Something about the slope of their shoulders, silhouetted against the fire, tells us that they are teachers. The heaviness of one implies Secondary, even Sixth Form; the tightness of the other, Primary, maybe Early Years. Their eyes, reflecting the dancing flames, seem wet, too glassy.
“Come on,” says M, “I think that’s the last of them. Let’s go.” He puts his arm around J, motioning him to come with him back to the house.
“I can still see pages,” J isn’t ready to leave the fireside just yet. “Look there! Our faces in the gatefold.”
M smiles at his friend but motions him again to join him back in the house: “Come on. We can start again.”
At this, J turns and looks at M. “Do you really think so? After all this,” he says, waving a hand back towards the flames. “Haven’t we lost everything?”
“We sold two copies,” says M, raising his eyebrows and smiling.
“They came back, M.” J shoots back, “One postmarked Manchester; the other, Carlisle.”
“Did no one in Norwich buy it?”
M shrugs at this and thrusts his hands into his jacket pockets. The sun had set, the light all but gone; only the flames lit this scene in the garden. “I’ve got another idea, J.” M pleads, “I promise you: this time, we’ll hit pay-dirt.”
J turns again from the flames and takes a slow breath. “You said that with ‘Teach Like A Reformed Serial Killer’, M. That got us thrown out of the College of Teaching.”
“It wasn’t as bad as all that.”
“The College of Teaching doesn’t exist!”
“J, please. I promise. This simile will be different. It’ll work. It’ll make sense.”
J looks back into the flames. He watches the word “Potter” slowly curl, blacken and disintegrate into the rising smoke. “Look M. There’s no TES Award for ‘bringing the teaching profession into disrepute’. Our names are mud.”
“We could always go and work in an academy.”
“I DON’T WANT TO WORK IN A FUCKING ACADEMY!” A single tear is working its way down J’s cheek, disappearing into his beard.
“It was just a thought.” M kicks at a piece of turf with his Dr Marten boot.
“Your ‘thoughts’ have got us here, standing like a pair of Fahrenheit 451 bums, watching our remaindered book burn.”
“It was fun writing it though, eh? Remember?”
J smiles: “Yes.”
“And the research was fun too, remember?”
J chuckles briefly, but then looks back into the flames as the last of the books melt away up into the night sky. “What were we thinking?”
“Come on, J. Don’t be like that.”
“I mean, how on Earth would anyone even teach like that?”
“We managed to spin it out for 347 pages, didn’t we? We even managed an appendix, remember? We sold two copies more than ‘Teach Like A Reformed Serial Killer’. The next one might double in sales.”
“To four?” J turns and starts to walk back into the house. “M, we wrote a book exhorting readers to understand our teaching methodology in terms of the practices of native South American fertility ceramicists. Where in hell did we expect all this to take us?”
“I was hoping to go to ResearchED,” M sniffs. “Maybe even do a TED Talk.”
“The most we could hope for now is a TEDx.”
M sniffs again: “Balls to that. I wouldn’t waste ‘Teach Like A Multi-region DVD Player’ on that stuff.”
J stops and rounds on M: “You think we’ve got any kudos now, to be so picky?! Thanks to you, I may have to go back to work on the battery farm. Do you think Tom Bennett is going to give us the time of day after this debacle?!”
“Look, J. ‘Teach Like An Erotic Potter’ was not a debacle. It was our ‘What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong?’ Our ‘This Much I Know About Love Over Fear’. Our ‘Trivium’.”
“Don’t you dare mention those books in the same breath as ‘Teach Like An Erotic Potter’! We’ve got a nerve placing ourselves adjacent to those classics on the pedagogical bookshelf.” J is shaking, his breath a mirror to the smoking remains of ‘Teach Like An Erotic Potter’.
“How can you tell me you are no longer an erotic pottery-based pedagogue, J?!” M raises both hands up towards J, as if to hold him; as if to catch him; almost as if to shape him on a pottery wheel.
“Look, M, our erotic pottery pedagogical analogizing days are done. They ended when the last book disintegrated here just now.”
“There’s still the Kindle edition. That’s gone down a storm in a particular part of East London.”
“He’s reading it ironically, M. Don’t you realize that?!”
M looks back into the flames, his hands fall to his sides. “You mean… no one…” he stops, he breathes deeply: “No one really wants to teach in a way that is loosely based upon shaping clay into erotic forms?”
“No, M. No one.”
“What about ‘Teaching In Nipple Tassels’?”
“‘Spread Learning Like An STD’?”
J is about to head off back into the house, but M, frantic, calls after him: “‘Teach With Your Arms Folded’?”
They both stop. J half turns, but remains looking off into the inky darkness beyond the house.
“‘Teach With Your Arms Folded’?” J looks at M, then back over his shoulder towards the fire. “What might that mean, exactly?”
“Teaching with your arms folded… sometimes?” M offers, his voice rising with trepidatious anticipation.
J strokes his beard, massaging the point where the tear dried only moments before. J and M look at one another.
“‘TEACH AKIMBO’!” they both cry out, in accidental unison.
Their sudden laughter joins and rises – co-mingling with the smoke that was once two thousand remaindered copies of ‘Teach Like An Erotic Potter’ – and, both smiling, they walk hand in hand away from the ashes (the ashes of ‘Teach Like An Erotic Potter’) and into the house, to their shared typewriter of possibility.