Hetty's Farmhouse Bakery 2018(4)

By: Cathy Bramley

‘I know. Mum, please don’t say that so loud,’ she muttered. ‘It makes you sound weird.’

I mimed zipping my mouth. ‘What’s your teacher’s name?’

‘Mr Purkiss,’ she groaned. ‘He hates me.’

‘I’ve heard he’s hot.’

Poppy gasped in horror just as Mr Purkiss looked up and beckoned us to his table. He half stood to shake my hand. His hands were warm but dry, thank goodness. It was amazing how many teachers got clammy hands during parents’ evening. I could see what Anna meant about him, though: he was quite attractive. In a boyish way. He had floppy dark blond hair and a slim-fitting navy suit, which made the colour of his blue eyes pop. His face was clean shaven and he smelled of something harsh but manly, as if he’d just had a good spritz of deodorant in the staff room.

‘Mrs … Greengrass?’ he said, looking at Poppy for confirmation. She nodded reluctantly, her pretty face slightly pinker than usual.

‘That’s right,’ I said with a smile. ‘Pleased to meet you, Mr Purkiss. Goodness, you’re young.’

Poppy’s jaw dropped. The poor teacher gave a bark of embarrassed laughter. I’d meant that he was young for Anna. And I hadn’t meant to say it out loud.

‘Sorry, ignore me,’ I continued, willing myself not to blush. ‘It just popped out!’

‘No need to apologize.’ He cleared his throat and pulled Poppy’s report from the pile.

I sat down, placing my handbag at my feet to avoid his eye.

‘Not that you’re too young. I’m sure you’re old enough for … well, anything really,’ I blathered on. Poppy looked on the verge of committing matricide. ‘Anything at all,’ I went on with a shrug.

Mr Purkiss looked scared. He scratched his head.

‘Um. You’re young too,’ he said gallantly. ‘You don’t look old enough to be Poppy’s mother.’

‘I was a child bride,’ I said, brushing off the compliment with a wave of my hand.

‘Oh?’ He looked a bit taken aback.

I wondered how to get this conversation back on topic. Once one embarrassing comment slipped out, it was as if the floodgates had opened and there was no end to my ability to humiliate myself and my child.

‘No you weren’t.’ Poppy frowned. ‘You were twenty-five.’

‘I did marry at twenty-five.’ I smiled at Mr Purkiss, who was looking left and right as if he might be contemplating his escape, or possibly looking for a security guard. ‘But I’d already had Poppy by then, at a very young age. A legal age, I hasten to add, I wasn’t fifteen or anything.’ I laughed, to show him that nothing untoward had happened. No crime had taken place. ‘And I did marry her father. I don’t want you to think I was off willy-nilly having affairs during my teenage years.’

Mr Purkiss clasped his hands in front of him and swallowed. ‘I wasn’t thinking that.’

‘No. Why would you?’ I laughed a bit too loudly, aware that my face felt hot. ‘How old are you, incidentally? Asking for a friend.’

‘Oh my God,’ Poppy muttered, sinking low in her chair.

‘Twenty-six.’ He cleared his throat and made a show of finding Poppy’s name on the list in front of him.

I nodded thoughtfully. ‘Not too young.’

That would make it a seven-year age gap. Probably the biggest Anna had had but I don’t suppose she’d say no. I looked across at Poppy who was staring at me as if I’d gone mad. I bet she was wishing I’d stuck to talking about my love of maths after all.

‘So.’ She launched herself forward and leaned on the table that separated us from her maths teacher. ‘Shall we discuss my last test results?’

‘Yes,’ said Mr Purkiss with evident relief.

Five long minutes later I was shaking his now very clammy hand.

‘For the record,’ Poppy said through clenched teeth, ‘Dad can come next time. Not you.’

Forty minutes later, we’d nearly finished. Most of the teachers agreed that Poppy was a bright and competent girl but needed to work harder in school. I could see their point, she could drive the tractor now that her feet reached the pedals, stay up all night to help with the lambing and had her own business selling eggs to the teachers at school, but ask her to analyse a William Wordsworth poem or list the properties of sound waves and she stared at you blankly. She and I both. There was just one teacher left on the list – Poppy’s least favourite. She groaned as Miss Compton beckoned us to her table …