A Shameful Obsession

The classroom door opened. Late, Dennis Hobson thought, as he looked over the rim of his glasses, curious to see who it was. The girl who came in was a child he had never seen before though. The new girl, it must be her. What was her name again? Amanda Stanton? No, Esmeralda Stanton, but spelled differently, in two parts, Es Meralda. Who would give their child a name like that? All this going through his head in the two seconds it took for the eight year old to come through the door. She was followed by an adult, a young woman with long blonde hair who took off her sunglasses and looked at him from across the room. The moment Dennis Hobson saw her steely blue eyes he knew he had seen her before. That was not all he knew though. He also knew where and when he’d seen her and why he felt scared all of a sudden.

It was three months ago on the train from Manchester to York. He had been on his way home from the teachers’ convention that he had expected so much of, but turned out to be quite tedious and disappointing. He recalled how he had run across the platform, hurrying to catch the train, even though there would be another one fifteen minutes later. It was just that he had been so eager to get out of the city and go back home to his loving wife Margaret and the school in their village where the children were still well-behaved. After hearing so many horror stories from colleagues at the convention he had felt like the luckiest man alive to be working in a small village where, unlike in the cities, everybody still knew each other and respect was at the core of every interaction.

So he had made the 17h17 train to York, where his car was parked. From there it was still a long drive up into the Yorkshire Dales. Main roads at first, but then winding country lanes. A pretty landscape and his car had a good sound system too, so he usually enjoyed the drive, passing through valleys and quaint villages while listening to chamber music or cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach. First there was the train ride to York though, with stops in cities like Leeds and Huddersfield. He had been reading Oliver Twist again, so he had planned to focus on his book in order to keep the crowd on the train at a distance.

It had rained that day, he recalled now. Grey, miserable weather that had reminded him of November, but the trees had leaves and there were flowers in the gardens of the houses that they passed. He hadn’t looked out of the window much though and he had also hardly opened his book. No, what happened, he had walked through the aisle, looking for an empty seat and when he had found one he had got busy with his coat and bag that he had stowed above his head. It was only then that he had noticed the woman, this woman who was now in his classroom.
Back in May, on the train, she had sat opposite of him, looking at her phone like everybody else. Thirty years old perhaps, with long blonde hair. She had glanced up at him and given him a look of disapproval with those steely, blue eyes. Arrogant and easily annoyed by everything around her. He remembered thinking how he missed the old days when people still talked to one another on the train. Nowadays you couldn’t even smile at your neighbor anymore or he or she would be suspicious and offended.

As the train had left Manchester Victoria he glanced at the woman again and imagined describing her to his wife Margaret, starting out with the way she was dressed. Take the leopard print blouse, he would say to Margaret, could it be more tacky? When had those got back in fashion? And what about her nails? So long and bright red, what was that good for? Margaret would shake her head and agree with him. Thirty years of marriage and they were still on the same page about almost everything.
The young woman had a long coat draped over her knees, but he could see her shoes and ankles. She was wearing high heels so he had said to Margaret: ‘Could you imagine that? Wearing those in the Dales?’
And Margaret would say: ‘Go hiking in them and stumble into the pub afterwards. Everybody staring.’
He had smiled at the thought, but just then the woman had looked at him and raised her eyebrows. Still not friendly at all. It had given him an odd feeling, as if she had caught him looking at her shoes and had scolded him. He had felt the blood rush to his cheeks and had looked out the window until they arrived in Huddersfield. Well, had he really though? No, he was thinking now, mostly he had continued to study the woman in the reflection of the window. The thing was, she was pretty and could even be beautiful if she would dress differently. Get rid of those nails and heels, remove the make-up, wear different clothes and most of all, smile instead of look so surly.

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