Symphony 24

After lunch, Neil’s second class arrived. The temperature had passed eighty-five outside; it was hotter still in the classroom. The children were tired and cranky from a long first day at school. The bloom was off, and they were not half so eager and mild as his morning class.

This group had P. E. first hour, so Tom Wright had done all the housekeeping chores that the district required. Neil only had to explain his own rules, pass out books, and they were ready to work a full hour sooner than his morning class had been.

They read the same story the morning class had read, but this time Neil listened more carefully to their performance. The ones he had chosen by watching for readers-by-choice were quite good for their age. He dreaded finding out how the others read. When he assigned them the same writing exercise, there was a perceptible psychic flinch. They had probably done that assignment or one just like it the first day of every school year since they had been able to write. Neil realized that he would have to be more imaginative in his assignments or sheer boredom would stop their voices.

He tried to study them as they wrote, but it was hard to concentrate with sweat running down his face. The children were suffering and whining. He didn’t blame them, but it irritated him nonetheless. What they think he could do about the heat?

Aaron Garcia snarled at Mickey Kerr, and Neil snarled at both of them.

When the last break bell rang at 2:15, the children did not run out. They walked out slowly and threw themselves down on the grass in the shade of the trees.

Neil watched them. Most of them were too hot and miserable to even play. He sighed and said, “The hell with it.” He had no desire to take his class outside before they were housebroken, but in this heat anything else would be cruel. He tucked a book under his arm, followed them out, and locked the door behind him. That got him some curious stares.

The bell rang to return to class, but Neil waved the other students over and sat among them with his back against a tree trunk. He said, “Who’s hot?”

They all were and they were vehement in saying so.

“Me, too. You know, we live on a funny planet. Even though people have been on Earth for three or four million years, we still can’t find a place that suits us. Every place on Earth is either too hot or too cold, at least part of the year.”

“What about Hawaii?”

“Or Tahiti?”

“Well, most of the planet is either too hot or too cold most of the time. Right now, I would like to be back home in Oregon, surf fishing in the ocean, in the fog. Where would you rather be?”

That question opened the floodgates. Everyone had someplace they wanted to be, and all of them were cold places. In Alaska, in the refrigerator at home, in a boxcar full of chocolate ice cream, or at the North Pole with Santa Claus; everyone had a preference. It took twenty minutes to hear them all. Lorraine Dixon had written two sentences about who she was, but she spent five minutes and a hundred sentences describing how much she liked ice skating. more tomorrow

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