Two kids are talking, it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, and the teacher who’s doing monitor duty refuses to allow the kids into the classrooms. When the sports whistle signals that breaktime is over, the kids can go into the warmth. Apparently, freezing your knees off in winter weather is good for you.
The boy is pulling at his braces that hold up his shorts. His dad told him, men wear them, and it makes you look dapper. He hates them because the clips that adjusts the length is cutting into his shoulder muscles and making his arms feel fuzzy. The girl is staring at him while he twangs the elastic braces outwards. She thinks he’s stupid.
The girl grabs at her pigtail and puts it between her teeth. She chews on it, and asks the boy what he just said.
“The sun is shining — even though you can’t see it”, The boy looks up at the sky, it reminds him of his dads string vest, grey streaky bits with white knotty patches.
“That’s a load of rubbish,” the girl looks up and her pigtail falls from her mouth, “it’s all grey. The sun isn’t shining, so you don’t know anything.”
The boy squints at the sky. He’s trying to find a patch of yellow among the grey and white streaks. He points at a yellow patch.
“Look, see that?”
The girl spins on her leather soles and looks up, “That’s just a yellow cloud, stupid.”
“If you squint your eyes at it, it starts to get bigger and all the grey bits go away”, said the boy.
“Oh yeah, bloody hell. You’re right”, the girl puts her hand across her forehead, she half closes her eyes and peers at the yellow patch. Her eyes begin to moisten and the patch of sunshine cloud turns into a dripping watercolour.
The boy watches her, he’s glad she stopped calling him stupid, now she accepts that he knows about things.
“So where’s the sun?” asked the girl. She places her pigtail back between her teeth and gnaws on it like it’s a corn on the cob.
“It’s hiding, behind the clouds — but it’s really there. The sun can’t go away”, the boy twanged his elastic braces, tried to adjust the metal clip. The clip is solidly closed and his tiny fingers aren’t strong enough to open it. He gasps at the stinging pain in his shoulders, and his knees tremble because of the cold air.
The girl asks, “so how come it’s so cold?” She’s rubbing her arms and legs which are now red. Her lips tremble as she chews her pigtail.
The boy avoids answering and looks across the playground.
The girl follows his gaze. The teacher is strolling up and down the white line at the edge of the tarmac square. She’s very tall and wears a long pencil skirt, a thick cardigan, she has a whistle tightly gripped between her teeth, she looks at her wrist watch all the time, then rubs her hands together.
“You can also tell what time it is when you look at the sun”, said the boy, he now regretted saying this, he would have to prove it to this smarty-pants girl.
“Prove it — what time is it?” The girl grinned at the boy. His eyes rolled upwards, and he rocked his head from side to side.
He looked across at the teacher. She had stopped walking, She stared at the watch, like a cat watches a mouse. The frown on her face tipped him off.
The whistle was now firmly clamped between her teeth, she puffed her cheeks out. In a moment they would hear the scream of her sports whistle, and when it stopped, the kids would gallop away into the warm classrooms.
The boy looked up at the sky again. He could only make out the stringy vest that reminded him of his dad, and the aching in his arms, the patch of yellow cloud had disappeared. He rolled on his Tufty Club shoes, thinking of the animal footprints he’d be able to make when it snowed.
He pretended to scan the sky, and managed a quick glance at the teacher. Her cheeks were now rosy red and puffed out, he noticed the watery look in her bulging eyes — if she didn’t blow the whistle now, she’d collapse any minute — the boy squinted, rubbed his chin like a professor, then looked earnestly at his girlfriend, “The sun tells me it’s exactly ten o’clock, a.m. in the morning.” He twanged his braces and grinned.
The girl looked at him, doubt in her shivering lips.
The teacher stamped her cold feet, her chest rose, and she finally exhaled the pent-up air into the thin shaft of the ceramic sports whistle.
The noise of screaming children abruptly stopped, kids playing tag immediately ground to halt, they stood like statues as long as the whistle pierced the freezing morning, a group of singing girls broke off in the middle of “ring-a-ring-a-roses, a- pocket-full-of-posies”.
A girl stood still as she chewed on her pigtail, her lips quivered in the cold, and she wanted to smile and laugh at the boy twanging his braces. She liked him, she had a smart boyfriend.
He knew things about the sun, so that was smart enough for her.
She also knew that he had a bag full of Jelly beans in his pocket, so she was a smart girl, too.