Symphony 12

Neil woke up stiff and disoriented. The breeze from the air conditioner had finally conquered the heat of the apartment and had gone on to chill him while he slept. He was sticky and clammy with half-dried sweat.

For a minute, he did not know where he was. He was caught up in the tag end of a dream. It had not been pleasant, but he could not remember enough details to understand his discomfort, and so he couldn’t let it go. Finally he shook his head and staggered up, forcing the remnants of sleep away by action. He turned on the lights in the kitchenette, drank deeply from the tap, and looked at the clock. He had slept six hours, and he knew the rest of his night would be sleepless.

He showered, ate, and watched the ten o’clock news. It had been 106 degrees. He rubbed his gritty eyes and thought longingly of the coastal fogs of his native Oregon.

He picked up the reading textbook again, then surprised himself by throwing it against the wall in disgust. It was trash — unfit to inflict on children — and it would get no better if he read it from cover to cover. He kicked on his shoes and went out.

The night was a pleasant shock. The heat of the day had miraculously disappeared and the evening breeze was deliciously cool as it coiled about him. He crossed the parking lot, then changed his mind, and pocketed the car keys he had been carrying. The only places that would be open at this time of night were bars, and alcohol would have no part in solving any of his problems. He walked down Sylvan and turned off onto the first residential street he crossed.

The night air was perfect, and the moon was almost full. Even between the widely spaced street lights, the lawns were well visible. It was a middle class neighborhood of twenty year old houses, neatly kept. Each lawn was well clipped, the sidewalk edges were meticulously neat, and the street trees were beginning to come into maturity. There was an air of respectability and prosperity about the place; not the snobbery of the wealthy houses in his home town, nor the poverty of the barrio apartments, but a California style embodiment of the American dream. They reminded him of the neighborhood where he had grown up, and he let the half dark houses around him fade into memories of the houses and people he had known.

Even in the midst of nostalgia, Neil was trying to solve the problems that would face him in the weeks to come. He tried to remember how he had learned to read, and found that he could not remember a single textbook. Had they been as insipid as the ones he had been given today? It was hard to believe that he would not remember such books — with loathing.

All he could remember were the books he had owned and loved, read and re-read. Many of them were trash, too, but of a different kind. They were written to a formula by anonymous authors and published under a company owned pseudonym. He had not know that at the time, of course. He had even written the “author” a fan letter, and had received a form thank-you in reply. But whatever they lacked in style, skill, and grace, they had had a plot. Someone young whom Neil had liked had gone somewhere interesting and had done something exciting while overcoming dangers without the help of an adult. That was more than he could say about the stories in the reading text. more tomorrow


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