Chapter 33: Jackie Parker's Whiskers

Father Parker was the Rector. That's the Headmaster. He was really strict. There was nothing Jackie Parker could not do. He played cricket and rugby, he played the piano, he spoke a heap of foreign languages. He was really, really bright.

Father Parker
Father Parker

He bounced his glasses on the end of his nose when he talked, and when he told you off he could look over the top of them at the same time. When you went to his office to ask permission for something, you made sure that your socks were pulled up, your shirt was tucked in, and your buttons done up.

"Come in!" he'd call when you knocked.

"Good morning, Father", you'd say, standing at attention in front of his desk.

"Yes?"

"Please could I have permission to go to town, Father?"

"No!" he snapped. And his glasses would bounce and his eyes would glare.

"But, Father..." and you'd unthinkingly move a hand.

"Put your hand behind your back, Goodman". You stood upright again.

"Well?" he'd say. "Is that all?"

"Yes, Father. Thank you, Father. Good morning, Father", and you turned and went.

Father Parker insisted that everyone said goodbye to him before each holiday. He'd stand in the corridor, and a queue would form. You'd shake his hand.

"Have a good holiday, Father", each would say. And then the next would shake his hand.

"Have a good holiday, Father".

"I don't shake hands with a wet paper bag", he'd snarl. "Come back and say goodbye when you've learnt to shake hands properly".

"Have a good holiday, Father", said the next.

"I don't shake hands with a wet fish. Come back later". The handshake at the end of each term became a monumental trial. It was like in Lord of the Rings with Frodo coming to Mount Doom in the Land of Mordor.

The other thing Jackie Parker used to do was read the Weekly Notes. Now the Weekly Notes will be a mystery to most. The priests belonged to the Marist Order, which was founded in France. Somehow, long ago, French ways of doing things had crept into the school. The Weekly Notes was one of them. In every subject you got a mark out of five for the week. To get a 5 was excellent; 4 was very good; 4 was average; 3 was bad; 3 was very bad; 2 was wicked; and a 2 automatically cancelled every other subject mark out and you were "Off the Board". So Jackie Parker would come to class and read your Weekly Notes.

"Stand up", said the teacher. And you stood at attention for the rectorial entrance.

"Sit", said Jackie Parker. And you'd sit upright in your desk, with arms folded, and not flinch. When your name was called, you stood.

"Smith!"

"Yes, Father".

"English 4, Maths 4, Science 5, Geography 3", and he'd stop and twitch his nose and peer over his bouncing glasses. And Smith would shrink into nothing, like he could walk under a door with his umbrella up, because he'd got a bad note for Geography.

"Christian Doctrine 4, Diligence 5, Conduct 5".

"Thank you, Father". And Smith would sit.

One day Jackie Parker was reading someones notes, when he suddenly stopped. He glared at me.

"Anything wrong, Goodman?" he asked.

"No, Father", I said. What was that about? I wondered. Jackie Parker continued. He stopped. He glared again.

"Goodman, anything wrong?" This time the question was louder and more vehement.

"No, Father", I said. What on earth was I doing wrong? It was getting dangerous. Jackie Parker continued. He stopped.

"GOODMAN! GET OUT!" he shouted. I dazed my way from the room and waited outside. My heart was pounding. My hands were sweaty. What had I done? What had I done? Help!

Help!

Jackie Parker had finished in the room. I heard the class stand. The door opened. Out he came. The door closed.

"I'm sorry for disturbing the class", I said, hoping that such a general statement would cover whatever it was I'd done.

He came really close to my face and whispered. A whisper is more threatening than a shout. A whisper is what a volcano does before it bursts. A whisper is like the stillness before an earthquake when people say, "This is earthquake weather".

I could see on Jackie Parker's chin, three little whiskers that he'd missed while shaving that morning.

"You should know better", he whispered. I was not listening. I was watching the whiskers, and his glasses bobbing up and down. And the Three Little Pigs went wee-wee-wee away from the Big Bad Wolf, and Little Red Riding Hood thought it was Grandma. What big eyes you have! What a big nose you have! What big whiskers you have! All the better to eat you, eat you, eat you with. He'd finished.

"Yes, Father. Thank you, Father", said I. And he sauntered off to the next room for another round of Weekly Notes. That was in my fourth form.

In the sixth form, Jackie Parker taught me Maths. There were ten of us. It was the only class he taught. We saw that he was the funniest man, the wittiest man you could meet. We loved his classes and learnt a lot. But underneath there always lurked a deep respect (or was it fear?) for the rumblings of a mountain that could explode.

In the August holidays my brother Tony said, "Do you know Father Parker's got cancer and is in hospital?" I didn't know. He was teaching me last week. He was only forty-six.

"He'll be dead by the time you get back to school", said Tony. But he wasn't. He was still dying.

Every day Father Ryan would give reports on Father Parker's health. He's in bed. He's on oxygen. He's very low. He's in fine spirits. He said this morning that today would be the best day of his life.

And when we woke in the dorm the next day, it was announced that Father Parker died at six o'clock that morning.



They brought the body back to school. The coffin lay in the chapel with the lid off. I touched his hands, which were wrapped in rosary beads. They were cold. "Come back and say goodbye when you've learnt to shake hands properly", I thought. Mount Doom of Mordor lay quiet and still.

He was buried at Karori. I've always thought of his body lying there in the dark, dark earth - ashes to ashes, dust to dust - with three whiskers on its chin.


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