....are waiting by the library door before the bell signifying the end of lunch has rung.
I'm equally flattered and afraid. My neck is hurting so much after the busy morning that even holding a lever arch file of notes in my left hand and draping my shoulder bag from my right is barely enough to keep me balanced and upright enough to smile at them all.
Must.... Not.... Swear.... even if the tiniest movement sends waves that of pain so severe I can taste the ominous sloshing of bile in the back of my throat. Sweat beads collect under my eyes as I very carefully place my gear on a spare chair, lowering myself by bending my knees and nothing else.
The room feels like a car that's been left out in the full sun except that there's no air-con dial or window winder to reach for to improve things. How the hell am I going to entertain and encourage these kids today?
Sapphire's at the table furthest away from me and she mouths silently, 'COMPUTERS, Mum, COMPUTERS!'
Bless her for reminding me. "Kids, the laptops are booked, so I want you to go to the IT room and sign out one each and return back to the library as soon as you can." A lonely piece of paper flutters gently to the floor in their wake.
Ah yes, this is the lesson where I said I wanted to see their Killer Opening Sentence, a Five-Point Plan (courtesy of my home-made handouts) and a start on their first chapter. For the two minutes of solitude I'm given I lean up against the wall with my eyes closed, pushing the bile back down with every deep gulp of stale air.
They're back, chattering happily as they log on. Thank god they're all computer savvy and have remembered their USB sticks in order to save their work.
I shuffle around, teetering forward from the hips so that my back and neck stays straight as I read over their shoulders. "Ben, you've called your book 'The Elemental Dragon'. That sounds pretty intriguing, but you do you know what 'elemental' means?"
He shakes his head.
"No? Well --- yes that's right, look it up on the online dictionary and then decide if it's how your dragon really is...." (Thank god he didn't ask me to define it)
"Yes, um Lucy, isn't it - I guess you can start and finish your novel using the exact same sentence as long as you can convince your readers and me, your editor, that there's real meaning in the ending."
"Sorry Nate, I'm not wincing at your work, it's just that something's wrong with my neck and I shouldn't have just automatically bent down to pick up the whiteboard marker before taking a deep breath and lowering myself down without moving my torso.... I like your sentence 'He was in the jungle and heard a hissing noise', I really do."
"Um, Emma? Writing your first sentence in size-72 font isn't going to convince me that you've been working all that hard today."
Flynn is the blow-fly of the class, buzzing around trying to distract others, to get them to laugh at his silly characters and dumb story ideas. Humouring him hasn't worked, nor has some special one-on-one time where he's been asked to explain to me what he'd really like to write about. He's out of his seat again, this time flicking the back of Otto's chair.
I want to lie down on a hard floor in the dark but know that if I set my limit now, it'll be worse next week. I tighten my already too-thin lips into a white line. "Flynn this is the third time I've asked you to sit down and stop bothering Otto. If you don't sit down and start working in -----" I look down - PHARK! Even that simple move hurts! - at my watch "------ in three seconds, I'll take you to the principal's office and you can explain to her exactly why you don't want to be one of the 20 children selected out of a school of 440 to write a novel."
It comes out a bit harsher and louder than I'd planned, but my damn neck, the stiflingly over-heated transportable hot box with the low ceiling and the afternoon sun bouncing straight off the reception windows into my watering eyes and the frankly-rather-enviable energy of the pest in question makes me do it.
Now cowed, he sits in his chair meekly and keeps his head down, busily writing for the rest of the session and keen to avoid any more of my attention. I can see that his cheeks are red and he's not used to being yelled at. I was that kid once, too. Being scolded in school was rare and it hurt. Stuff him, I was in too much agony just managing to keep my own throbbing melon head upright on my spinal column to care.
Pencils industriously scratch on paper, feet kick against table legs and keys are tapped. I continue to do the rounds, having worked out that a gentle walk relieves the pain by half a notch and that I can have a quiet chat with each child about their work. Their enthusiasm to get into it fills me with gratitude.
All too soon the lesson ends and the inevitable pass-the-parcel of forgotten notebooks, abandoned worksheets, tiny rubber roll piles of erased sentences, dropped pencils and chaotically shared data-sticks are played. The Kumon tutor waits patiently for us to clear out so that she can set up.
Sapphire runs to get her school bag from her home-room and I lean up against the outside gate, the weariness of the day still torturously travelling its evil way down my neck and back. She holds my hand and chatters about the class. "Lee thinks you're hilarious and I had to explain that when you told him to 'vomit it out' that you just meant to write down much as you can to get it out of your brain and worry about the corrections and spelling later."
I nod - PHARK! The Agony! - at her sensible translation as we walk slowly home.
She makes me a cup of herbal tea and nukes my wheat bag several times. Milly's nudging my leg, eager for our now-nightly walk around the block on litter ninja duties, but the panadeine's not working. I drop one hand down to ruffle her ears, hoping that it will suffice for tonight.
Love Chunks eventually rides in, and sees from my face that the day has been long and painful. With the distant strains of Sapphire's viola floating up the hall, he jokes, "So I guess some hot sex resulting in your head being rhythmically slammed against the headboard is out of the question then?"
His smile slides when I burst into self-pitying tears. I don't do pain (or ageing) well.