by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 5

Mort was perfectly happy to be the only student in his class. Two desks were set up in a small store room for Fystie and him, teachers set them tasks, explained what to do, then left them to it; correcting and setting new tasks when they were ready. As Mort had always suspected, ten minutes of undivided attention from the teacher was worth an hour of general instruction, and in two hours he could do what took five hours in a classroom. Here he was able to continue a task till its completion instead of constantly changing subjects every twenty minutes, and this suited his temperament. Fystie also was thrilled to be doing things other than reading and playing easy games. In his free time Mort played with the other students, helped them with their exercises and puzzles, read them stories and made himself so useful the teachers sometimes wondered how they'd managed without him.

He was especially useful on the days they went to the pool for physiotherapy and swimming. On the bus he was indefatigable in seeing to seat belts, checking no one was missing, and that everyone knew where to go and what to do. In the pool he was another eye to ensure there were no accidents. It seemed there was not an officious bone in his body. He always spoke to the other students as equals, never as if they wouldn't understand, always treating everything, even problems and accidents as an adventure, and at the slightest suggestion of opposition by the pupils to anything he might say or do, he backed away, apologised, listened to objections and allowed them to feel they were in charge, if not of their own destiny, at least of the things they were capable of having some control over.

Once a week there was a formal staff meeting. Mort was invited to the last ten minutes when problems specific to individual pupils were discussed. At the third meeting he was asked for his impressions of the school and if he had any suggestions. Mrs. Dominint had prepared him for the question in advance so his response would be well thought out. Unselfconsciously unaware of the honour, and with seriousness worthy of a statesman, he said he loved how peaceful it was, and how the teachers were always patient and good tempered. The schoolwork, activities and games all met with his approval. The only thing he thought could be changed was the way the teachers sometimes spoke to the students.' He paused, wondering if he should continue.

'Well? Don't leave us up in the air,' Mrs. Kind grunted benignly, 'sock it to us like a man.'

Mort laughed. He'd been relieved to discover that Mrs. Kind's severe appearance wasn't a reflection of her character; she made jokes, laughed and played harmless tricks on her pupils. He liked her, but something kept him slightly wary.

'It's just that sometimes when you and Miss Glee think you're being nice, you talk to the kids as if they're not all there... unable to understand. They probably don't understand some of the words, but they know you don't speak to each other like that, and probably wouldn't talk to kids in the other school as if they were babies. They know you're not trying to hurt their feelings, but they can't help being a bit hurt. Does that make sense?'

'Perfectly. Have they told you this?' Miss Glee said without her usual easy smile.

'No, I just noticed the way they looked. Please don't take offence, Mrs. Kind,' he said with a nervous smile, 'but the other day you chucked Alistair under the chin, and squeezed his cheek as if he was a baby, and said "Come on Alistair, be a good boy for me," and you sounded as if you were talking to an infant. He knew and I knew you meant no harm, but he's fifteen and I could see his embarrassment in front of the others, so I asked him what the trouble was and he told me.'

'I fear we're all guilty of that sort of thing from time to time,' Mrs. Dominint muttered, then sniffed slightly. 'Thanks for pointing it out.'

'Mr. Brawn doesn't do that.' Mort turned to him. 'But you sometimes sort of back them into a corner. Like, if they do something to annoy someone, you insist they apologise immediately and that makes them stubborn. But they think a bit slower than you, so if you'd just point out their fault and the consequences, then let them think for a bit, they'd usually decide for themselves to make things good. They get pushed around all the time because most people imagine they're too dumb to think. I reckon they need to feel as if they're the ones making decisions about what they do.' He looked down and blushed.

'Mort, you're a genius. Of course you're right. I'll work on myself. Thanks!'

Mrs. Dominint frowned. She was wary of people who accepted criticism too easily; in her opinion it indicated a weak character. 'What about me?' she asked with a slightly supercilious smile. 'How can I improve myself?'

Mort blushed and a little voice in his head told him to be careful. His confidence evaporated. 'Nothing Miss. You're perfect.'

'Mortaumal,' she said with mock severity. 'I can tell there's something you'd like to say, so out with it. I promise not to take it badly.'

'It's nothing to do with the way you act; that's great. You're calm and never get cross, yet you're always the boss. Everyone respects you and... it's just that…'

'Yes?' The head teacher's smile was uncertain.

'Well… you're not young, because you've got lots of wrinkles, yet I think you try to look young. Your hair is long like Miss Glee wears it, but it makes you look old. Mrs. Kind is also old but just has it short and easy so it doesn't blow in her face and she's not always pushing it out of her eyes, so you don't notice it. And sometimes your perfume's a bit too strong…' Mort stopped and wished he could suddenly disappear.

'Out of the mouths of babes,' Mrs. Dominint said in a soft voice that was not completely reassuring. 'Thank you, Mortaumal. Do you know, I think my husband was trying to tell me exactly that two nights ago when we went to a concert. He asked me if I'd ever thought of wearing my hair up, and to be careful to check that no one suffered from asthma before I entered a room. I've got the message. My husband will be delighted.' with a visible effort she smiled at Mort's anguished face. 'You're a sensible young man, Mortaumal, may you always tell the truth and never suffer the consequences.'

He wondered why it felt like a threat.

School went on as before, although Mort had the impression the female teachers were not so easy and friendly as when he first started. He put it down to how busy they always were. It rained for several days, the pupils were kept indoors, and in desperation, Miss Glee, who was a regular at Leo's jazzercise classes, joked that they should ask Mort's stepfather to come and give a the kids lesson. Mr Brawn reckoned Mort should be able to fill the bill, being so fit, and Mrs. Dominint said it seemed an excellent idea. Mort said he'd try, but modesty forced him to say he didn't think he'd be any good. When they insisted he said he'd ask Leo for ideas.

'And you'll have to wear the same sort of costume as Leo!' Miss Glee said firmly, describing in detail how sexy he looked. 'It'll be great for the pupils to see something different, and easier for Mort to perform if he doesn't look the same as he usually does.'

Mrs. Dominint raised an eyebrow. 'Do you think it would be appropriate for one of the pupils to dance around naked?'

'He doesn't take the classes naked!' Mort said as if talking to a silly child. 'He wears a small thong. He says it's easier for the class to see exactly how to make the moves if his body's not all covered up. That's why Hugh, my self-defence teacher, wears a speedo during training; we all do, and it's great.

'I can't see any problem,' Mrs. Kind said with a slow smile. 'It'll do them good to see what a healthy body looks like.'

'Mr. Brawn? What's your opinion?'

'Whatever Mortaumal's chooses to wear is fine with me. The exercises will be very useful for the kids who seldom get enough, and it sounds fun. If they like it it'll be a good way to make them fitter. We can have daily sessions. Several of the students are worryingly overweight, and most parents don't seem to care.' He turned bland eyes to Miss Glee. 'What do you wear at those jazzercise sessions, Marian?'

'Miss Glee blushed. 'A thong and bra. Loads of people wear thongs, guys as well as girls. Bare bums everywhere. But it feels great; totally liberating to be jumping around almost naked…' She stopped and laughed wildly. 'Oops, sorry Mort, I forgot you were there, Am I raving?'

''Yes dear,' Mrs. Dominint said with a tight smile. 'But that's part of your charm. So, Mortaumal, wear what you like, as long as you are completely comfortable! There is nothing worse than a performer who looks embarrassed, he makes the audience feel embarrassed and unable to enjoy anything.'

'I wont be embarrassed about what I wear, I will be embarrassed if I make a mess of the exercises.'

'You won't, because that's not your character. So, can you start tomorrow? We could have a session just before lunch and see how it goes. Don't take too much trouble, they all know you and won't be critical.'

Mort's eyes widened. 'Tomorrow? I'll do my best, but I haven't prepared anything and…' He looked up with a grin. 'Yeah, no worries, Mrs. D.'

During the afternoon, Mr. Brawn came to check Mort's work, drawing up a seat facing the two boys.

'Do you know many women, Mort?'

Mort frowned and thought. 'None, really.'

'Then I'll let you in on a secret. You might also find this useful, Fystie.' Mr. Brawn cleared his throat. 'There are five things to remember if you want to travel smoothly with a woman. One; they are always right, even if they're wrong, so you must never, ever argue with them. The clever one's will eventually realise they're wrong, the others aren't worth bothering about. Two; whatever goes wrong, it is not their fault; it is always the fault of the nearest male, who must apologise sincerely. Three; when speaking to a woman, every comment you make about her, other women, her work, her house, her garden... that isn't an obvious compliment will be taken as an insult that she will not forgive until the male has begged forgiveness. Most husbands have to ask their wives to forgive them at least five times a day if they want to live in peace. Four; women are not equal to men, they are superior to them in every way, and deserve to be treated as goddesses. Five; males were put on this earth to serve, protect and provide for females without expecting any appreciation. Males have no other function apart from providing sperm if the female wishes to breed.'

Both Mort and Fystie were staring wide-eyed at their teacher, unsure if it was a joke or serious.

'You think I'm exaggerating?' he laughed 'Ok, perhaps slightly, but in essence I'm giving you good advice. Do you really want to dance around in front of those three women and the other kids with your bare bum hanging out and your cods barely covered?'

Mort blushed. 'Not really. I'd feel silly.'

'Good man. I may be a little unfair, but I can't help wondering if the three harpies are hoping you'll make a fool of yourself, to pay you back for your honesty when they asked you what you thought of them. By the way, Have you noticed the boss still wears her hair long and still makes all around her gag from a perfume overdose?'

Mort frowned. 'Yes. But why?'

'Because you broke rule one... Mrs. D is a woman and always right, even when she's wrong. And therefore you insulted her. It's too late to grovel for forgiveness, she'd pretend she had no idea what you're talking about and you'd insult her again by bringing it up. It's the same with the other two.'

'That's... that's... I don't know what to say, Mr. Brawn.

'Then don't say anything until you do know. And call me Todd, unless you want me to call you Mr. Aywun. I don't want to feel like a teacher with you. Ok?'


'Can you remember it all or shall I write it down?'

'Write it down, please.'

'Oh, innocent young man! That would make me a very, very foolish person! Remember this; never put anything in writing unless a clever lawyer has checked it. You can always deny saying something, or tell them you didn't mean what they thought you meant, but you can't deny the written word. Tell you what, come to my place and argue with me about it... I'd be interested to get your opinion. And don't worry, I'm not a woman so I'm prepared to accept I might be wrong.'

Both boys could hardly stop giggling.

'Needless to say, you must seal your lips. What I've been telling you is top secret for our ears only, you understand? That includes the invitation to visit me. okay?'

'Very okay. Where do you live?'

'Not far. I'll draw a map. Come and get it before you leave school. Talk to your father and see if you can't talk him into bringing you both for a visit; I'd like to meet him.' With a gigantic grin he left them to their work.

The sound of a car horn after the evening meal had Amy cheerfully bestowing quick kisses on her three males, telling them not to wait up before hurrying out the door.

'What gives, Dad?' Fystie asked. 'Mum's been cheerful for two weeks now and that's the third time this week she's gone out. Didn't get home till midnight last time.'

'Checking up on your mother? Not very patriotic.'

'That's not patriotism, that's…'

'I know, I'm just being silly. Before I answer your question, do you prefer your mother now that she prepares the meals cheerfully and keeps the house neat without complaining, or would you sooner she returned to her previous moods?'

'That's a no-brainer! I love her again now. What happened?'

'She has a lover.'



'Her boss from the supermarket. They sometimes go dancing or to the movies, but usually just go back to his place for sex.'

Another silence. 'They fuck... like in making babies?'

'The same. But there'll be no babies I imagine.'


'Because he will wear a condom and she will be on the pill.'

'No, I meant why does she want to have sex with him?'

'She's reasonably attractive and still almost youngish. Doesn't she deserve to be appreciated physically?'

'But you're her husband, isn't that your job?'

'Should be, but it turns out I married too young; before I'd sorted out what I really wanted. I'd listened to all the songs, read the romantic stories, watched all the movies about love and marriage and sex and thought that's what I wanted too... but that's not how I was made.'

'What do you mean? Don't you also want to be loved and admired?'

'Of course, and I am.'

'By who?'


'You mean you and Hugh are... you fuck and kiss and all that?

'Yes indeed.'


'So that's why you aren't jealous.'

'Right. Does it worry you?'

'No, I like Hugh, but…'


'Will Mum be leaving us to live with her boyfriend?'

'Probably not; and I'm not ready to commit to Hugh. But it's fun at the moment. Are you sure you're not shocked?'

'Of course not. I think it's great, don't you, Mort?'

Mort grinned. 'Yeah, Hugh's a lucky man. And you've good taste too, Leo. But we have to think about my debut as a jazzercise instructor. I need help! Do you really think I can do it? '

'Of course you can, it's an excellent idea, but I'm not sure about you wearing a pouch like mine. You're only eleven and people might think its a bit kinky.'

'Yeah, that's more or less what Todd said, didn't he Fystie?'

'Yeah. I reckon you'd look best in your speedo.'

'That's a relief.'

'Who's Todd?'

Mort repeated the little he could remember about Todd's ideas on women, and showed him the map and telephone number. 'Ring him now, Leo. I think he really wants to talk to you.'

'Why? What have you two done wrong?'

'Nothing. But he's nice and... I don't know. He just seems concerned about me.'

'Your wish is my command.'

He replaced the receiver. "Sounds a pleasant bloke. I said we'd pop round about five o'clock tomorrow. Ok?'

'Yeah, that'll be good. Now, what'll I do about this jazzercise thing? I'm getting nervous.'

'Good, it'll make you a better performer. Prepare your moves, practice until you've memorised them, then once you start the lesson your nerves will evaporate and you'll feel great. The question is, what exercises? You have to be careful, those kids are not fit, most have poor balance and easily get excited, their muscles are weak, their concentration span short. Most are overweight and we've no idea of the health of their hearts. You've also got to think of those in wheelchairs. Slow, careful movements that are so easy anyone could do them, but not obviously so. Give them time to think during the exercises, don't confuse them by moving on before they've mastered the move, and give praise every time it's done right — individual, not only group praise.'

'It's getting a bit complicated. I'll never be able to do it.'

'Of course you will. Come on, lets brainstorm and make a list, then you can practise on Fystie and me.'


''Use some self-defence moves,' Fystie suggested.

'Yeah! That'll be easy. I know lots of easy stances that look impressive.'

'There's a sure-fire way to make any lesson a success.'

'Make it interesting?'

'That's important, but there's a saying, "Nothing succeeds like success." If you ask them to do things that they will definitely succeed in doing, they'll come back for more. If they feel they've failed in any way, no matter how slight, they'll hate it. Every teacher who creates a sense of failure in their pupils should be shot.'

'Like Mrs. Pettie.'

'Exactly like her.'

Ten minutes later they had enough suitable, simple, easy movements for several sessions.

'Leo scanned the list and grunted approval. By the way, you've got to be careful of the image you project.'

'What do you mean?'

'If they suspect you're showing off, that'll be the end of you. Everyone hates a poser. Your job is to make each person feel they are the centre of the lesson, not you. When you praise you must be sincere. Never fake praise! Most people have a very good idea of their own abilities, so it's better to say nothing than give exaggerated praise.'

'I'll never remember everything. But I'd better start practising. Come on, line up.'

'What music are we going to have?' Fystie asked.

'Fystie, you're brilliant. I'd totally forgotten about that. What do you reckon, Leo?'

'Something slow and happy, not noisy pop that's designed to make people excited. I've a CD of Strauss waltzes that'll be ideal.'

'And you can have my Ghetto Blaster,' Fystie offered.

Half an hour later Mort was so confident in the exercises and his ability to demonstrate them, that he lost no sleep.

Twenty minutes before lunch Mrs. Kind helped Fystie set up his portable CD player; Mr. Brawn cleared the largest room; Miss Glee supervised footwear and excess clothing removal, and Mrs. Dominint told them Mort was going to lead them in a jazzercise class just like the one's his stepfather took in the town gymnasium where Miss Glee went. The atmosphere became tense with excitement.

The softly soothing strains of The Blue Danube introduced a self-conscious Mort as he stood on a solid low table so everyone could see him, grinned nervously and accepted cheers and claps and shouts of laughing excitement with a modest bow. He raised his hands. His class grew silent in expectation. Fystie nodded in support. Mr. Brawn winked encouragement. The women stood behind everyone with their arms folded, faces stern, ready for trouble.

'If you copy exactly what I do, you will become, handsome, healthy, beautiful and sexy.' Mort's grin was infectious and they laughed again excitedly, wanting to believe him, determined to enjoy themselves, thus ensuring they would. The music swelled, drowning their consciousness of self, and...

Success is too feeble a word to describe what happened. Everyone concentrated with all their being. They copied faithfully every move, expression, and flick of the hand. Moves were repeated until everyone could manage them, and as repetition is half the fun of exercise, that was perfect too. For a few minutes Mort became a hero to be followed, admired and emulated.

The female teachers didn't mention the speedo, nor were they particularly fulsome in praise. Nevertheless a ten-minute jazzercise class was added to the daily program.

The following evening, Mort and Leo pushed Fystie in his wheelchair to Todd's place. They maintained a brisk jog for the entire four kilometres and twenty minutes after setting off were knocking at the door of a pseudo Spanish villa surrounded on three sides by a high paling fence. They had barely caught their breaths when a utility truck pulled up and a rangy, deeply tanned man of about forty in heavy work boots, skimpy shorts and dark-blue singlet got out, slammed the door and bounced up the steps towards them.

'Made it,' he said with a grin. 'Todd's running late, so rang me to come and meet you.' Producing a key he slipped off his boots, opened the door and ushered them into a wide, tiled entranceway that opened into a light-filled lounge.

'I'm Laurence, but everyone calls me Lanky.'

'I can see why,' Leo laughed. 'Nice legs. Nice shorts too, what there is of them.'

'Ha! That explains it.'

'Explains what?'

'According to Todd, you have two super intelligent young men in love with you.' He turned to the boys, 'That'll be you two, Fystie and Mort.'

'How do you know our names?'

'According to Todd, Fystie has kept him sane, and you, Mort are making his life interesting.'

Leo looked pleased; the boys astonished.

'I didn't know Mr. Brawn...Todd, thought about me, 'Fystie said in astonishment.

'Believe me, Fystie, there are so few pleasant interesting people in this world that they stand out like dogs balls.'

'Mort giggled.

Leo shook his head in astonishment. 'You understood what Fystie said!'

'Of course. He speaks English.'

'And I make his life interesting.' Mort looked bemused. 'But…'

'You'd be surprised, Mort, at the effect a pleasant, smart person like you has on those around them. You're as rare as hens' teeth, therefore precious.'

'Hens don't have teeth, do they?'


It took several seconds before the penny dropped and the boys laughed in delight.

'Well, I'm hot and sweaty, so I'm taking a dip. Join me?'

He slid open glass doors to reveal a paved private patio containing a blue pool in the centre, water trickling from the mouth of a stone lion on the rear wall. Dropping shorts and singlet on the tiles, he dived cleanly in, revealing a seamless tan. The others didn't hesitate and ten minutes later, an apologetic Todd joined them.

'I never thought I'd be swimming naked with my teacher,' Mort said dreamily. 'You're the bestest teacher I've ever had.'

'Flattery will get you everywhere, Mort. Fancy a barbecue anyone?'

Everyone did, and half an hour later they were lounging around the pool with plates of sausage, bread, and tomato salad.

Talk turned to Fystie and Mort and school. Todd had always been concerned that Fystie was wasting his intelligence by being with slower children, and now Mort had arrived his worries were increased. Both were learning everything they needed to pass examinations, but were missing out on the rough and tumble of socialising and cooperation, teams sports and the stimulus of competition. Most CP kids went to normal schools and learned to cope with the problems of discrimination. Perhaps…'

'Did you enjoy the rough and tumble of school?' Leo asked thoughtfully.

'Hated it.'

Team sports?'

'Loathed them all. Especially football, so bloody rough! All that macho crap. And I bruise easily.'

'How many school friends have you kept in contact with?'


'So socialising wasn't a success. What about cooperation?'

'In group projects, I did all the work and the others took the praise.'

'That leaves us with competition. In my experience, competition makes enemies of everyone.'

'You're right.'

'So what's the real reason you invited us, apart from a desire to swim and break bread with three of the best-looking men in town?'

'You mean that isn't reason enough?'

'I think now Todd's met you,' Lanky interrupted, 'he's wondering if his concerns show a total lack of sensitivity and might offend. You see, from what he's picked up from the boys, you and his mother aren't very close, so he... we... wanted to tell you that if, at any time you need somewhere safe to leave one or both boys, they will be welcome here, for as long as you need.'

'That's the least insensitive thing you could say! Thank you, thank you, thank you. It's my greatest fear that something might happen — an accident or something, and there would be no one who could take care of them.' Leo's eyes filled and he choked up.

'We haven't asked the boys what they think about the idea yet.'

Fystie spluttered and shook, so Mort wrapped his arms round him. 'I like it here,' Fystie managed. 'And I like you too. You've got a really long cock.' He burst into laughter, spraying saliva.

Todd roared with laughter, Leo looked serious, Lanky grinned.

'And I'm glad you asked me,' Mort said seriously, unaware of Fystie's faux pas. 'You're both really nice and you're not fat at all, Todd. In the clothes you wear to school you look sort of sloppy and overweight. You should dress like Lanky.'

'I would if I had legs like his. I deliberately dress badly for fear of being kidnapped and sold as a sex slave.'

'Ha, if he dressed like me he'd be worried those three crones will guess he's queer and make snide comments.'

'Don't they know you're gay?'

'They probably guess it; they keep dropping hints, but I'm not going to satisfy their curiosity and have them spread it to all the parents.'

After coffee and further chat, it was getting late.

'Come on, kids. Time to trot home.'

'No car?'

'My wife uses it. Suits me; I keep fit running to and from work. We're only four kilometres from here, we'll be home in no time.'

'A hour more likely,' Lanky said seriously. 'Come on.'

He put the wheelchair on the back of his ute, they all piled in the front and were home in minutes.

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