This is a short story in, 1025 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, the third one sent to me by Jennie Fitzkee.
Mister Dolman was a good teacher, everyone agreed on that. He could make his lessons come to life by pretending to be a brave knight in armour, or a hedgehog snuffling for food. He would bring things in to show the kids, anything from a funny-shaped rock he had found, to the medals his Dad had been given during the war. Not for him just the dry text of the curriculum books, oh no. In Mister Dolman’s class, the kids actually turned up excited to be there, wondering what would happen next.
And he included everyone. No kid was allowed to sit things out because they were shy, or if they had doubts about their own abilities or skills. Inclusion was his creed, and that applied to Kevin too. A quiet boy, who always seemed to be worrying about something, Kevin didn’t play with the others at break, and nobody willingly sat next to him. Of course, that didn’t go unnoticed by the dedicated teacher.
So one day, Mister Dolman brought in a huge box from home. It was full of all sorts of random objects. He invited the kids to stand around and look in the box, then asked them what they thought was in it. Melody smiled. “Just junk”. Danny actually laughed. “You brought your garbage into school, Mister Dolman”. Letitia put her hands on her hips. “That’s boring”. He called Kevin forward. “Here, Kevin. You look, and tell me what you see”.
The boy stared into the box for a long time. He looked at the cardboard tubes from old toilet rolls and kitchen paper, the parcel box, some wires, and old paints and brushes. There were a few empty plastic bottles, washed out and clean, and two food storage tubs that had seen better days. The other kids shuffled their feet, as Kevin thought about those objects. Finally, he looked up at the teacher. “I see a castle”.
Smiling, Mister Dolman nodded. “That’s great, Kevin. Okay class, after lunch, we are all going to make a castle. Kevin is going to show us how”.
Using an old cupboard door as a base, and glue provided by the school, they set about creating that castle, guided by Kevin, who could undoubtedly picture it in his head. The cardboard rolls became strong towers, the bottles were carefully cut to become crenelated bastions, and the parcel box turned into a gatehouse and drawbridge, with the old wires used to raise and lower it. The storage tubs were cut and stuck in place to provide walls between the towers. By the time the end of the school day was approaching, everyone agreed it looked just like one of the castles they had seen in old pictures.
As they were getting ready to go home, Mister Dolman lifted the castle, and put it in a safe place on top of the bookshelf. “Safe journey home now, everyone. Tomorrow afternoon, we are going to paint the castle”. He smiled as he watched Melody and Danny walking with Kevin. They were all chatting and grinning. Everyone wanted to know more about how Kevin had thought up the castle.
True to his word, the paints were brought out the next day. The other kids were asking Kevin things. “What colour should I paint this, Kevin?”. “Shall I paint the drawbridge brown, like wood, Kevin?” After it was almost finished, Kevin took the thinnest brush, and drew lines up and down the castle, making it look like the various stone sections would have appeared. Mister Dolman gave him a piece of strong card, and asked him to name the castle. “We will put the card in front on the base, Kevin”. The boy took a marker pen, and wrote carefully.
It was easy enough to persuade the head teacher to let him put the castle in the trophy cabinet in the entrance hall. Then every day for the rest of his time at that school, Kevin would walk past something he had created, and the other kids would say “We helped too”.
Retirement was compulsory, but that didn’t mean Mister Dolman was looking forward to it. His wife was worried about him. “Maybe you can still do something, Phil? You know, voluntary stuff. Teaching slow readers, helping out at the museum. You’ll find something, I’m sure”. The retirement party was after school on the Friday. They gave him gifts of framed photos of the school, and a lovely collage made by his last class. Everyone signed his card, and wished him well.
When he walked across to his car, Phil Dolman didn’t look back, not even once. He didn’t want them to see him crying.
The following Monday, it already felt strange to not have to go to work. He sat around reading the papers, and watched the breakfast news on television. Just after nine, there was a knock at the door. The parcel was really big, and at first he thought it must be for his wife. But the parcel guy made him sign for it in the name of Mister Dolman, and he was intrigued as he opened it carefully, noting the large FRAGILE stickers all over it.
Inside, there were acres of bubble wrap, and once he was through those, he revealed a beautiful castle made from plaster, lovingly crafted and painted. There was also a note.
‘Mister Dolman, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to your party. I live a long way from that town now, and I was busy with work. I phoned the school and explained, and they were kind enough to give me your address. I have never forgotten the day we made that castle, and I wanted you to have your own one, so you could remember how you helped me back then. I hope you like it. Kevin.
There was another card inside, with careful writing on it. It simply read
Phil showed it to his wife, his eyes wet with tears.
They both agreed it was the best retirement present any teacher could ever wish for.