NP • by Nikki Owen

Coffee, highlighter, red, blue and green pens, assessment sheets, phone, all the tools of her trade laid out on the table before her. Highlighter poised, she checked her phone again. Not an essential tool for the job at hand actually but he might text, she knew he wouldn’t, but he might.

Oslo jumped onto the table and padded across her papers, around her coffee mug and brushed his head under her chin. “Do you want some food?” she cooed as she stroked the length of him, head to tail tip.

Highlighter down, kitchen cupboard open, writhing mewing love around her legs, she glanced at her phone. It was on loud, it kept its silence.

She sat back down heavily, making the chair moan. The onerous task of marking and the thoughts and doubts about him infected her usual clarity.   Papers reshuffled, coffee sipped, phone adjusted into her line of vision. Cigarette break.

She liked teaching this course, she didn’t like marking it. Endless re-marks and revisions. Girls always demonstrated better performance with coursework-only qualifications and she wanted them to do well. Year after year though they made the same mistakes. She checked her phone.

It had been six weeks since he had last been with her. His job was demanding and stretched to the furthest dimensions of the British Isles.  He quantified costs and contracts for construction and managed sub contract formations and flow forecasts. Three more projects had started in Scotland. He couldn’t be much further away. She felt distant.

Another folder finished, another name ticked on her list, she liked lists and she liked ticking, she always had. There was still too much red ink between the sheets of these portfolios. She had a colour system: red meant there were essential revisions required to meet the pass criteria, blue hinted at desirable revisions to gain the higher qualification and green was reserved for magic words: PASS, MERIT and DISTINCTION.

She chewed the end of her red pen and remembered the last time he had been between her sheets. He was soft and slow as he gently surveyed her quantities. No wonder he worked such long hours!

Her red pen skittered across another page, ‘I need to see proof not process – NYP’ She liked the term Not Yet Passed, it was more forgiving than FAIL and hinted at the opportunity for future success. Most of her girls received NYPs numerous times before the magic green PASS. In some cases though, despite her advice, and the opportunities to correct mistakes, the criteria were not fulfilled by the deadline. She understood that some of them had difficult lives that simply just got in the way of their studies and eventually and reluctantly she had to give a very final NP.

The porch door opened and she heard the familiar sound of paper on mat. Oslo lifted his head, stretched his front limbs and mouth to their extreme and then settled back into his sleeping cat mould. She arched her back against the dining room chair and stretched her neck backwards feeling first tension and then a trickle of warm relief between her shoulder blades as she bought chin to chest. Deep sigh, paper, pen, list: Eighteen months it had been since they met, tick. She could count the meaningful times they had spent together on two hands, no tick. He lived locally, tick. He was always away on business or tied up with a friend or family commitment, no tick. He was breathtakingly lovely when he was here, tick. She was doubtful and miserable much of the time when he wasn’t, no tick. He was kind and sociable and her family loved him, tick.  He was kind and sociable and his ex who also lived locally couldn’t let things go, no tick.

She rose, clicked the kettle on again and headed to the front door searching for a distraction.

She recognised his handwriting on the envelope, it was a card. On the front was a pair of striped pants with the printed text: ‘A brief note!’ She opened the card, familiar words that were so common to their textual intercourse were written in blue. ‘Hello you, I know things are hard at the moment, work is manic, bear with me, it will get better, I love you.’

This was a change to the normal method of communication but still not the skin to skin she craved. She fingered the card and envelope, idly turning it through her fingers.

It had a local post mark.

She picked up her red pen and in a diagonal motion across his words wrote ‘I need to see proof not process. NP’.

Nikki Owen lives in the sunny South of England with her 3 children and enjoys her career as an educator. She is currently an Assistant Head Teacher in a large secondary school for girls and finds inspiration for her writing in every area of her life.

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Every Day Fiction