Maggie knew Michael Pritchard. She’d known him for years as an arrogant upstart who seemed to climb the ladder of success through his boyish charm and family connections. Not having any ‘old family’ lineage that apparently counted for so much in the private school she had been teaching at, Maggie was acutely aware of how Michael’s connections to the bank manager (his father) and one of the local judges (his grandfather) had smoothed his way to later securing the coveted position of Senior Housemaster, despite his relative youth and inexperience.
It had probably helped that his wife, Joanne Smith, was the granddaughter of the much-revered retired Headmaster, Kevin Smith, whose larger-than-life portrait still glared down at teachers using the stairwell in the administration block: one couldn’t avoid that glare, either ascending or descending the stairs!
Yes, Michael and Joanne led a charmed life: they had twin sons – looked after by two nannies; lived in the most comfortable house on campus, barring that of the Headmaster; and no-one turned a hair when Joanne opted out of teaching and refused to perform any ‘motherly’ functions within Hodder House, the hostel reserved for the most senior boys. She had other fish to fry.
At first she joined the Marketing Department as a photographer. Then she began going away on school marketing tours to Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. Within only a year or two she was leading the tours to Zambia, Malawi, Kenya, and once even to Hong Kong! There was no denying that Joanna was very attractive, very efficient – and very seductive in company when she chose to be.
Colleagues envied this glamorous couple who seemed to succeed at everything they touched. Maggie was not among them. She and Michael had attended university together, where they had played in the same tennis team for years. Maggie had been his go-to companion for university dinners and dances whenever he was between girlfriends. They had known each other that well.
Current colleagues had no inkling of this. Michael had ignored her completely when she joined the school staff three years after he did. Maggie could recall him approaching her only twice in the ten years they had been colleagues – he had been inebriated on both occasions. The first was after she had presented a spirited defence of what she called “allowing the natural mixing of boys and girls” on the campus. This was a stance he had vigorously opposed on the grounds that boys needed time to ‘be among men’ without girls around. He had lost, yet her triumph had been marred by her concern for her daughter, still in high care after having been involved in a horse riding accident the week before.
Michael wove his way towards her at the staff function after the debate. “How is Sally getting on?” Despite the slurring, his concern sounded genuine. Maggie was taken aback, even tearful at the thought of the old Michael showing through the stuffed-shirt pomposity he usually displayed towards her. “Is Evan coping?” She wasn’t even aware that he knew her husband’s name.
The second approach came some years later, by which time Michael had been promoted to the position of Deputy Principal: Academic Affairs. Joanne had moved on to work as an estate agent in town. Maggie had heard rumours of affairs with clients, but dismissed them impatiently. Neither she nor Evan would have either the time or the inclination to indulge in affairs with anyone else. More believable were the rumours that Michael regularly spent long evenings in the local pub.
On this occasion the staff had gathered for a function to mark the end of the academic year. Michael had made a rambling speech thanking everyone for the effort they had made which contributed to the overall success of the school. He had clearly imbibed more wine than was good for him. This time he literally bumped into Maggie as he stumbled down the stairs, spilling his red wine over her face and dress as a result.
“Watch where you’re going you twit!” She yelled at him in the semi-darkness. “Look what you’ve done!” He had clumsily tried to mop her face and dress with his handkerchief, but she slipped away from him in the darkness, hearing the raucous laughter at his expense in her wake. They had not spoken to each other again.
His charmed marriage failed. Maggie heard that he had married a much younger woman a year later. Michael had blocked her application to head up the History Department: the position went to Sarel Joubert, who had successfully coached the first rugby team for three years in a row. He later dismissed her application to lead the newly formed Curriculum Committee, appointing Ruth Brown, who happened to be the wife of the Deputy Principal: Disciplinary Matters.
Feeling stifled, Maggie left teaching to join the town’s Publicity Association team. She lost touch with campus matters and became steeped in promoting events and tours to draw attention to the town’s historical and natural attractions.
Yes. Maggie knew Michael Pritchard. He ignored her should they pass at the pub, the supermarket, shows, or at public lectures at the university. Since that humiliating night, when everyone had laughed at him, Maggie had ceased to exist for him.
Until last Thursday afternoon. Maggie was doing some last minute grocery shopping at the end of a day during which she had been too busy to even think about the dinner she and Evan were hosting to celebrate a friend’s promotion. She was making up the menu while she hurriedly scanned the shelves.
“Maggie?” She recognised the voice, but did a double-take at the body. Michael was balding, had filled out generously and seemed to have developed an in-built crease on his forehead. She looked at his woebegone expression in surprise and said nothing. “Maggie, do you know how to clear drains? Our sink is blocked and Karin is as mad as a snake …”
Karin? That must be wife number three!
“Have you tried using a drain cleaner?”
Michael’s face brightened a fraction then slumped as he scanned the bottled condiments on the shelf behind Maggie then he shuffled his feet and looked at her pleadingly. “Do you know where to find drain cleaner?”
Maggie touched his arm lightly. “Come with me and I will show you.”