Stories to Stir your Soul...

Miss Matthews - Rhea ( circa 2001 )

Miss Matthews was my junior school English teacher,

true evidence of the far reaches Victorian repression.
I remember her fondly though because I knew for all
her picking and nagging she secretly liked me.

She was definitely somewhere between forty and fifty,
gray-haired, yet unmarried and jumping at anyone who
called her 'Mrs.' by mistake. I didn't know anything
else about her but rumors said she was a bit of a real
life Miss Havisham. The furrow on her brow was deep
and fissure like and continued upwards to merge with
the parting in her hair. She had permanently pursed
lips and if she ever smiled it was frightening.
Bunches of girls stood at corners and giggled at the
strange bra-petticoat we could see under her blouse.
We figured she stitched them herself because we could
not find a bra so conservative in any market.

Her entrance was always grand, she swept in and came
to a stop in the front of the class. A severe glance
around always followed, leaving us wondering what we
had done wrong. Then her copy of Julius Caesar would
be opened and held majestically in the palm of one
hand, the other hand would support it at the wrist, a
deep breath, and thus began the monologue on the
virtue prayer and Caesar would be ignored until the
last fifteen minutes of the class.

I was deep into my romance novel stage then; and
horrors, she caught me with The Far Pavilions under my
desk, carefully placed on my knees so I could slip it
under my skirt when needed. Unfortunately not in time,
I was so smitten with Ashton that I didn't see the
ramrod straight gray figure glowering like a
thundercloud over my head. When I finally tore my eyes
away from the page there was the dreadful silence of
the class and Miss Matthews' nasal whine wanting to
know what trash I was studying instead of Shakespeare.
When she saw what I was reading she looked positively
stricken. "These books are NOT for children!"

As luck would have it I was saved by the bell.

I suppose she was referring to the one dirty scene in
the book that had been thumbed through so often by
lusty schoolgirls the book fell open at the exact page
when left on its spine. I also found her name in the
list of people who had borrowed it earlier. Clear as
day it said 'Miss Matthews'. I suppose she was ashamed
of it, for people like Miss Matthews it was a sin to
read anything other than the Bible.... and censored
copies of Shakespeare. The next time I had her class
she told me to "stop haunting the library with fat

In a school where the prettiest and the cleverest and
the most talented got all the attention hers was more
than welcome. May be we both shared a common love for
Ashton even. Both our suppressed emotions reaching for
the intangible and unrequitable love of our hero from
an age long past, the only age that held passionate,
rebel love. I tried holding conversation with her but
it never went beyond Julius Caesar, or as she would
have it, the virtue of prayer. If an appropriate gap
in the conversation arose my mouth would dry up and
thoughts would turn to mush in my head. So I passed
through high school without ever bringing up the
subject. I changed and grew as people do, and I felt
myself slowly turning into Miss Matthews No. 2,
because I could never find Ashton, and I didn't want
anyone else.

I never thought I'd see her again, but I did. She was
sitting in a bus stop with a cane in one hand. I
slowed down next to her and she recognized me all
right. She was still distant, severe, but for once she
didn't start of on one of her monologues. She was
still unmarried and lived with her sister, and she
hadn't stopped teaching. Eventually I started getting
shifty, holding conversation with people like Miss
Matthews was always strained. But I knew she was
itching to say something and I waited but it didn't
come, not until I got up to leave, and she looked a
trifle cheeky when she said it.
"Never been for a romp in the Himalayas?"
It was like some sort of coded sentence. "Never found
a good reason to, Miss Matthews," I replied.
"Well, better get on with it then. Time is precious."
"Yes. Good-bye, Miss Matthews."

-rhea (2001)


At 9:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this sure reminds me of my prim&propah school teacher at the convent where i studied..........a wonderful story, takes me back to those heady school days :-)

At 11:17 PM, Blogger arundhoti said...

Nice to know somobody read "Far Pavillions"...Ashton was my first crush!:-)

At 9:22 PM, Anonymous minaz said...

are we english teachers so 'caricaturable'?!! well here's a secret from the other side of the teacher's table...i fully sympathise with under-the-desk classroom readers!! the stern look at the class and the reverential reading aloud from julius caesar will always remain:)))

i love this line--'the only age that held passionate,rebel love.'

keep goin rhea!!

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Dianne Sharma-Winter said...

Rhea your characterisation is superb! I forgot to cook dinner reading your work!

Love love love "Baker Baker"


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