A short story from the Being Dad anthology published by Tangent Books.
The Dean came into Paddy’s office, after knocking, and went straight for the shelves behind Paddy’s chair – the location of what were later to be known as ‘the offending articles’.
‘Right,’ said the Dean, awkwardly. She was looking at Paddy’s half-ironic collection of Max’s discarded and no-longer-loved figurines. They were not where, one by one, over the years, Paddy had placed them – which was on the shelf in front of his Heideggers, equidistant from each other by about three centimetres.
They had been placed, instead, he now saw, into meaningful positions of sex. The green plastic soldier, with no head, appeared to be fucking a goofily smiling pink-haired troll up the arse. Lego Yoda’s head was between the legs of a Power Ranger with a piece of curled wire instead of a left foot. Worst of all, one of those jelly monsters with a big mouth of badly painted teeth was going down on a bald Playmobil air-hostess whose hair – Paddy remembered – had fallen down a hole in the living room floorboards.
‘My son,’ said Paddy, ‘and his best friend.’
‘Yes,’ said the Dean. She was a tired woman of sixty-five who specialized in the Icelandic Sagas.
‘Half term,’ said Paddy. ‘They were in here by themselves for, what, six or seven minutes. I had to do some photocopying.’
‘I didn’t put these like this,’ said Paddy. ‘Why would I?’
‘The student alleges that throughout the tutorial in question you kept repeatedly referring to Heidegger, as if to force her attention to that shelf.’
The layout of the room was such that two uncomfortable oatmeal-coloured and -textured armchairs faced one another beside the door. Paddy always sat on the one with his back to his desk, and his shelves running to the vanishing point behind his left elbow. The student, whoever they were, sat facing him. This meant that the plastic figures were somewhere behind his head – always in view.
‘But that’s ludicrous,’ said Paddy, and wished he’d said absurd, because ludicrous sounded too middle-class and flippant. He knew the trouble he was in was serious.
‘I believe you,’ said the Dean. ‘I don’t think it something you would do.’
‘Why would I leave them there, like that?’
‘I believe you are due to see the student in half an hour. She is very distressed.’
‘So you think I just set them up, just now?’
‘No, no, no,’ said the Dean. Paddy was relieved. ‘But it’s proving that you didn’t.’
‘Why do I have to prove? I just said I didn’t.’
‘I’m afraid it’s your word against hers.’ The clichés of officialdom.
Paddy knew the student. Fatima. She didn’t like him; he didn’t give her high enough grades. There was nothing he could say to get through to her or change her, until she failed. She was a foreign student; her fees were high. Philosophy was an excuse, as far as he could see, for her to live in London and to shop for nailcare products.
Paddy moved toward the shelf to de-arrange the toys.
‘No!’ shouted the Dean. ‘Sorry, no. We’ll have to take some images of that, for reference.’ She hadn’t said evidence.
Paddy had been wondering why the Dean was holding a copy of the Daily Telegraph. Now the Dean, with her iPad, took lots of photos of the toys, with the paper included in the foreground to confirm the date. Like a hostage video.
‘What can I do?’ asked Paddy.
‘I suppose we’ll have to talk to your son and his friend.’
‘K’Den,’ said Paddy, then spelled it. ‘He’s black. Well, sort of mixed race.’
‘I don’t see what bearing that has,’ said the Dean.
‘I was explaining the weird spelling.’
‘Weird is subjective,’ said the Dean.
‘Well, have you ever met anyone called K-apostrophe-D-E-N? Have you?’
‘I haven’t met a lot of people, Paddy,’ said the Dean. ‘That doesn’t mean they’re weird.’
Paddy was becoming angrier.
‘Are you seriously suggesting that I get turned on by putting those like that before a female student comes in?’
‘Those are your words, Paddy, not mine. I hope we can sort this out as speedily as possible. Where are your son and K’Den now?’
‘At school,’ said Paddy, and gave the name.
‘That’s not too far,’ said the Dean. ‘I was due at an HEFCE meeting today, but…’
‘I will have to go and speak to them – and you can’t have any contact with Max beforehand.’
‘This student,’ said Paddy. ‘She’s angry at me. I’ve told her she’s going to fail, and she’s doing this to get at me. She’s not really offended by that.’
‘We have to be seen to take this accusation with the utmost seriousness, Paddy.’
‘She’s just using her religion.’
‘You are the first person to mention her religion,’ said the Dean.
This stalled Paddy. He knew he should shut up. ‘Can I put them back now?’ he said, meaning the toys.
‘I suppose so,’ said the Dean, after checking the image was on her iPad and, simultaneously, being uploaded to the Cloud.
Paddy was taken to H.R., where he had to wait. His phone was confiscated, although the phrase used was ‘we’ll just shoosh it over to this little drawer over in my desk, okay?’ From one of the office phones, he called the school to let them know the Dean was coming.
‘She needs to ask Max some questions,’ Paddy said to the woman in the school office, the nice one who smiled all the time. He managed to stop himself saying, ‘It’s not about child abuse – I am not an abusive father.’
The H.R. people, some of whom he had met before, and disliked, kept offering him cups of tea, telling him it would all be alright, and then going off to gossip about him.
Paddy read a copy of Hello magazine, twice.
The Dean returned about half past five in the evening.
‘Bad news, I’m afraid,’ she said. She looked more tired than Paddy had ever seen her. ‘Both boys deny doing anything.’
‘Of course they do,’ said Paddy. ‘They were terrified of what would happen to them.’
‘No leading questions were asked.’
‘But what did you say? You took them out of the classroom, I hope.’
‘Yes. We did. The female police officer – ’
‘Oh Christ,’ said Paddy.
‘Well, they’re going to think I’m covering my back if I back you up,’ said the Dean.
‘Can I phone Agatha now, and explain why I’m not home yet?’
‘Before you do that, I need to get your side of the story straight.’
‘Can I at least text?’
‘This is very serious, Paddy. You’re being accused of sexually grooming this young woman.’
Paddy laughed, and realized that was the worst thing he could do. He had seen enough films about the downfall of arrogant white men.
Soberly, too soberly, he said, ‘I will answer any questions I need to.’
‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ asked the Dean.
Being Dad was published by Tangent Books on 3rd March. From protective instincts gone awry to the ghosts of our fathers haunting every parenting decision, this anthology of fifteen brand new stories shines a light on what it means to be a father in the twenty-first century. Featuring new stories by: Toby Litt, Nikesh Shukla, Dan Rhodes, Courttia Newland, Nicholas Royle, Dan Powell, Rodge Glass, R.J. Price, Tim Sykes, Lander Hawes, Andrew McDonnell, Iain Robinson, Richard W. Strachan, Richard V. Hirst and Samuel Wright.