Symphony 75

Neil gripped the edge of his desk until the veins stood out on his forearms. He would not lose his temper — but, of course, he had already lost it. The other children had watched his conversation with Jesse with the intensity of spectators at a bullfight. They heard what Jesse muttered, and they flinched back from the flare of anger in Neil’s face.

Neil came slowly to his feet, towering over Jesse. The boy hunched down as if to protect himself from a blow, and cried out, “Don’t hit me! Please!”

That only made Neil angrier. He leaned forward until his face was within inches of Jesse’s and whispered with a barely controlled passion that shook them both, “Get out. Get out of my class. Get out of my sight. Get down to the office and stay there until I come for you!”

When Jesse’s head came up, his expression had regained its maliciousness, and he said, “No. I’m not going to the office.”

“Now!” Neil’s shout rattled the windows.

Jesse turned away slowly and left the room; every movement of his body suggested that he had gotten what he wanted.

Neil stood to watch him walk past the windows. Then he sat heavily back in his chair, shaking with unspent anger. The classroom was dead silent. He tried to speak but his voice choked in his throat. He stared at his littered desk top to shield his eyes from the other students. They did not deserve to sit in fear like this. They had done nothing wrong. But he couldn’t control his voice to tell them so. A minute passed. He felt the heavy pressure in his chest recede a bit. He cleared his throat and said, “I’m sorry I got so angry. It was not directed at you. Please try to relax.”

They did not relax, but they exchanged glances that were perfectly opaque to Neil. What they were thinking of him, of Jesse — of anything — was more than he could fathom.

He rose and said, “I’ll be just outside.”  Then he left the classroom. Outside, he leaned against the wall of the building. The children were all in their classes. The playground was deserted and peaceful. Neil breathed the clean, cool air in great gulps, trying to burn out the anger that filled him, but it did no good.

He had over-reacted, and he knew why. In the routine of everyday teaching, and in the warmth of a growing relationship with Carmen, his upper mind tended to forget Alice Hamilton’s accusation and his banishment from the world he had known and loved. The undermind forgot nothing; all that load of anger, hurt, and hatred lay ready for a trigger. Jesse had been that trigger.

Although, Neil admitted honestly, this incident would have infuriated him under the best of circumstances.

Neil was leaning against the wall next to the door to his classroom. His students could not see him, but he could hear them. The room was still mostly quiet, although here and there they were beginning to discuss what had happened in strained whispers.

Sweat was standing out on his face despite the cold, and hatred was in his heart. He had just about decided to send a student to get Bill Campbell, when the superintendent came out of his office and headed toward him. Bill did not look happy. He asked, “What’s going on?  Why are you out of your classroom?”

“I sent Jesse Herrera to you.”

“I saw him.”

“He called me a fucking bastard.”

Campbell frowned. “In front of the class?” he asked. Neil nodded. “They all heard him?” Campbell persisted. more Monday


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