It was here.
3:30pm on Friday.
Home-time for the day, and for the weekend. Mrs Morrison smiled and waved as the last of her children left her classroom, and the school, until Monday. Happy little children running into the arms of parents, grandparents, and loved ones alike. They would be eager to tell all about the drawings they had done, the words they had learned, and the sums they had been practising. The thought of all that enthusiasm and energy made Mrs Morrison smile.
But damn was she exhausted?
She loved her children, each and every one of them. Even Fang (not his real name, of course) who, when he wasn’t biting people, Mrs Morrison especially, could be quite a sweet little boy. However, despite this love, a week of classes, playtimes, stories, PE lessons, breaking up fights and arguments, dealing with tantrums and scraped knees, snotty noses and lost jumpers, Mrs Morrison was glad that it was the weekend. She passed on the final letter to the last parent and returned to the school building. It was always a strange feeling, even after all these years, to be within a space that was designed to house at least two dozen bright young minds and active bodies and it be so quiet and still. It almost felt wrong, but Mrs Morrison thought, smiling as she re-entered her classroom, that if it wasn’t such a vibrant and busy place when occupied then these moments of respite wouldn’t feel so pronounced, so necessary.
She both missed her children and was glad of the time away from them. Again, a strange feeling.
But, it was Friday, and that meant it was time for a drink.
Mrs Morrison closed the door to her classroom and made her way to her desk, straightening chairs and picking up stray pencils as she went. She filed some papers in her desk drawer, grateful of the extra time she had put in throughout the rest of the week, getting her admin work done, so that this time could be as free as possible.
This was her time.
Casting a quick glance at the classroom door, Mrs Morrison moved away from her desk and stood in front of the stationery cupboard that was situated at the very back of the classroom. Fishing the key from her pocket, she unlocked the door and stepped into the quiet cool of the somewhat dusty interior. It was necessary to keep the cupboard locked, because of the children’s seeming endless fascination with where the school kept the scissors, glitter, and glue, amongst other highly sought after treasures, and Mrs Morrison did grow a little tired of colleagues helping themselves to resources and rarely returning or replenishing.
And, of course, there was the other reason.
Pulling the stationery cupboard door closed, Mrs Morrison reached for the dome-light that had been affixed to the wall. She depressed it, and the cupboard interior was bathed in the soft glow of the low wattage lightbulb. Dust-motes floated lazily in the air as Mrs Morrison reached out to move a basket of craft supplies aside. Behind it there was a small number panel set into the wall, such as you would find on an ATM or telephone. Mrs Morrison typed in a quick succession of numbers, and the back wall of the stationery cupboard slid smoothly aside to reveal a staircase leading down. Mrs Morrison reached back to turn off the dome-light, and then stepped through the previously hidden door. There were similar dome-lights on the wall as she descended the stairs. Mrs Morrison heard the familiar sound of the door in the stationery cupboard sliding back into place as she reached the foot of the stairs. A few paces in front of her, there was another door. It had no handle, but there was a letterbox-like panel towards the top of the door. Mrs Morrison walked up to the door and knocked.
The panel was slid back, and a pair of eyes looked out at her.
‘Password?’ said a voice from the other side of the door.
‘Outstanding,’ said Mrs Morrison. The panel slid shut, and a moment later the door was opened. She stepped through and smiled. The room she had stepped into was a bar, low-ceilinged but friendly. Dark wood and leather were lit cheerily by lamps dotted throughout. The person who had opened the door for her, a tall man in a crisp suit, nodded at Mrs Morrison as she looked around at him.
‘Good evening, Mrs Morrison,’ he said, genially.
‘Hello, Jacob. How’s your Mum doing?’
‘Better, thank you.’ Jacob smiled. Mrs Morrison returned the smile. She liked Jacob. He was always so polite and respectful. Impossibly handsome, but Mrs Morrison suspected also spectacularly gay. Still, he was nice to look at, and to talk to.
‘Give her my best, won’t you?’ said Mrs Morrison.
Making her way towards the bar, Mrs Morrison nodded and smiled hellos at the other people who were sat in booths and at tables, all with drinks in their hands. Some of them still had their lanyards around their necks, proclaiming them to be from this school or that.
All of them teachers, all here to unwind after a week on the job.
‘Evening, Mrs Morrison,’ said the bartender, as he approached with a smile. He reached up and replaced the glass that he’d been cleaning before placing both hands on the bar. ‘The usual, is it?’
‘Hello, Stratford,’ she said, returning the smile. ‘Yes, please.’ Stratford took down a wine glass from above the bar and proceeded to pour Mrs Morrison a large Merlot. Placing it on a napkin, he slid it to her and nodded.
‘Cheers,’ said Mrs Morrison, as she took her first sip.
‘Your good health,’ said Stratford.
Mrs Morrison often wondered about Stratford, and the bar. There was certainly no mention of it when she did her teacher training, and it wasn’t something that was advertised in the job spec of the school that she had worked at all these years. But, as soon as she had passed her NQT year, she was let in on the secret. Beyond every stationery cupboard in every school in the country was a hidden door that led here, to Stratford’s bar. The rumour was that Stratford – and it was still unclear after all these years if Stratford was his first of last name – had been the Headteacher of a school some years back, before founding this place known only to teachers. How he had done it no one knew, and anyone who had ever asked him about it got a smile and a disarming and engaging little story about something or other that left the asker completely satisfied and happy to carry on drinking, but completely none the wiser as to how such a marvel could have come to be. Mrs Morrison knew of many a Science teacher who had driven themselves half made trying to figure it out.
But no one ever had.
In a way, Mrs Morrison hoped no one ever would.
She sipped her wine and sat at the bar, decompressing after a week at work. People came and went, all through the same door, all greeted and bidden farewell by Jacob. There were a multitude of accents as teachers from across the country sidled into Stratford’s for a quick drink, or a long one, their choice.
Outstanding, she thought.
* * *