re a nice lad. But we need to do the eight sentences.
Finish your coffee. Now, what are we going to write about? What plane haven’t you told me about yet? What other planes do you make?
I don’t know.
Well, have a think.
After a few minutes, Phil watched as Jake began to slowly write, his eyes right over the page, the pen moving slowly through the lines and curves.
Phil read through the first sentence. So, what’s it called, a Swiss Miss?
Yeah, Swiss Miss.
Okay, so you’ve said it’s a Swiss Miss. What else can we say about it?
Well, how about how long it will take to make?
But how are we going to write that?
He picked up the pen, put his face down close to the page, began the slow process of writing.
Phil looked at what he’d written, corrected some of the spelling, and continued the laborious process of getting Jake to write eight sentences.
I need to phone my Dad up so he can tell me the size of the engine.
You shouldn’t really be on your phone, Jake.
Phil watched as Jake picked up the phone. You didn’t have any disciplinary powers, working in learning support in a college. He just sat there in the quiet and listened.
What do you want?
Are you okay?
Yes, I’m working, what do you want?
I’m in college.
I’m writing. I’ve done loads of work.
I’m writing about the planes.
Good. Look, Jake, I’m working, what is it?
You know the Swiss Miss?
What’s the size of the engine?
I don’t know, off the top of my head.
Can’t you go and look?
It’s in the garage.
Oh, Dad, can’t you just go and look?
Right, give me five minutes.
I’ll call you back when I’ve found it.
Neil Campbell is a short story writer, novelist and poet from Manchester. Lanyards is the final novel in the Manchester Trilogy, with Zero Hours (2018) and Sky Hooks (2016). Neil has published four collections of short fiction, a novel and two poetry chapbooks, as well as appearing in numerous magazines and anthologies. His stories have appeared three times in the annual Best British Short Stories series published by Salt.