Symphony 34

When the bell rang, Neil told Jesse to stay behind.

“I can’t.”


“Because I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

“You can go to the bathroom later. Right now I want to talk to you.”

“I gotta go now.”

“No. Later. Come here.”

Jesse came up to the front of the room, looking slantways at Neil as if he were not quite bright, and squirming as if he were about to wet his pants.  Neil almost let him go, but he had seen so much that he concluded this was also an act.

“Jesse, what were you doing during reading?”

“Just reading.”

“Not making anybody’s life miserable?”

Jesse was all wide-eyed innocence, hurt that he should be accused. He said, “I never did nothing to nobody.”

Neil enumerated the things he had seen Jesse doing.

“I didn’t do any of that stuff.”

“I saw you, Jesse.”

“You did not. I didn’t do it.”

Neil was shocked. Could the boy believe his own denials, or was this another scam? He looked into Jesse’s eyes and saw eyes that were old and wise and — evil? Can an eleven year old child be evil?

The look in Jesse’s eyes shook Neil to the core.

Still, it had to be dealt with. “Jesse, I saw you do everything I said, and I don’t intend to put up with it.”

Jesse lowered his eyes and said, under his breath, “Didn’t do it!”

“When the other kids come back, you will change places with Scott Anderson.”

“For today?”

“Until I say otherwise.”

“I don’t want to sit up front.”

“I’m afraid you don’t have any choice.”

“It’s not fair. I didn’t do anything.” The look on Jesse’s face was frightening. If the boy believed his own denials, then he had real problems. If he was lying coldly, he had worse problems.

Jesse left for the bathroom muttering under his breath. As soon as he came back, as late as he thought he dared be, Neil made him exchange seats with Scott. 

From the other students’ reactions, Neil realized he had been too slow in seeing this problem. Scott didn’t mind the move. Jesse muttered under his breath that it was unfair, but no one paid any attention to him. The ones in the back row heaved sighs of relief. Lorraine Dixon who sat in the front said, “Don’t you put him next to me!” and Rafael Ayala who would sit behind Jesse said, “I don’t want to be anywhere near him.”

Jesse made a grandstand production of the move, sighing deeply and sending black looks toward Neil. Neil ignored him.

When he was finally seated, and Jesse said, “I hope you’re satisfied!” he had pushed Neil one step too far. Neil leaned over Jesse to make close eye contact and said, “Jesse Herrera,  your behavior last hour was terrible, and this hour hasn’t been any better. I will not tolerate that kind of nonsense in my classroom. The next time you misbehave, you will get a detention.”

“Detentions don’t mean nothing to me. I lived in the detention room last year.”

Neil shook his head. The boy had gone from apparent angel to this in twenty minutes. Now he sat looking forward with a wooden expression on his face and ignored Neil when he told the class to get out their books. Neil decided to end the confrontation by letting Jesse have that bit of rebellion unchallenged. But when he looked at Jesse later, he realized that it really didn’t matter what he did. Jesse had declared himself ready to devote himself to making Neil’s life miserable. more tomorrow


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