By Roland Leach
Dear Mr Maroney, you probably don’t remember me, unless through my absences. At a recent reunion we decided to form a group to talk out our schooldays. Teachers that were a distinct influence. Marked our way through life.
Your name came up first – quite vehemently in fact – especially when we recalled how you lined us around the wall for spelling. A bit like being on the other side of the firing squad. You using words like bullets. Answers quick and unfaltering, or else to the back of the line. At the end of the lesson the last five boys were strapped. Laurie O’Neill – the red head you called Blue – still can’t line up in queues unless there are five people behind him. He’s had a life of being abused or shoved to the back. Mick Taylor never had a stuttering problem till he couldn’t get out sustenance right before the bell. The perfect student who got strapped. You told him it would keep him on his toes. Den Rand hates his kids asking him how to spell a word. You kept the strap on the desk or sometimes in your back pocket. It looked like a small black tail and with your wrinkled face gave us one of your nicknames, monkey Maroney. Chris Hill still has an unnatural aversion to the lesser apes and some of the smaller tailed primates. But it was the threat of your special strap, Jumbo, you called it, speaking affectionately of it as if it was your cat or dog. The way you soaked it in oil once a month to give it flex or polished it with boot polish to keep its shine. It was hidden in a back cupboard that you kept locked. We could only remember you using it once (on Phil Ray – typical) but the fear of it kept us wary. Sam Locke had to sit next to it at the back of the room. We were seated from one at the front to forty-eight at the back dependent on our tests. His analyst attributes most of his neuroses to the palpable presence of Jumbo – alive and breathing, oiled like a body-builder in the darkness of the cupboard. You took most of our meeting, you and your spelling line and the oiled Jumbo. Steve Gatt reminded us how you would trick us into learning our lists by asking the compound word in the list or the word that rhymes with. He said you had little effect on him and had come along for the alcohol but he did say that he remembers you when he hears the compound-word that double-rhymes with pass and role.
– Roland Leach has three collections of poetry, the latest My Father’s Pigs published by Picaro Press. He is proprietor of Sunline Press, which has published eighteen collections of poetry by Australian poets, and his most recent venture is an art and literary magazine called Cuttlefish.