“Three times, “ she said.


“Three?” I muttered to myself.


“Three times,” she answered.


“Then you’ll know. That’s when you up and leave.”


I’d lost track of the number of chances I’d given. Only when things were tapering off towards the end did I start to keep track. Tens, twenties, hundreds. Three would have had me out in the first few months, I suppose.


“And make sure you duck,” she said.


Next time, I thought, next time.


“Otherwise they’ll keep hitting, “ she continued.


I knew that one.


Truth was I didn’t have the ex’s reflexes. Nor did I stand back far enough. Out of her reach.


“And don’t ever hit them back,” she continued.


I never did, I started to say. But today’s lesson wasn’t revision: it was preparation.


I wasn’t even beckoning her to speak to me. She was easily reading my mind. She knew what I needed to hear before I did. And especially what I didn’t want to hear.

Welcome to real learning : the type that melts your prejudices away.


I looked closely at her. Double my age : maybe more. Never ask her age, she’ll tell you in time, she always advised me.


Adopted into a foreign family : mine. A woman who should be bent double by the years amassed. But the light in her eyes belied that assumption.


Some could think her uncouth. Certainly her language was more fruity than flowery. After all she had only managed to finish high school.


And then the maelstrom struck.


Married to a man who as she said had a magnetic personality : attractive and repellent all wrapped up in one. Who’d as she said smiled as he delivered the next backhander.


Kids, divorce, the whole catastrophe. All in a one pony country town where suspicious gossip lead eventually to a malicious exclusion. So she left. And made the life she had now.


Her eyes caught mine. I looked and realised she had been silent during my reverie.


“You’re in class now.”


She laughed at my shocked expression. I was only visiting, just came in for a word.


“Welcome to school, “ she drawled, “the school of hard knocks.”


“So, how do I graduate?” I replied tartly. “Is there an exam I can pass?”


She put her cigarette aside. Her eyes lit up. She leaned back full stretch creaking in her chair. All the better to roar with laughter.

At me.
“You don’t grad-u-ate from this school, “ she said.


“Well?”I shrugged.


“They just give you a harder test next time.”


“And if I fail?”


Her eyes lit up again. But her voice was low and serious.


“You get the lesson. Again.”


Then she started laughing, leaning back full stretch, only catching herself before she started coughing.


“Just make sure you don’t repeat another year like the last. Ever.”