This is a work of fiction, any resemblance to persons living, dead or otherwise is purely coincidental. The ideas and thoughts that follow are pure fantasies. In real life, at the very least they would be unpleasant and probably illegal. Fantasies are like that; daydreams where we can contemplate and imagine the sensations without suffering or inflicting the pain, despair or humiliation.
"Shi-eet!" The crash of a hammer and the clatter of wood falling to the floor, followed the expletive. Looking up and seeing Leonie O'Connell looking upset, and hearing Mr. Singh shout even though he knew she wouldn't hear, I went to her and touched her arm. Tears were in her eyes when I picked up the pieces and we looked at the way the wood had split.
"Sort her out if you can, Ian, I can't seem to get through to her," Mr. Singh called out.
I knew why he suggested me. His beard and the way he hardly opened his mouth to speak, didn't allow Leonie to read his lips and with woodwork being my star subject, I could advise and help her. I knew she hadn't wanted to take woodwork and had almost no previous experience of the subject, but it was the only class with a place free when she arrived after the term had started. Picking up the remains of her work and with the eyes of the class on me, I led her to my bench. Taking the notepad she always carried, I wrote, 'Not your fault, the wood is crap, the method wrong. Come to my place after school and we can sort something out.' A very bold move for me; being somewhat shy, I'd never had a girlfriend and normally I kept away from them. My woodwork projects and model yacht racing kept me occupied.
Leonie, mostly we call her Leo, arrived at the school a week after the September term started and they placed her in my form. Mr. Danvers, the form teacher, explained that she was totally deaf but could read our lips if we faced her and spoke clearly, but because she'd never actually heard the words, her pronunciation might be different to the rest of us. Of course many of the students took the piss out of her, knowing she couldn't hear what they said, but I knew many times she read the words, even from a distance and her face registered her perturbation. You would think sixteen year olds would have more compassion, but no, egged on by their friends, many taunted her when no staff were around. I felt sorry for her but didn't do anything about it and left her alone to retreat into her own silent, and seemingly friendless, world, hence my describing my note as 'a very bold move'.
"I'll have to ask mum," she replied loudly enough for everyone to hear and cause me some embarrassment.
I took her to the 'design corner' of the woodwork room and tried to discuss the type of container she really wanted. Mr. Singh gave us the brief for our exam projects at the beginning of term nearly a month previously: 'Design and make a container (box, chest, cupboard etc.) for a specific purpose using wood as the main material. Produce a folder of your design ideas and the methods used in the construction of the container.' I'd decided on an elaborate miniature chest of drawers to hold mother's jewellery. She laughed when I suggested it, "Your father's a joiner and makes boxes all the time for other people and has not made anything for me since we courted. I have to wait until my son has a project before I get something else. Are you going to supply the jewels to go in it too, Ian?"
"Not unless I get more pocket money," I grinned.
'What would you LIKE to make mdash; ignore any worry about how to make it' I wrote on Leo's pad and found a handful of design books for her to look through. Really it was something to keep her (and me) occupied for the half hour until the end of the lesson and keep Mr. Singh off our backs. I spent most of the time looking at her more closely than I'd done before and wondered how we would get on together if her mother allowed her to come to dad's workshop. Physically we were well matched, both of us about 5' 5" tall, dark haired and slim. I dressed scruffily; she in a plain, non-revealing way, that almost hid her burgeoning breasts. I liked what I saw but averted my eyes when she caught me looking. She smiled but said nothing. Several times later I caught her looking at me and, almost automatically, I smiled at her. So began our friendship. I wanted her friendship because I'd only dreamed of having a girlfriend and she needed a friend of her own age she could talk to as she hadn't made any friends since moving here. I happened to be there and, despite the communication difficulties, we gelled.
We both lived on the outskirts of Bowthorpeness, a small market town, she about a quarter of a mile nearer to the school and although I walked passed her house each morning, I never saw her because her mother took her by car. I guessed she thought her daughter's hearing problem made it unsafe for her to walk along and cross the busy road even though we had a panda crossing near the school.
Come on," Leo urged and took my hand when I lagged behind, nervous at meeting her mother. "Mum's okay, it's Dad you'll need to be careful of," she went on. Several boys from my form called out obscenities when they ran passed but I ignored them and enjoyed the feel of her hand in mine. Before we reached the car, her mother got out and waved her arms, Leo responded with further arm waving. I knew they were signing but hadn't a clue what they said. Leo introduced her mother as Rita and explained the situation.
I'm sure she guessed there was more to her daughter's request to go to our workshop than wanting to do woodwork, a subject for which she hadn't expressed much enthusiasm, but Rita only mentioned that side of her schoolwork to start with.
"I would like to see the facility for myself please Ian, and talk with your parents if they are at home, before agreeing to this."
"Mother will be in, I don't know about Dad, depends on whether he is working on a job or doing a delivery or getting supplies. Mother will know."
I sat in the back and only broke the uneasy silence to give Rita directions. "Oh, it's real old farmhouse," Rita exclaimed as we pulled up in front of the house.
"Yes, parts of it date back to the 16th century but there's been a lot of additions since. Some time in the mid-1900's an extended family lived here and enlarged the house so it's bigger than we need. There's no farm with it now, just the house and the big barn over there, is our workshop. The door is open so Dad's working."
Mother quickly overcame her surprise at my bringing a girl home, and bringing her mother too. I introduced her as Mary and she did her usual thing; she put the kettle on. I'd mentioned Leonie to her several times but not with any personal feelings, more because of her unusual problem and the way she and others treated it. Dad came in. "Thought there would be tea brewing when I saw the car," he joked and I introduced him as Bert.
I related what happened earlier in the afternoon to them and went on, "Mr. Singh is really the problem. It's not that he isn't a good teacher, he is, but he doesn't speak clearly and seems to dislike having girls in the class, probably because the other two girls do little work and are only there to flirt with the boys. He's only given a token amount of help to Leonie and expected her to nail her box together when he'd given her some grotty mahogany that splits easily. He doesn't expect her to take the exam so he's only concerned to keep her occupied. I think she can do much better with proper instruction, good materials and was making something she really wanted." Quite a speech for me.
"Okay, let her know the rules and there'll be others for her especially as she cannot hear when machines are running and she must tie her hair up at the back so it doesn't flop forward."
"Did you understand that Leo?" I asked. She said she did and Rita questioned him further on the safety aspects of her daughter being in a workshop.
"There's always some risk," Dad replied, "But it sounds as if the risk is less here than in a class with sixteen others at school. I know Ian well enough to say, he's unlikely to take risks. What would you like to make, Leonie?" Dad asked. She didn't really know. We all adjourned to the workshop and I showed her the tools I'd inherited from granddad and the bench I'd made and used. Several times Dad forgot he had to speak directly to her but we corrected him each time so we got along fine. "The machine shop at the end of the barn is out-of-bounds to Ian unless I'm with him, and for the time being, it is certainly out of bounds to you young lady," Dad told her forcibly.
"I can't hear noise like you people seem to," Leonie spoke up, "But I can feel vibrations and know when a motor is running, even the mixer in the kitchen, so that may not be a big problem, Mr. Clarke," Leonie spoke in her odd way but we knew what she meant.
"We'll see, how things go, you won't need them for a while and Ian or I will prepare the wood for you. She still hadn't any idea of what wanted to make so we went through into the little showroom and amazed her and her mother with the quality of the work father did. He unlocked the cases, and allowed them to handle the items.
Leo spent a lot of time looking and fingering a reproduction Victorian inlaid writing slope, one of a batch father made for sale at an antiques fair. "You like that?" I asked when I gained her attention.
She nodded. "The inside would have to be different to take the stuff I use."
.... There is more of this story ...