The Last Dictatorship
Scene: A classroom in the Land of Belarhombus.
Lesson: The reader’s language as a foreign language.
“Today’s word is Steampunk.”
“Err, what’s that, Miss Duster?” asked Square Minor from a back desk.
“Steampunk is a sort of thing that happens in the future as part of the past – not time travel so much as Jane Austen in spaceships, but spaceships that are not fully functional with gaps for draughts…”
“Not good if you want to keep the air inside them,” proffered Tight Trapezium from his bespoke desk at the side of the non-Euclidean shape that formed the margins of the classroom. This was the Belarhomboid Government Inspector of schools, despite also being a pupil in the class disguised as a child like Square Minor, Wobbly Oblong, Triangle Major, Cone Zero et al.
“Who hates Jane Austen?” had already been chalked on the blackboard by Miss Duster as a sort of avatar of the lesson when coupled with a barely discernible sketch of a token spaceship from a foreign comic featuring Dan Dare and Doctor Who.
Below this she suddenly chalked two numbers separated by a colon: a ratio or a score? Any unspeakable non-speaker would no doubt assume that ‘Steampunk’ was a shorthand term for a new-fangled way to make language learning & arithmetic more digestible – simultaneously together! One feeding off the other, a symbiosis, a synergy…
“Well, who’s heard of Dickens?” continued Miss Duster, ignoring the Inspector at her peril, as he surreptitiously wrote in his rough book: “What the Dickens?”
The headmaster – famously tall, thin and eccentric – was also present, sitting next to Triangle Major, knees up to his chest so as to squeeze into the child-sized ironwork desk.
“Steampunk, Miss Duster,” he said, “is that one or two words?”
She hummed and hahed. It not being officially on the exam syllabus, it was impossible to be certain. She feared that it derived from some premature confusion of time-travel: a conflict of English : Belarhomboid dictionaries past, present and future. Perhaps all the people in the classroom were reconciliation drains between user-unfriendly filters of time. Daytime dreams and dribbles.
Many of the children couldn’t count past one at the best of times. A monosyllabic life-sentence to cover all eventualities of existence….
Most were away with the Geometrists (a variation on Fairies or Clouds) and they were merely learning parrot-fashion rather than with the rigorous consciousness of questioning the identity of The Doctor or whether Dickens was in history or in some science-fictional version of the future.
Truth 0 Fiction 1
But who scored the goal?
One boy put up his hand.
“Yes, Mobius Dick,” Miss Duster asked. She could tell he was odder than the others as he wasn’t an obvious shape, Euclidean or non-Euclidean.
He didn’t reply, clammed shut. He no doubt wished he hadn’t put up his hand. He thought he must be part of a book and not there in person. A book that hadn’t yet been written, he might have thought.
The headmaster, jack of other heads, not master of his own, stretched and yawned as he uncoiled from the desk, without even a circle for a face. That was what ‘eccentric’ meant, she thought, forgetting that faces were never proper circles…Blank or otherwise.
Time for a tea break. The kettle was starting to boil, judging by the steam droplets dribbling down the classroom window beside it. The headmaster had left the room, he said, to fetch biscuits to steamdunk. A Senior moment.
The Inspector totted up astrological sines in his head…. What the…! Belarhombus the last Dickenstate of them all, dare he ask? Desperate questions for desperate times. He threw the rough book roughly to the floor. Slanguage was singularly untranslatable.
The kettle having boiled, Drood Junior got up to be Mother…