Symphony 20

Someone snickered, but Neil didn’t look up. He kept his eyes on Tanya until the pout evaporated and a worried look took its place. By that time the room had gotten completely quiet again.

Then he went on as if he had not been interrupted. “Mrs. Wyatt will be gone all year. She wanted to be with her baby during its first year, so I am not a substitute. I am your regular teacher.”

This time a hand went up. Neil glanced at the seating chart and said, “Yes, Anthony.”


“Tony. I’ll try to remember that. Remind me if I forget.”

Tony blinked, surprised at Neil’s politeness. He said, “You mean we won’t have Mrs. Wyatt at all this year? That means we won’t ever have her.”

“You are probably right.”

“What a gyp!”

This was more daring than most of them were willing to be and they all grew quiet to see how Neil would handle it. He looked at Tony in silence until he had his complete attention, then said, “I met Mrs. Wyatt earlier this week. She is a very nice lady, and you are going to miss out by not having her. If that is what you meant, fine. But if you meant it is a gyp to have me instead, then you had better learn to keep that kind of opinion to yourself or you will be in more trouble than you can handle.”

Anthony Caraveli, the file card had said, suspended five times in the fifth grade. No wonder.

Tony’s face clouded with resentment, and Neil knew that he had to pursue the matter further. He had to establish his relationship with Tony now, or he never would. He said, “Do you understand?”

“I understand, all right!” 

So it is to be a contest of wills, Neil thought. If I turn away weakly now, I am lost, and if I become bitchy and defensive, I am just as lost.

Neil held Tony’s eyes and kept his face still. Ten seconds passed like as many minutes, and ten more seconds felt like an hour. Finally, Tony looked away, and the tension went out of the class like a silent sigh. Neil said, “Good,” very softly, then with a lift of his voice, brought them back from the unpleasantness and and told them about their schedule for the year.

“This class is called Core. You will spend the first three periods of every day here with me. You will learn reading, language, writing, and spelling here. You will have regular five minute breaks when the bells ring, but you will come back here after the first one. The second break is a fifteen minute recess. You come back here after that, too.”

Neil went to the board and sketched a quick layout of the classrooms. “Fourth period you will go to P.E. right next door, or wherever Mr. Wright tells you to assemble. Lunch is after fourth period. Mr. Campbell tells me that you have to show a lunch ticket if you are going to the cafeteria on the other side of the fence. Otherwise, you will eat your lunches on the yard or in Mrs. Richardson’s room if it is raining.

“Fifth period you will go to science here with Mrs. Kelly. Sixth period you will go to history here with Ms. Clementi, and last period you will have math with Mr. Ulrich.”

There was a diffuse groan at the mention of Ulrich’s name. It sounded genuine, so Neil pretended that he did not hear it. more tomorrow


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