Symphony 29

Neil’s eyes were blazing and both boys drew back. He knew how this kind of wrong-headedness could destroy the good feelings in a whole class, and he felt helpless to stop it. Helplessness always made him angry.

Neil sent Sean to sit against the building a hundred feet away, but in full view, then talked with Duarte for five minutes. Then he sent Duarte away and talked with Sean. It did not take long for him to find the pattern behind their actions. It had exactly the same significance as two bull elk vying for dominance in a herd. It had nothing to do with Anglo and Mexican, but both boys were seeing it in those terms. That made it dangerous.

Neil called Duarte back and tried to get the two of them to talk. He got nowhere; at eleven years old they were simply to self-involved to understand what Neil was trying to do. Finally, as the class bell rang at the end of noon recess, he warned them both strenuously and sent them on to their next class.

# # #

Rumor travels fast. When the last student had gotten on the bus that night, everyone in the teacher’s lounge knew what had happened. Fiona came to Neil and said, “I hear my son Sean gave you some trouble today.”

“Not much.”

“That isn’t the way I heard it,” Fiona said. “I saw him in science five minutes after you finished chewing him out. He was steamed. So was Duarte. There is no love lost between those two.”

“Tell me about it!” Neil laughed.

“They have been going at it off and on for at least three years. What you saw today was nothing new, and no surprise to the rest of us. Did you write them up?”

“No.”

“Well, thanks for that, anyway.”

The remark irritated him. “Fiona,” he said, “I’m half-way insulted. The fact is, I was so angry that I completely forgot he was your son. Personal loyalty had nothing to do with it. The fact that he was your son wouldn’t have mattered if I had thought he needed to be written up.”

A flash of protective anger crossed her face, but she was a rational person and a professional. Her good sense rode down her mother’s instincts, and she said, “Of course not. And I didn’t mean to insult you.”

Fiona moved away and Carmen took her place. She asked him to tell her what happened and he did.

Carmen shook her head when he had finished and said, “I had those two in a self-contained classroom in the third grade, before we were reorganized. They were separated at my request when they went to fourth grade, but apparently somebody forgot and put them together again. I should have caught that when I looked at your class lists before school started.”

“Do you mean this school bases its class lists on who can and can’t get along?”

“Of course not, but we do try to separate poison combinations. It makes life easier.”

“Does it make life better?”

“I don’t follow.”

“They have to learn how to get along with their enemies someday. Life won’t put them in compartments where they don’t have to rub up against people they don’t like. When are they going to learn to deal with that?”

Carmen snapped, “Soon enough!  They’ll learn about life soon enough.” 

She slammed her chair back as she got up, and everyone in the room turned to look. That embarrassed her. Momentary vulnerability came into her expression and transformed her. Then she spun and stalked out of the room. more tomorrow

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