Symphony 36

Neil glanced at Bill Campbell, but his face gave away nothing. Neil went on, “He is more than a scamp. He terrorizes the classroom.” He gave her a detailed account of all Jesse’s misbehavior. It took five minutes to tell. “And that is only what I have seen. He does these things and gets punished because of it, but the punishment doesn’t seem to change anything.”

“His father could never do anything with him either. He wouldn’t cry, no matter what my husband did.”

For the first time, Bill cut in to ask, “How did your husband punish Jesus?”

She shrugged. “They way everybody does, I guess. He would take away things Jesus liked, and if that didn’t work, he would spank him”

“Was he very strict?” Bill asked.

“Yes. I thought he was too strict, so I can’t understand why Jesus is acting like this now.”

“How long has your husband been dead?”

“Five years next month.” Nothing in her face changed, but you could feel the tension and guess what it cost her to keep her face from changing. She seemed under control, but Neil wondered what price she was paying for that control.

Now that Bill Campbell had taken over the conversation, he drove it remorseless toward his chosen destination. “Mrs. Herrera, would you say that you are as strict as your husband was when he was alive?”

Her lip trembled and her eyes narrowed as if she were summoning up anger to cover her hurt. She shook her head and said, “I can’t lay a hand on him.”

Still remorseless, Bill asked, “Why?”

“Because . . .” She broke down momentarily and fished a tissue out of her purse. “I can’t punish him because all Jesus remembers of his father is how he punished him. I don’t want Jesus to remember me that way. I want him to love me.”

“Are you saying that Jesus doesn’t remember his father with love?”

Mrs. Herrera shook her head mutely.

Bill Campbell leaned back in his chair and said, “Mrs. Herrera, we’ve had this conversation before. Just before Jesus was expelled last year, you said you had managed to start disciplining him, and you promised to get professional help. Have you been going to counseling like you promised?”

She had not, but she had a fistful of excuses. Bill heard her out, then said, “None of that matters. The fact is that Jesus is in the sixth grade now, and he is no better than he was in the fourth. He can’t stay here if he keeps acting like this. We have been patient before, but this year he has to shape up or we will expel him again, and we won’t take so long doing it this time. We can’t have one student disrupting a classroom so that thirty other students can’t learn.”

Bill went to the door and called Jesse in. Neil was suddenly struck by his youth. He thought, “He’s just a baby. How can we hold him accountable for his actions?” Jesse flopped down in a chair by his mother and she brushed his hair back. He pulled his head aside.

Bill sat down again and said, “Jesus, I don’t like seeing you in my office again, especially so early in the year. What’s going on?”

“Nothing’s going on.”

“Then why are you here?”

Jesse looked daggers at Neil and said, “‘Cause he hates me.”

Neil started to protest, but Bill went right on. “Does Mr. Ulrich hate you, too?”

Jesse saw the trap, but he went right on to say, “Yes, he hates me.”

“What about Ms. Kelly; and Mrs. Clementi?”

Jesse shrugged, “I don’t know.”

“What about Mrs. Rawlings and Ms. Zavala? And Mr. Wright?”

This time Jesse didn’t reply. more tomorrow

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