Poetry in my Pigeon Hole - short story title banner

By Andrew Campbell-Kearsey
14th February 2012

A school headmaster receives a surprise in his pigeon hole one morning. But who could it be from? Runner up in our Valentine's short story contest.

‘Well, something’s put a spring in your step.’

Roger chose to ignore his secretary’s comment and closed the door to his office behind him. He sat at his desk and took out a folded piece of blue writing paper from his left jacket pocket.

He straightened the paper out on his desk and reread the four lines. He was ashamed to admit that he was no poetry expert. As a headmaster, some people would perhaps have expected him to have strong opinions on the matter. Roger couldn’t tell his Keats from his Shelley.  He found any modern stuff to be pointless.

But this was different. In four bare lines, the writer simply informed him that he was the reason she came to work. It was the essence of him that enabled her to get through the day. He gave meaning to her humdrum existence. It was all terribly flattering, but who was his admirer?

He was accustomed to badly punctuated written requests by staff with pathetic pleas for time off. He had never received anything like this before. He speculated about the writer of this poem. The purple inked italic script did not betray the writer’s identity. There were several members of staff that he would like it to be, yet many more he would not want cast in the role of headteacher’s admirer.

For one awful moment he worried that Phil in the science department had chosen this particular time to come out and that he had chosen his line manager as the misplaced object of his affection. Looking at the poem again, the writer clearly referred to “her beating heart.” So, unless Phil was also considering gender reassignment, Roger’s admirer was female.

His phone rang and he answered. It was his secretary informing him that his deputy wanted to see him. Brenda could wait, he thought. He knew what she would say anyway. She would go on about how she’d reorganised the staffroom and tidied some shelves. It was all too boring for words.

As a new headteacher, he had inherited Brenda from his predecessor. Roger had quickly assessed that the best thing for him to do was to shield parents and children from her incompetence. Unfortunately she wasn’t guilty of sackable offences. So he gave her little projects.

Her recent challenge had been to spruce up the staffroom and communal areas. He had given her a shoestring budget and she had taken up the gauntlet with considerable, yet irritating enthusiasm.

Unfortunately for Roger, she was keen to share all developments with her boss. Her most recent dilemma was whether she should group the teaching magazines in the staffroom by theme or title. Roger had heard last week about her constant fight to maintain a whole set of working white board marker pens. He couldn’t face it this morning.

‘Tell her I’m busy.’

He reread his love poem a few more times. For the first time in weeks he was smiling.

***

After lunchtime, he went through to the empty staffroom to make himself a coffee. At the sink, he glanced over at the staff pigeonholes at the other side of the room. Roger glimpsed another folded piece of blue writing paper that matched the previous missive.

He rushed over to retrieve it. In his haste he forgot he was carrying his hot drink. He tripped on the leg a low table in the middle of the room and the contents of his mug was spilt over the magazines. He was dabbing at them with some paper towels when Brenda entered.

‘Oh dear, what a mess and I’ve only just tidied them.’

She walked over to Roger and took the soggy coffee-stained paper towels out of his hands and got down on her hands and knees, saying, ‘Don’t worry headmaster, I’ll clear this up.’

Roger took Brenda at her word and exited swiftly, taking the now familiar blue paper from his pigeonhole.

Back in his office, he read the latest instalment. It didn’t disappoint. The writer extolled his many manly attributes and longed for the time that they could be together as one. Roger was concerned that she was coming on a little too strong, however welcome the attention was.

Roger had a meeting of the governing body that evening and he was attempting to put the finishing touches to his headteacher’s report. Usually this activity was simple for him; he just listed the school’s achievements, staff appointments and attached the latest budget statement. But he was unable to concentrate on the task.

He phoned his secretary to come through so that he could dictate some letters.

She sat poised with her pad and pen but the normally loquacious man seemed short on words today. After observing him struggling to compose a simple letter to the parents of a persistent truant, she leaned forward in her chair and asked, ‘whatever’s the matter Roger?’

He was normally a very private man. However he needed a second opinion about the letters and a course of action. He reached into his drawer, retrieved the two pieces of blue paper and handed them to her.

She put down her pad and read the letters. She knew this was no laughing matter as he was apparently taking it all very seriously.

‘Who do you think it could be?’

‘Well, I have my suspicions but I’m reluctant to say at the moment as I may be proved wrong.’

‘Perhaps you should encourage this mystery woman to show her hand?’

‘How can I do that?’

‘Well there is the end of term staff meal approaching and perhaps this time you shouldn’t leave early like you always do.’

‘I like to let the staff let their hair down and relax which must be difficult with me around.’

‘I don’t think you should flatter yourself into thinking that the staff see you as a Ghengis Khan figure.’

‘I don’t know whether to take that as an insult or a compliment.’

They agreed that it would be too obvious if Roger kept popping into the staffroom to check the contents of his pigeonhole. His secretary agreed to collect his notes and mail.

The very next morning, before the school day had begun, she rushed into his office without knocking. She knew that Roger was alone.

‘There’s another note on the same blue paper, but this time it’s not in your pigeonhole but Philip’s. It looks like your admirer is either two-timing you or keeping her options open.’

Roger got up out of his chair and walked into the staffroom. His secretary followed closely behind. He stood in front of the pigeonholes, pointing at the new letter on blue paper and turned to her.

‘Don’t be so daft. There it is, in my pigeonhole.

She tapped at the name on the label beneath his pigeonhole. ‘I do wish you’d wear your glasses. That used to be your pigeon-hole until Brenda rearranged them last week and put them into alphabetical order by first name. She seemed to think it would foster a more informal atmosphere in the workplace.

‘As you can see it is now Philip’s. So I am sorry to disappoint you Roger but it seems as if he is the one with a mystery admirer. Something tells me that whoever she is, she is going to be heartbroken when he finally decides to come out. I saw him a few weekends ago out shopping with his partner. He didn’t see me, but they looked ever so happy together. Hope it lasts.’

Brenda chose that moment to come into the staffroom and saw Roger and his secretary in front of the pigeonholes.

‘Just admiring your handiwork, Brenda. You’re making a lovely job of the staffroom.’

His deputy blushed but was grateful for any praise from her superior.

‘Sorry I can’t stop to chat, Brenda, but I have some letters to dictate.’

Back in his office, he handed the two love poems to his secretary.

‘Please can you do me a huge favour and place these in Philip’s pigeonhole.’

‘Of course. One more thing Roger. May I book you an optician’s appointment?’

Banner image by Chrissey Harrison

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