Symphony 7

August 1988

There is a certain forlorn emptiness about a school yard in summer, but as summer draws to a close the excitement begins to return. Teachers drop in to arrange their rooms and put up decorations to welcome the new classes. Janitors find themselves busier, making sure that all the repairs that were put off from the previous year are done before the children arrive.

Most of all, the difference is the children. For a few days after school is out in the spring they continue to come in twos and threes, habituated, but during the middle of summer they are gone. As mid-August arrives, they begin to return, peeking shyly into the rooms that will be theirs, greeting friends they have not seen since summer began, and making the acquaintance of the teachers they will have during the coming year. By the time of the teacher preparation days that precede school, no day passes without dozens of little hangers-on, sad for the ending of summer but anxious for a change.

Neil came back on campus August twenty-sixth. Evelyn Rawlings, the secretary, drew a sketch map. It wasn’t much of a campus. There was one old building in the California schools style, with broad expanses of window and wide eaves covering a concrete walkway. All four classrooms and the office faced outward. There was no hallway. North of that building and parallel to it was a quad made up of portable classrooms, and beyond that was an open playground. Off to the left was a high cyclone fence; beyond it was the elementary wing.

There were sixth, seventh, and eighth graders on Neil’s side of the fence. Neil would teach sixth grade language; the other language teachers, Carmen de la Vega and Pearl Richardson, taught seventh and eighth. Glen Ulrich taught math, Tom Wright taught P.E., Fiona Kelly taught science, and Donna Clementi taught history. There was a Spanish speaking aide, Delores Zavala, to help in the language classes. Clementi, Richardson, and de la Vega all had classrooms in the quad of portable classrooms. Neil had one of the four classrooms in the older building.

He found his room open and occupied by an extremely pregnant and extremely irritable woman. He knocked on the doorframe and said, “You wouldn’t be Gina Wyatt, would you?”

She wiped the sweat out of her eyes with the back of her hand and snapped, “And just why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, I was told that Mrs. Wyatt would be having her baby in July, so you must be somebody else.”

“That’s what the doctor told me, too, but he was wrong. And frankly, right now I wish I was someone else. Someone who wasn’t pregnant in August.”

“I’m Neil McCrae.”

“Congratulations. You inherit the oven.”

Neil came on into the room and looked around. There was more than the typical pre-school confusion. Gina had boxes scattered all about the room, perching on student desks and spilling over onto the floor. She was moving books, papers, games, bright paper cut-outs, and a hundred other things Neil could hardly identify from box to box in a systematic fashion. But the logic of the system behind her sorting evaded Neil.

One wall was made up of steel framed windows from waist to ceiling. The upper row of widows swung inward and the lowest row swung outward. Both rows of windows were jacked open as far as they would go and the door was open, but the other three walls were bare of windows and there was no cross-ventilation. The air seeped in the door and heat drove it out the upper windows, but it was a slow circulation despite the wind outside. The room was sickeningly hot. more Monday


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