The Song of Sqia'lon Seven, by Julia4Tune

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The February haze of summer had blanched the sky a parboiled blue. Violet submitted to its mesmerising sheen, as she peered dreamily up at it through the window from where her head lay on her classroom desk. Soon, the bell would ring; several hundred pairs of sweaty legs peeled from the plastic laminate of school chairs; bags hastily grabbed; and the kind of half-hearted goodbyes teens exchanged with their thoughtless confidence in the thousands of tomorrows that surely awaited them all. On her walk to the bus stop, the cicadas would start to scream in the tropical afternoon heat. The skies would roil and boil, and thunder would rankle in the distance.

"Violet Swillong!"

Violet jumped at the nearness of her teacher's voice.

"Yes, Mrs Cramm?" she rifled back, bolting upright in her chair, startled to find her teacher's craggy, wrinkle lined face level with her own. Mrs Cramm leaned across Violet's desk, peering coldly at her.

"What is YOUR response to the question I have just posed to the class?"

Violet gulped so hard, her throat hurt. She had no idea what the question was. Beyond Mrs Cramm's shoulder, Violet glimpsed Nathan Cartwright quietly rise from his seated position at the front of the class.

"So," her teacher accused as she leaned further over Violet's desk, stabbing the desk with an index finger with each word, "you weren't paying attention to the lesson, distracted as usual!"

Violet was momentarily sidetracked by Nathan's arms, which were flailing behind Mrs Cramm's bent form in an obvious effort to catch her notice. Confident he now had Violet's attention, Nathan's surprisingly elastic lips moved in grotesque slow motion as he mouthed the words: "What did the mockingbird symbolise in the novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird"?" At Violet's vacant look, Nathan tried a different tack, mimicking, as if playing a game of charades, a bird flying, complete with flapping wings and pecking beak. The class began to break out in laughter. Mrs Cramm swivelled on the toes of her very sensible shoes. In the split second she did so, Nathan collapsed back on his seat and silence descended once again as the year 9 cohort, like a herd of frightened deer, sensed the imminent threat posed by their teacher's rising anger. There was blood in the water.

Violet had, in fact, read "To Kill a Mockingbird" four years ago, when she was only 10. Her father and her had moved three times since then- their move to this dry, sun beaten dust bowl of a town, the last in her short lifetime of her father's air force base "relocations".

"Could it be Mrs Cramm..." ventured Violet, surprising the teacher with her delayed response, "that the mockingbird symbolised the innocence of love which is blind to the artificial distinctions of humanity that people have historically made - between races and religions for example? The mockingbird motif might apply for instance to the innocence of youth, ably personified by the character of Scout Finch, or that of guileless affection personified by the character, Boo Radley? "

For a moment, Mrs Cramm was speechless. Abigail Cramm was so close to retirement, she could almost hear the blast of the cruise ship's horn leaving port with her on it. In truth, she should have retired years ago when she realised the prospect of teaching no longer filled her with a sense of adventurous anticipation, but monotonous dread. Abigail was tired. Her body was sore. This young girl reminded her of all the reasons why she shouldn't be teaching. Obviously gifted, Violet was bored by the lessons Abigail delivered. Abigail knew that Violet needed a differentiated curriculum, one that would challenge and extend that teeming mind of curiosity and limitless potential. Yet... for the life of her, Abigail couldn't summon the energy.

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