This is the first post in my new project The Opening Sentence — read all about it here and share any thoughts/brickbats below.
Sunday School seemed old-fashioned. Ryan vaguely knew that. It wasn’t properly modern. Modern was important. His father was always saying so. “Old-fashioned rubbish!” Rob Tarrant would mutter, switching channels on the television set. The family was never allowed to watch old-fashioned rubbish. But Ryan still had to go to Sunday School.
Ryan’s mother and father did not attend the church service while the children were receiving their Sunday education, unlike most of the other parents. His father would drop him off when the class began and was waiting outside for him when he emerged. Ryan assumed he went back home. The church was only two minutes’ drive away from their house in Brown Street. Ryan imagined his father read the newspaper.
Sometimes his mother would drop him off, but not often. There was usually housework to be done and a Sunday dinner to prepare, tasks which didn’t brook interruption. Ryan vaguely thought Sunday dinner was old-fashioned too, but he liked roast lamb so he didn’t say anything about it. Gravy matters when you are eight years old.
He didn’t like Sunday School as much but he had been sent along since he was five. He hadn’t thought to protest when he went to ordinary school and he didn’t think to protest on Sundays either. It was old-fashioned and boring, but Ryan was not the kind of boy who minded anything much. At least not until Mr Jenkins came along.
What Ryan always remembered and feared was the sound of Mr Jenkins’ keys. You could hear them jangling in his pocket even before he entered the church hall where the lessons were held. Mrs Jenkins was the teacher. Mr Jenkins came to collect her at the end of each lesson.
Unlike Ryan’s father, Mr Jenkins only came to accompany his wife back to the main church building. And unlike Ryan’s father, he didn’t wait outside. No matter how early he was, no matter what the class were doing, he came inside, the solid door slamming shut hard as he entered and setting the lock rattling.
Mrs Jenkins didn’t seem to notice. If anyone else came into the hall during lessons, she would react, chastising or greeting as the occasion demanded. “You’re late, Maria.” (This to a perennially tardy girl with badly-organised plaits.) “Sorry, Mrs Prentice, we’ll only be another five minutes.” (This to the head of the Church social committee, anxious to remove the pupils and prepare for other activities.)
But Mr Jenkins simply walked in, and the verse reading or singing or colouring in continued. Apparently no-one else was supposed to notice either. And that was why Ryan found it impossible to tell anyone why he was so afraid.