Tell A Tale — Gothic Fiction

Night Manoeuvres By Sarah Ann Hall

Daniel looks up from a paper-strewn desk as Rosemary enters the staffroom. Mousey, small, she is insignificant, a nobody. ‘Rose-marie,’ he booms, ‘can I make you a coffee?’

‘Oh, Daniel,’ she smiles her pathetic little smile, ‘thank you so much. That would be so welcome. I’ve had such a morning.’

Daniel can imagine. Or rather he can’t. Rosemary teaches English to the lower school; it’s hardly onerous. Unlike him, who takes on the rugby and cricket teams and all their hormonal burliness, and is currently marking history essays as he fills in for Thatcher: a wimp, indefinitely absent with stress.

Daniel sets down Rosemary’s coffee and sits beside her, making out he is listening to her wittering, while he thinks about how fit he is, how versatile, reliable, and what an all round good egg he can be. He always performs admirably and goes beyond the call at every opportunity. And then he waits for the plaudits to roll in, demurring once only before accepting all accolades.

As he murmurs soothingly in Rosemary’s pauses, his mind wonders to his current favourite extracurricular subject – drama. The boys are having great fun playing policemen to his snivelling con in improv classes. And it is great practice for him. He will give the performance of a lifetime when the interviewing starts for real. Not that he’ll be snivelling. He will square up in polite indignation, and ask what on earth his is accused of. He will feign ignorance, demanding to know who this woman is making unfounded allegations. And all the Rosemarys he has sweet-talked, and the Thatchers he has covered for, will line up behind him having his back. Character is all.

It’s a running joke that Daniel is afraid of his own cheekbones, which is why he never appears in any of the school’s publicity shots. Daniel hides whenever a camera appears. How many times has he been teased and asked if he thinks a photo might steal his soul? Daniel bats away his tormenters cheerfully: better to accept drunken ridicule than risk exposure. His solitary night-time activities tow a fine line between nefarious and criminal. Most recently his cockiness resulted in carelessness. A pub in Mile End almost did for him, as it nearly did for ol’ Jack. Not that Daniel cuts women. He has no want of that. Much better to give a good scare; to inflict some psychological damage. To be in their heads forevermore is to be immortal. He knows he will live on in the minds of grateful students and colleagues, but good memories fade while horrific ones linger.

Daniel notices Rosemary staring at him. ‘Sorry my dear, what did you say?’

‘I asked what you were thinking.’

He smiles, works out a version of the truth, ‘I was thinking about a lady I wooed the other night. Darn me, if I haven’t lost her number. I might have to ask the police to trace her for me.’

‘Oh Daniel, you’re such a rotter.’

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