Right now, Maisie doesn’t know the Beast in the corner is going to devour her. Her existence will be terminated and her identity erased. In short, she will be chewed thoroughly, swallowed entirely and excreted as unidentifiable waste matter. Maisie’s mum will meet the same fate, as will her dad, both hamsters and her cat, Missy.
The Beast is merciless and all-consuming. He was delivered by transit van shortly after 9am. Though the labelling on the box suggested he came from a South American rainforest, he is, in fact, Korean. (The labelling referred to a well-known online retailer.) Within minutes, he was installed in a corner of our garage and was hungry to begin. I smiled and forced him to eat his own packaging.
The Beast is a heavy duty shredder for home and office use. He comes with a 12-month guarantee, a 23-litre capacity bin, durable steel blades and a diet that includes staff training hand-outs, marked test sheets, annotated progress reviews and draft reports to parents. He can also stomach more resilient items including unwanted CDs and overused credit cards.
This makes him the ideal companion for the first week of my school holiday. While Mrs Eddison slaves in the sullen heat of a busy city-centre solicitors, I relax in a cool corner of the garage and feed the Beast pile after pile of unwanted (but possibly sensitive) school detritus. In an era when the irresistible force of data protection meets the immovable mountain of information overload, feeding the Beast is a fun and useful way for a teacher to enjoy his summer.
At least it is until I open a manila document wallet marked CHILDREN’S FACT FILES and find Maisie’s at the top. Reading it for the first time since last September brings back several happy memories individually wrapped in the warm glow of nostalgia. The morning she swam her first width of the pool without armbands. The day she was named Star of the Week in our Sparkle and Shine Assembly. The time her nose finally stopped bleeding after more than an hour.
It is with reluctance that I send her to meet a grizzly fate in the belly of the Beast, but by the time Ben and his five siblings have been ingested, it’s getting easier. Gary, his sister and his granddad with one leg are swiftly followed by Sade, Troy and Jazeera. Even the A3 sheet with a smiling class photograph at the top and a single statement from each child describing what they hope the year might bring (but mostly didn’t) disappears without a fight.
By mid-afternoon, my urge to feed the Beast overrides my emotional attachment to children’s memories. In a frenzy, he devours their stories, their pentomino investigations and their attempts to identify subordinate clauses. His hunger grows apace and my increasingly desperate efforts to satisfy it cease only when Mrs Eddison comes home from work. Recognising the crazed look in my eyes, she calmly unplugs the Beast from the socket.
“Now go and put the kettle on,” she says with a sigh.
Steve Eddison is a teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary in Sheffield