Neil lay back on his couch and wiped his eyes.
He remembered Carmen’s voice the first day they had looked at his students’ folders. Carmen had told him about Rosa. Then she had passed him Stephanie’s folder, and had said, “This is Rosa’s competition. She will take all your time if you let yourself be seduced by success. Stephanie will sound smart because she had mastered English; Rosa will sound stupid because she has not.
“The Stephanies of this world always get more than their fair share.”
He thought about them for a long time. He loved them both, not merely in a vague way as he did all his students, but intensely and personally because they had both come early to his attention and he knew them well. Stephanie knew her own worth; her parents had taught it to her early. But Rosa was one of the meek ones. She desperately needed for someone to hold her, and tell her she was good and pure and valuable.
He could not.
Even if the shadow of Alice Hamilton’s accusation had not hung over him, he still could not have touched Rosa, or any of his girls. Carmen could and did, Fiona did when she was so inclined, Pearl mothered them all, and students came from everywhere to be hugged by Donna Clementi. But no student ventured near Glen Ulrich; and Tom Wright, young and friendly as he was, kept them at arm’s length.
Women teachers can hug and touch. It is expected of them. It is “motherly”. But let a man teacher touch his girls and he is a lecher; let him touch his boys and he is a homosexual.
It isn’t fair, but it is the way of the world.
After a while, Neil went to his tape collection and put on Art Garfunkle’s first solo album. He juggled the fast forward until he found the cut he wanted, then listened to it twice through. Then he took pencil and paper and ran it through until he had the words copied down, then typed them on a ditto master.
# # #
On his way to school the next morning, Neil stopped to buy a bag of Christmas candies. The first hour, the students read, and when they returned from their break to start the second period, Neil announced that they were going to have an early Christmas party.
That met with uniform approval, and none of it was silent. He added, “Just stay in your seats. Rafael, please give everyone a paper towel to use as a plate. I have some Christmas candy I’ll distribute as soon as Rafael has finished.”
Rafael worked quickly and a festive atmosphere filled the room. Neil waited until the boy had taken his seat again, then went around giving out candy.
He gave Duarte one piece, Sean one piece, Rafael five pieces, Laura Diaz eight pieces, Raul Fuentes six pieces, Stephanie one piece, and Oscar no candy at all; and so on, around the room.
As soon as they noticed, the fireworks began.
“Hey, you got more than I did.”
“Mr. McCrae, I only got one piece!” (This Neil ignored.)
“Get your hand out of my pile.” — “But you got more than I did.” — “So what? Its mine now.”
“Mr. McCrae . . .?”
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“That’s no fair!”
“Mr. McCrae,” Stephanie Hagstrom demanded, standing bolt upright beside her seat in surprise and dismay, “what are you doing? You can’t give some people more candy than others. You just can’t.”
All the children were looking at him now. He nodded sagely and said, “Why can’t I?”
“It’s not fair.” more tomorrow