I remember the price of milk

Miriam Coley

I Remember the Price of Milk.

Placing the African coin on the table, I pass my milk. A warm empty bottle arrives, its paper straw flat. My finger rests on the coin.

The teacher turns. Martin Miller’s eyes pop as he slurps the milk. I pocket the coin, fingers curling around it. Miss heads for the classroom door. She perches on the nature table: angry spikes make sea-legs for split conker shells; red leaves and beechnuts quiver.

A glassy clink announces the milk monitors’ approach.

“You won’t have another penny.” I say, “You want the milk anyway. Otherwise I’ll tell.”

He looks at me. The coin gives me courage. It is from a diminishing collection, gifted by my dad’s army friends. I have been spending these to avoid the daily horror. It’s an unfair bargain, but the milk is disgusting and I will not drink it.

The teacher sighs. Another wet playtime, cooped inside, condensation running races down every vertical surface. The monitors, two top junior boys, traverse the room, their spider claw hands picking clusters from each table. My tights catch splinters from the seat as I turn, watching Miss. Reaching the corner, she lifts up a cardboard box. The monitors leave. With loaded chariot they clink through the corridor and into the rain.

“Right, you can move around and get on with comics or free reading.”

Shoving his chair, Martin Miller stands, and burps in my face. There is an understanding. I am victorious but he will continue to drink my milk. Fair exchange.