by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 8


Despite having only a few hours sleep, sharing a bed, and performing energetic horizontal gymnastics on waking, Zeno and Jarek emerged from their shower looking fresh and fit for anything. After a substantial breakfast they packed a holdall with the stuff Zeno would need, kissed Belle, hugged and brushed cheeks with Ari, promised to phone regularly, then drove into town to buy cleaning materials, tools and a week's supply of non perishable food before driving up to the cabin.

It seemed even more like paradise than before. Only bird, frog, and insect noises intruded on the peace.

'What'll we do first?'

'You're the teacher.'

'No. I'm not. I'm your friend. We're equals. We share all decisions.'

'But yours is the final responsibility.'

'If I wasn't sure you'd take responsibility for yourself I'd never have agreed to this. So promise that from now on you'll treat me as an equal partner.'

'OK, but I'll bow to your experience.'

'And I to yours. Despite my best efforts the kids will probably treat me like a teacher, so you'll have better and easier rapport with them. A perfect set-up. So, what'll we do first?'

'You'll think I'm a total wimp, but I can't enjoy myself if I've a job hanging over me. Can't even watch TV or go on the internet if I haven't done my homework, so let's get a start on cleaning and repairing.'

'Wow! I thought I was the only Goody Two Shoes on the planet. Oh excellent young man!'

Starting with their own room, they took the bed and mattress outside to air, then as it seemed stupid to make overalls or clothes dirty, they stripped, filled buckets with water and scrubbed and polished every surface. The place was much dirtier than they'd realised. Five years, Edgar had told them since anyone had cleaned the place, and in the meantime bugs, ants and wasps had built, eaten defecated and made the place home. Two hours later they reckoned they'd earned a break and raced down to the swimming hole for a swim.

A meal of tinned beans, ham and eggs fortified them for an afternoon of cleaning the covered cooking area, repairing a couple of loose sheets of iron, cleaning drains, refurbishing the wood fired stove, and generally making the place clean and capable of hygienically preparing food for a dozen hungry males.

A swim and a preliminary survey of the area followed. They needed to familiarise themselves with every track, lookout and possible danger before setting out with their charges on even the shortest hike. The actual area belonging to the cabin was quite small, but it bordered a National Park accessed by a stile a short distance from the far side of the creek.

They slept deeply after sex, in fresh sheets on a soft and dry mattress in a room that smelled sweet and clean, the window open to the sounds of nature.

The following morning after breakfast, while lifting the boys' mattresses down from the rafters to take them outside to air in the sun, a large python that had been sleeping up there fell to the floor with a thump. It was enormous, at least five metres long, as thick as Jarek's thigh and beautifully patterned in pale yellow and black.

'Fuck! What'll we do about this?' Zeno yelped.

'Grab the tip of its tail and drag it as far away as you can.'

'Won't it bite?'

'Unlikely. They're slow to anger and if you keep moving fast enough it won't have time to bring it's head back or wrap itself round anything. If it does that you'll never shift it, it's ten times as strong as you.'

'What if it bites?'

'It's not venomous, but it's got sharp teeth and can rip a fair hole that usually becomes infected. Ideally you lift it by the tail, but this guy weighs a ton and is too long. Off you go.'

'Why me?'

'You're always telling me you're taller and stronger, and you need the experience. Hurry up, it's on its way back up to the rafters.'

Nervously, Zeno, took a firm grip on the end of the tail and dragged the virtually unresisting serpent across the grass and down the lane to the boundary with the National Park, then let it go. Calmly, it raised its head, sniffed the air with its tongue and slithered silently off away from the camp.

'That's why there are no rats and mice here,' Jarek said on his return. If it was just the two of us I'd let it stay, but the kids might have been a bit upset if it had slithered into their bed one night.'

'Do they do that?'

'If it's cold, so I believe. A couple of times I found one sleeping on the canopy of the ute when I woke in the morning out in the bush. Probably felt the heat of my body percolating up from underneath. You've got to be careful though, they're usually slow and placid, but if they get annoyed they'll suddenly bite. That one could easily have swallowed a baby or a dog.'

'How? The head wasn't that big.'

'The bones of their heads aren't fused together like ours, instead they're connected by stretchy ligaments. Most interesting is that the two halves of the lower jaw easily pull apart allowing them to swallow seemingly impossibly large objects It's astonishing to watch them wrap around a fat old hen to asphyxiate her and crush the bones, then open this gigantic maw and by working their muscles, sort of work it into their bodies – it can take half an hour for a really large animal.

They made a fire that evening, not against the cold, just to feel romantic.

By the time Stephen paid a visit on Thursday after school, every wall, floor, window and piece of furniture sparkled with cleanliness, the cabin had been aired, was smelling sweet and fresh, and he was delighted. They discussed menus for the four breakfasts, five lunches and four evening meals that the boys would prepare for themselves, and were given four blank cheques to buy whatever they needed.

'For goodness sake don't tell anyone I gave you these cheques,' Stephen grinned. 'The School Committee would have a collective fit. They're all untrustworthy so can't imagine any one is.'

After showing Stephen the maps they'd drawn of the area indicating possible hikes, and a preliminary list of suitable activities and plans, they promised to have details of each day's activities ready for approval by the following Sunday when Stephen would come for a final check before the boys arrived on Monday morning.

It had been a rush to obtain written parental consent for this first camp, there being only four days' notice, so instead of a meeting he'd visited every parent and discussed it with them. After explaining that the best way to keep their children was to give them freedom, all agreed to allow their boy to go, and made no problem about leaving mobile phones at home and not communicating with their offspring because that could break the feeling of independence the boys would gain from being self-reliant. All were relieved to learn it would cost them nothing; the only things the boys had to bring were sheets and a blanket, suitable clothes, toothbrush, towel and any medication. Surprisingly, none of the parents had asked who was assisting Mr. Schwartz.

Neither Jarek nor Zeno were able to mourn the death of Adele Nimffo. There was no room for thoughts about her in this healthy world of forest and stream. Indeed, her passing seemed to make the world a cleaner place.

'Well, the work obviously agrees with you,' Stephen smiled, 'you both look incredibly fit and healthy. I'm jealous of your all-over tans.'

'We haven't worn anything since we arrived; too lazy to wash clothes. It's been perfect, hasn't it, Jarek?'

'The best three days of my life—wish it would last forever. Never felt so free in mind and body. I'll resent wearing clothes when the kids come.'

'You don't have to wear much.'

'What do you mean?'

'Legally, you only have to cover your genitals.'

Jarek grinned. 'And you, the kids and their parents wouldn't mind if that's all we wore?'

'Fifty-one years ago I went on a camp like this. Fifteen fourteen year-old boys and the teacher—a young, fit guy a bit like you two. Two mothers came to prepare the food; sensible, pleasant women. Apart from the first day when they came to watch us swimming, they kept out of the way so we never felt watched or inhibited. The swimming hole wasn't as natural as here, although to us it was in a jungle clearing. Sir's string bikini was much briefer than our Speedos, barely more than a pouch, and when he swung from the rope he looked like Tarzan. We all wanted to be like him.

'It was hot so we lived in our togs, only putting on sandals for hiking. We got so used to being virtually naked that we never thought about it. If possible we liked him more for being so easy and relaxed, trusting us not to be silly. He used to shower with us, and a couple of nights we all skinny-dipped by moonlight. No one thought he was perverted because he wasn't. He treated us as sensible equals and made us feel like independent men, not dependent boys. He was the only teacher I've ever known who didn't try in some way or other to prove he was better than his pupils. When he thanked the mothers for giving up the time they joked that it was worth it to see so much of him in his bikini.'

'Great tale, but I don't have his charisma.'

'Yes you do,' Zeno said. 'All the guys think you're great.'

'Children are incredibly sensitive to adult behaviour,' Stephen continued, 'especially to adults placed in charge of them. It's a survival characteristic to prevent their being abused. If either of you appear nervous or embarrassed they'll pick up on it. Teachers should be like a perfect parent. Boys accept their fathers unquestioningly, as long as they don't seem nervous and unsure, or abuse their power. It's natural for young men to try their social skills on adults whom they trust not to respond wrongly. So just as a father would never abuse this trust, neither should any teacher. Both girls and boys flirt, sometimes outrageously, with teachers and other adults. A few adults misunderstand this innocent behaviour and terrify the kids by responding sexually, too often with very bad consequences. I'm confident that won't happen, but you must be constantly on your guard never to give anyone cause to suspect your motives. Everyone gets individual treatment, but no one gets special treatment. Does that make sense?'

'It does, thanks.' Jarek frowned and stared into Stephen's eyes. 'I assure you I haven't the slightest sexual interest in adolescent boys.'

'I know! I never imagined you did. I was talking about perceptions.'

'Yeah, that's really interesting, Stephen,' Zeno said thoughtfully. 'Teaching's a bit like walking a tightrope, isn't it?'

'An excellent analogy. Look, I'm not worried, Jarek, just thinking aloud. Take the pressure off yourself, remember this isn't school, there's no exam; they're here to have safe exciting fun while getting to know and accept their own abilities.'

'If you'd talked like this last week I don't think I'd have dared take this on!'

'Rubbish, you're a natural. Everything will be fine. Just do what seems right and it will be. By the way, still no problems with the double bed?'

'The opposite.'

'So... you're lovers?'

'Philia is a better word to describe our relationship,' Zeno said somewhat pompously. 'Although it started off as Eros.'

Jarek laughed. 'Philia, Eros… What's all that about?'.

'You remember what Dad said about lovers not necessarily being in love? The English word love is virtually meaningless.' Zeno turned to Stephen who was trying to hide a smile. 'Dad's Greek, and gets pissed off about English sometimes, especially when it comes to love. He reckons it explains the fear English people have of their emotions. Family love in Greek is storgé. The love of beauty or nature is agápe, lust is eros, and philia is what Jarek and I have, mutual affection; a sense of responsibility for each other and sex if we feel like it.'

'What the Yanks call fuck-buddies?' Jarek asked mock seriously.

'Trust you to lower the tone,' Zeno laughed.

'We're best mates, Stephen, who enjoy each other's company and the pleasures of non-invasive sex. Buggery sounds too painful to me. We're definitely not "in love"; Zeno's far too immature for me.'

'And I'm certainly not going to fall in love with an old man,' Zeno laughed, launching himself at Jarek. They wrestled lazily until suddenly remembering Stephen was there.

'Sorry, Stephen. We forget we're naked.'

'Don't be sorry, it's a liberating experience for me. I suppose that's what it must have been like when naked hunter-gatherers roamed the forests a hundred thousand years ago. The comforts and security of civilization have come at a terrible emotional price and, in my opinion, have not been worth it.'

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