Symphony 79

“Actually it’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that Alice Hamilton is pregnant . . .”

Neil sat bolt upright, feeling as if someone had hit him in the stomach.

” . . . and the good news is that she is only about four months gone.”

Neil sank back again and heaved a heavy sigh. He shook his head and pantomimed counting on his fingers. He had been gone from Oregon since June; almost seven months. “Tom,” he said, “don’t ever do that to me again. All I need is to be called up on a paternity suit for someone else’s baby!”

Tom said, imitating a prosecuting attorney, “Where were you on the night of the twenty-sixth of July?”

Neil laughed. “Why, I was forty miles north of Yosemite Park, sleeping with a black bear. You can subpoena her if you want to.”

Fear and relief in rapid succession had made him giddy for a moment, but bitterness was quick to return. He said, “Alice was one screwed up girl. I have to blame her father for most of it. He gave her her way in everything that he should not have had, but wouldn’t let her live her own life when she should have. I should feel sorry for her, but . . . I can’t.”

“The result,” Tom added, “is that she won’t even graduate from high school. Her father pulled her out and sent her to live with an aunt somewhere. He also resigned from the school board.”

Neil was horrified. “You mean to tell me that he brought her to this, and now he’s abandoning her? This isn’t the nineteen-fifties. She doesn’t have to give up her education just because she’s pregnant.”

“I thought you were happy to see her in trouble,” Tom observed with quiet amusement.

“I was . . . I . . . ” Neil gave up talking. His thoughts were rushing too fast and his feelings were too mixed for him to be coherent. He shook his head, disgusted with Alice, disgusted with her father. Disgusted with the whole situation.

“She doesn’t deserve this,” Neil said finally.

“Actually,” Tom observed, “this is exactly what she deserves. Poetic justice, and all that.”

“No. It wasn’t her fault. Not entirely.”

“I never bought that argument,” Tom said. “You can push blame all the way back to Adam if you blame parents for what a child becomes. People have to take responsibility for their own actions. I do. You do. Let Alice take her responsibility, too. Hell, of all people, you shouldn’t be standing up for her.”

Neil rose to pace around the cramped apartment. Tom went to refresh his drink, then went on to the bathroom. When he came back, he said, “Are you okay now?”

“No. I’m not okay. All I can think of is what Alice looked like when she came to me in tears begging me to tutor her. One part of me feels for her pain — it was real, you know — and imagines how lost and abandoned she must feel now. Then the other part of me wants to hunt her up and yell at her, ‘See! See what you get!'”

Tom shook his head in amazement. “You never learn, do you? The eternal patsy. Neil, you had better start listening to your dark angel. He has more sense than you do.”

# # #

Neil saw Tom off the next morning, congratulating himself that his head was clear. Tom was feeling the after effects of the rum he had drunk last night. Neil worried as he watched him pull out. Although driving with that kind of headache was nearly as bad as driving drunk, Neil had not been able to convince Tom to delay his trip for a few hours. more Monday

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