Eagle-eyed readers might recognise the first few words of this story as being from James Joyce's Araby. That's because it was the stimulus for an exercise in focalisation, in one of my writing classes, from which the rest of this emerged. I actually think it's one of the better pieces of writing I've ever done, despite (or because of?) it being so short.
North Richmond Street
Lachlan Marnoch, 2017
North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when, after a daily seven-hour stretch of tedium, they finally let us loose. For the last hour us kids minded more the clock than the chalkboard. The yellow light of the sinking sun would warm our yawning faces, a signal to our brains to shut down; one old Mr Malone, droning on at the head of the class, was somehow insensate to.
One of the kids in my set - Bill? Borris? - had his watch wound to the exact second of the bell, and as the time approached he would raise his hand to his waist and count the last five seconds on splayed fingers. This was a feat I envied, not myself able to curl my fingers with his independent dexterity. He could also coil his tongue either way, I seem to recall, which eluded me for another decade.
Sometimes this signed countdown was echoed by a whispered chorus, punctuated on zero by the sound of freedom. Mr Malone would jump, chalk screeching, and try to press some last remark or other into our firmly-sealed skulls as we stampeded for the door.
It was out into the courtyard, slinging bags over shoulders with well-practised ease as we moved. You had to find a gait somewhere below a jog, one that would not draw the ire of the senior prefects (“Oi! Slow down!”) or cause a stumble over the loose pavers. Then it was through the blessed open gate, worked iron hanging from sandstone columns - a symbol of fear on entry and of relief the other way - and burst onto the street. There was this one old bloke would always watch our enthused parade, frowning between drawn curtains; if I made eye contact he would pull back with a jerk and a swipe to his drapes.