The new teacher entered the classroom and took her seat, greeting no one. Perpetua Tightwaters was having a bad day but her deportment made it impossible for the students to tell because she held only one expression in her armoury: disapproval. A fierce-looking woman with grey-blue eyes which devoured their prey whole, she could scan an entire school assembly at a glance over horn-rimmed glasses designed to gore enemies at close range. Thick, silvery hair which still held its lustre was meticulously hoovered up into a tidy bun, giving her the air of a grande dame of the Bolshoi who had long since exited the stage, but not the company. A smooth complexion required only a light touch from a modest palate; it was only her mauve lipstick which strayed into the adventurous, considered redundant by many because her lips were permanently pursed until they parted to issue a summons, reprimand or decree.
Perpetua Tightwaters loved crosswords, hated skateboarders, still bought her meat from the local butcher, donated to the Red Cross by direct debit, considered pet ownership overrated, knew her brother-in-law had a drinking problem before he did and stopped listening to Engelbert Humperdinck the day the singer made a joke about the Queen Mother during a live interview on Radio 4.
Alert and self-assured, she made few demands of others and expected the same courtesy in return, preferring discretion at all costs. During her morning commute into the city, Perpetua remained vigilant lest she should drop her guard for even a moment and, in doing so, make eye contact with a fellow commuter just bursting to talk about his gifted toddler’s progress at Junior Montessori. She had nothing against the public, she simply regarded them much as she did junior royals: odd-jobbers whose pivotal role might one day involve organ donation. In an increasingly unrecognisable world where meat was murder, Drag Queen Storytime had replaced Show & Tell and a pope had wavered ever so slightly on the question of married clergy, Perpetua Tightwaters chose to anchor herself in work, God and country for everyone’s sake.
In her opinion, social distancing wasn’t overkill.
It was overdue.