Symphony 40

Anna Breshears’ parents proved to be as colorless and forgettable as she was. Lupe Ochoa’s mother came drifting through, looking everywhere and saying nothing. Neil did not even know who she was until later when he read the names on his sign-in sheet.

Shelly Gibson’s parents were dark skinned Hispanics; there was nothing but the family name to indicate any Anglo ancestry. On the other hand, Delores Perez’s pale skinned parents showed no evidence of Mexican ancestry.  Anglos and Chicanos had been intermarrying in California since long before the gold rush, and family names were poor indicators of race.

Karen Whitlock came in with Larry at her side. Only a few of the students had come, and Larry did not look comfortable being dragged along. Mrs. Whitlock bubbled her enthusiasm for the school and everything connected with it. Larry wandered around the room looking for something to do, or perhaps for somewhere to hide. When Neil gently suggested that Larry’s attitude indicated that he was not particularly interested in school, Karen Whitlock did not hear him. She had a knack for only hearing what she wanted to hear.

Many of the parents had come and gone when Oscar Teixeira’s father and mother came in. He was tall, sharp featured and very dark, with hair clipped close and wearing a conservative business suit. His wife was petite, with cropped blonde hair and blue eyes. John Teixeira walked straight up to Neil and shook hands. Neil was just getting used to Chicano shyness and slack hand shakes, but Teixeira’s grip was firm and he met Neil eye to eye.

They exchanged greetings, then John Teixeira said bluntly, “How is Oscar doing this year?” There was just enough emphasis on the word “this” to write off last year as a bad dream, and an underlying uneasiness that showed little faith in the present or the future.

Neil’s reply was equally blunt. “Badly. He isn’t learning a thing. I would say he has stopped trying, except that he is trying very hard to be dense.”

Fire flashed in John Teixeira’s eyes and for a moment Neil thought he was going to rise to his son’s defense and blame the school. But the momentary defensiveness faded as quickly as it had come, and Teixeira said something short and bitter. His wife jerked at his arm and shushed him.

“What’s the point,” he snapped at her. “The boy has gone bad.”

Most of the other parents had left; only a few were standing in knots of conversation near the door. Speaking softly, Neil said, “I wouldn’t say that. The boy has a problem that needs to be solved, that’s all.”

“No one could solve it last year. Are you that much better?”

Mentally, Neil drew back. The last thing he wanted was a fight, but John Teixeira’s voice grated on him like chalk on a blackboard and it was all he could do to remain calm and civil. Neil’s voice sounded false in his own ears as he replied, “No one person can solve anyone else’s problems. But with your cooperation — and his — we can try to help him.”

Teixeira shook his head. “Maybe. I’m certainly willing to do anything, but I fought him all last year and got nowhere. He promised me things would be better this year . . .”

“Maybe they are better,” Neil said. “I only know what happened last year from reading his folder. So far he has not been any particular discipline problem. He just won’t work. And that is such a waste, with his mind.”

Teixeira homed in instantly on Neil’s words. “You mean,” he said icily, “that not working isn’t a discipline problem?” more tomorrow

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