Saint Cuthbert

A short story 2021 (excerpt)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the behaviour of adolescent boys and dogs is affected by the weather. Just as blustery winds and the full moon will turn an affectionate poodle into a howling banshee, a hot summer night at the end of term will transform a dormitory of cowed and obedient boarders into a baying wolf pack. On such a night it is advisable to turn down the lamps, lock the windows, and ignore the insistent scratching at the door. It is a pity the Bishop did not heed this advice.

Bert Fowles arrived at Saint Cuthbert’s half way through first term. Matron told us in confidence that his father had just died and we should “Go easy on the poor boy.”

Try saying that to a dingo pack when you’re holding a rabbit.

Any boy named Fowles is going to be nicknamed “Chooky” and be greeted by the sound of clucking. Bert had other imperfections that marked him out for attention: a polio limp that disqualified him from sports (“Long John Silver”), Coke-bottle glasses for myopia (“Goggle Eyes”), and acne, which he tried to cover up with pink zinc cream (“Max”—as in Factor).

But facile taunts bounced off him like arrows off a turtle’s shell because Bert had mastered the art of the bald-faced lie. He confided in Matron that he suffered from Von Willebrand disease, like the Russian royal family, and might bleed to death from the smallest cut. He convinced the Bishop that his Christian name was not Herbert, but Cuthbert, “Same as our patron saint, Your Holiness.”

His father, a soldier-settler farmer, had walked outside one night and put his army .303 rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger with his toe. His mum was left with Bert and five sisters, the youngest still in nappies, the eldest aged 16 and up the duff, and a farm that couldn’t even grow weeds. When the Parish Council offered Bert a place at Saint Cuthbert’s, his mother said, “One less mouth to feed.”

Or was this another one of Bert’s stories?