Symphony 5

“I began to tutor her after school. We were reading Julius Caesar at the time. She could read the words plainly, and she could work through the antique phrasing to get at the literal meaning. But it didn’t mean anything to her. She didn’t grasp the story behind the story, and when I would point some of it out to her, she just looked at me like I was speaking another language.

“Four weeks later, I gave an essay test on Julius Caesar. She took it carefully, wrote neatly, and filled her blue book. But when I read it, it contained nothing except bare facts and a few of the things I had told her. There was no evidence of her own thoughts.

“I gave her a C, and she accused me of seducing her.”

# # #

It was quiet in Campbell’s office. The voices of children playing in the yard outside filtered through the windows. Neil continued, “I don’t think she ever meant to make the accusation. I think she rehearsed saying it, playing with the idea, but she had never intended to carry out her fantasy. Once it slipped out, she was trapped. There was no turning back.

“She told her father that I had offer to give her an A if she came across. She wouldn’t file charges with the police, but she couldn’t keep him from taking it before the school board. It was a circus. Her father called me a perverted vulture preying on innocent young girls and I called his daughter a liar. It was like being on trial, but without the safeguards. The chairman of the school board did his best, but it got rowdy.

“Alice said I had been coming on to her all year. She said she finally gave in, and we had sex behind closed doors in the classroom, every Tuesday after school.”

Neil had to stop long enough to swallow back his bitterness.

“I never laid a hand on her, and I always left my door open. I told the board that. I said she was lying. She said the same about me. We both said it loud and ugly.

“It was the door that settled the matter. Alice claimed that it was always closed; I said it was always open. One of the board members went to get the janitor in charge of that wing. He told the school board that the door had been open every afternoon. He even remembered hearing Alice and me talking about Julius Caesar.”

Campbell shifted in his chair, and said, “So the board didn’t act?”

“Between her lie about the door and her refusal to talk to the police, it was pretty clear that she was making it up. The board tabled the matter. Hamilton circulated a petition to have me fired, and several hundred signed it. Then some members of the board came to me quietly and asked me to resign for the good of the community.”

“But you didn’t?” Campbell said.

“How could I? It would have been the same as admitting guilt. Besides, I was getting mad.

“The school board rejected Hamilton’s petition. The story ran in the newspaper the next day, with my picture on the front page. One of the board members said that their hands were tied by tenure. There was nothing they could do.” 

That was when his troubles really started. Every day for the next three weeks, there was a parent in the back of each of Neil’s classes, taking notes and watching every move he made.

“I could take all that,” Neil said, “but when April came and it was time to sign up for fall classes, parents started coming to Dr. Watkins quietly, one by one, asking that their children not be put in with me.

“Until then, I had been dealing with a vocal minority. Now I was forced to realize that for every parent who was convinced of my guilt, there were ten more who weren’t sure of my innocence. It was the last straw.” more tomorrow


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