Life is not fair… Fact!
I can tell you, right from the start, that I knew I was doing the wrong thing… I knew I was breaking all the rules…
Mum and Dad had made it perfectly clear that Bernard was not to leave the house. Never, ever… Under no circumstances.
And school had a very clear rule – no pets allowed. (Many, many years ago, when Mrs Honeywell was a new, idealistic head teacher, there had been a Bring-your-pets-to-school Day, but it had not gone well. Her very own tabby cat had consumed two shubunkins and a white mouse before morning break and, during assembly, a blackface budgerigar was found dead on the floor of its cage. Tabbikins was lying stretched-out nearby and a long, green tail-feather was protruding from between her front paws. On top of all that, the cook’s cocker spaniel had done something unmentionable on the reading corner carpet. There was still a stain there, on the floor, which children avoided sitting on at story time. The teacher said it was from when someone had spilt a pot of brown paint, but all the boys and girls knew better!)
But Bernard had begged: “Please, please take me to school with you.” And argued: “It’s not fair leaving me all alone while you go out every day, doing stuff…” And persuaded: “I’ll be really good! No-one will know I’m there! I won’t let you down!”
Now, my parents would tell you that I made all that up, since Bernard is my pet dragon and, obviously, cannot talk. But you need to understand that I am very good at empathising with people (and pets) who are down on their luck. After all, things go badly for me all the time so it’s easy for me to understand how they feel.
So, that is why I ended up packing Bernard carefully into my rucksack this morning and taking him to school with me, despite being fairly sure that this was going to prove to be a big mistake.
It was a crisp, cold morning. The snow that had fallen two days before was still perfect for building snowmen and making snowballs and a light mist clung to the fields beside the road.
In fact, this seemed to be the ideal choice for a day to take Bernard with me. Because of the bad weather, mum and dad had needed to leave home early in order to get to a very important meeting affecting the future of their catering company. (They were hoping to win a contract which would mean that they would be preparing meals for special guests at every international rugby match played at Twickenham, guaranteeing work for all their employees for years to come.) Consequently, I had plenty of time that morning to make a cosy nest for Bernard in my bag and ensure that nothing would fall out even if I left the zip partially undone so that he could breathe easily.
To understand the other reason why this weather was helpful, you need to know that Bernard had started smoking. Now, when I tell you that he smoked, I don’t mean that he smoked cigarettes. It is just that he had started making smoke – breathing it out. He developed this ability about six-months after he had hatched. If he became hot, he would glow, deep in his throat, and light clouds of white smoke would puff out. Mum said that this was probably normal for a dragon. So the fact that there was mist swirling gently in the air that day camouflaged Bernard’s occasional wisp of smoke nicely.
By the time I arrived at school, I had almost forgotten about Bernard. I was deep in thought about the snowball I was going to make and the scream that Wendy Westman would make when I threw it at her. (Wendy, or “The Weasel” as I call her, is the class know-all and goody-goody. You know they type… Most classes have one. The person who thinks they are in charge whenever the teacher is out of the room. The person who is always waving their hand around, bouncing on their bottom and busting a gut to answer the teacher’s questions. The person who is the last one to realise that it is not very sensible to tell tales, in front of the whole class, about the person who is sitting next to them.) Anyway, I was making my plans for Wendy as I walked, but they all came to nothing because, when I reached the playground, it was deserted and I found that everyone had been told to go straight in because of the snow.
Disappointed, I hung up my coat and bag carefully, gave Bernard a little stroke along his back and made sure that he was safe from being crushed by other children’s bags. Promising to visit him at break-time, I collected my pencils and ruler from my tray and began work on our starter activity.
The morning progressed without incident until halfway through the first lesson. Suddenly, the quiet activity of planning an acrostic poem about snowy weather was interrupted by Wendy the weasel whining that she could smell smoke. “It’s coming from the cloakroom, Miss!” she continued.
A shiver of fear ran down my spine and my throat was instantly dry. Surely, there could be no other explanation than this smoke was emanating from Bernard! Miss Johnston stopped what she was doing, sniffed and looked towards the rows of coats in the alcove off the classroom. My stomach did flips as she strode over to look more closely. Everyone was watching and I held my breath in fear.
“I can’t see or smell anything,” she told Wendy when she reappeared. “Get on with your work everyone! And remember – I want to see your best vocabulary in this poem… your most interesting ideas. Don’t bother telling me that snow is white and cold!”
While Miss Johnston was helping Gemma and Anton with a spelling, I dodged into the cloak room and opened my bag. Bernard seemed to be fine and not too over-heated, but there was a clear scorch mark on the back of the rucksack. I splashed some water on it, lifted Bernard nearer the opening of the bag, told him to be good and carried the water bottle back to my place.
Miss Johnston was calling for everyone’s attention. She was disappointed with our writing. We were not showing any imagination, she was saying. We would have to do it again. But, she said, after assembly, we would all be allowed to play out in the snow until lunch-time to help us get some ideas for our work.
Excitement filled the room. This was going to be the best school day ever. Playing in the snow right up until lunchtime was a real treat, even if we would have to write about it later. I reviewed my plans to snowball The Weasel… I could not wait.
First, Mr. Stone, the school caretaker came into the room and spoke to Miss Johnston. “The screw-feed on the solid fuel boiler has broken down,” she explained. “We have no heating in school anymore and we’re going to have to phone everyone’s parents so that you can be collected and taken home.”
The excited chatter of a few minutes before turned to groans. The chance to play in the snow with our friends had gone. Worse, for me, this would interrupt my parents’ meeting and could ruin their chance of landing an important contract.
Then I had to tell everyone, everything. Mrs Honeywell had appeared, as had Mr. Stone. I had to show them Bernard. I had to tell them why I had brought him. I had to admit that I knew it was against the rules. I had to confess that my mum and dad didn’t know what I’d done. I was quiet when they asked me what would happen when mum and dad found out. But the Weasel was right there beside me giving her opinion about what they would do – and I thought that she was probably not far wrong.
Mrs Honeywell said that Bernard could not stay in the classroom one moment longer. “Far too much of a fire risk!” she said. So I had to go with Mr. Stone to find a safe place for him in the boiler room.
I had never been in the boiler room before and it was surprisingly interesting looking at the machinery there and the control panel, full of dials and knobs, on the wall. But we had to decide what to do with Bernard. Eventually, we decided that he would be safe in the boiler – after all, that was a place designed specifically for flames! And as soon as we popped him in, Mr. Stones noticed the water temperature rising. “Huston! We have lift-off!” he exclaimed. I didn’t know what he meant by that, but the consequence was that since we had heat in the radiators again, no-one had to go home and everyone got to play out in the snow until lunchtime!
In a few short minutes, I had gone from villain to hero.
Everyone in the school knew that it was me who had saved the day. They patted me on the back, asked me all about Bernard and they even shared their snacks with me. (Mine had become soggy when Miss Johnston had thrown water over my bag and I had been forced to put in the bin.) Better still, I had the chance to execute my snowballing plan. I made a brilliant snowball and, chasing after Wendy the weasel, made it splat right in the middle of her back. (I was feeling in such a good mood by this time, I didn’t launch it straight into her face as I had originally intended!)
It is true that mum and dad were not best pleased when they found out that I had taken Bernard to school. However, when they realised that without him being there, they would have had to leave their crucial meeting to collect me, not only did I escape the expected punishment, but we stopped off at McDonald’s for tea on the way home from school!
But for once, I’d come out a winner… and it felt great!
Did you prefer this “first-person” version? Which version do you think is most engaging? Does one convey more emotion than the other?