Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Home Schooling (Part 1)
by Carol Windley

Home Schooling  (Part 1)

cStories eBook Single by Carol Windley

From the original collection " Home Schooling "

Published by Cormorant Books


It began with three sisters who lived in a cottage beside the sea. Except the cottage wasn’t beside the sea, it was some distance away, and it wasn’t a cottage, it was an old farmhouse, and the farm was no longer a farm, it was a boarding school. Then something happened, a tragic, unforeseeable accident. One night a boy called Randal walked out of his dormitory and was found some hours later in the salt marsh. He had drowned. Less than three years after it had opened, the school closed. On a cold April day parents began arriving to collect their children. At first they refused to speak to the school’s principal, Harold Dorland. Annabel and Sophie saw their father trying to placate the parents. They heard him pleading for understanding, a little consideration, a little time. He was waved angrily away. The parents mentioned their lawyers. They accused Harold of incompetence, misconduct, negligence. Harold reeled. A cold wind stirred the trees; rain began to fall. The parents got in their cars with their children and drove to the wharf, where they caught the ferry back to Vancouver Island. And then the school reverted to a farm on which very little farming ever got done.

Sometimes, in the weeks that followed, Annabel and Sophie looked in the windows of the deserted dormitories, at the cots stripped bare, locker doors hanging open, nothing inside but dust and cobwebs and mouse turds. Annabel missed the children. She missed their laughter, their silly jokes, their earnestness and ineffable patience. Just children, and yet how patient they’d been with Harold’s pedagogy, which he insisted wasn’t pedagogy, but a flamboyant careless engagement with life’s unevenness and unpredictability and wildness. Wildness tamed, that was, lined-up and biddable, waiting for further instruction before ripping itself loose and going on a rampage.

“Everything this family does is doomed,” Sophie said. In her opinion, the school would have failed even if Randal hadn’t drowned. Anyway, he’d only done it to get Nori’s attention and sympathy, she said, and for that she’d never forgive him. Sophie could say anything and get away with it, because she was Sophie, with her precise, delicate beauty and her formidable musical talent. Annabel might at times almost hate her sister, but she also loved her. They were, after all, marooned together on this stupid island with no television or movies and they couldn’t afford new clothes and, since they were small, they’d been taught at home by Harold and Nori and had only ever had each other for company. Poor darlings, Sophie liked to say, of her and Annabel. She meant it.

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