Symphony 95

“Of course, you are right.” Neil gnawed on a knuckle for a moment before continuing, “Still, don’t you ever wonder what might become of the kids you teach?”

“Sure.”

“What would it feel like twenty or thirty years from now if one of our kids discovered a cure for a some disease, or won a Nobel Prize — or became a serial killer. Gandhi and Hitler both had parents, and both had teachers. How did they feel, I wonder? Were they proud of what they had done, or were they ashamed? Did they try to hog some of the credit, or shoulder some of the blame?”

Carmen said, “What have you done to bring on this preoccupation with guilt?”

There it was — his opportunity. He would never have a better time to tell her about Alice Hamilton’s false accusations, and get rid of the barrier he had built between them.

She sat, waiting, in faded jeans and a sweater, with her feet tucked up beneath her. Lean and lovely, warm, dark, vibrantly alive, hair a frizzled cloud around her head, and her eyes a brown he could drown in. Waiting.

He asked himself, Do you love her?

He reached out his hand and she took it in hers, running her thumb down his palm. He felt his heart turn over within him at the nearness of her. I have never lain with her, nor even held her naked breasts in my hands, but already I love her more than I loved Lynn, whom I lived with and would have married.

Yet Lynn had betrayed him in his time of need, and he feared to try Carmen’s loyalty for fear that he would lose her too. And so the moment passed.

# # #

Neil drove home and rummaged through his desk until he found Mrs. Herrera’s phone number. She answered on the fifth ring, sounding tired and distracted. He said, “I need to see you tonight.”

“Tonight? You can’t be serious.”

“I have never been more serious. What did Jesse tell you about today?”

“Jesus didn’t tell my anything,” she replied in a sharp, defensive voice.

“He didn’t tell you that I sent him home five minutes after he got there for pretending he was Patrick Purdy and mock-killing half the students on the playground?”

There was silence on the other end for so long that Neil had begun to think Mrs. Herrera had hung up. Finally he heard faint sobs that went on for a long time. Then a very weak voice said, “What can I do?”

“I’m coming over.”

“No! I can’t. I can’t talk to you now.”

“Mrs. Herrera you have only two choices. Talk to me now, and really talk. Don’t give me some run around, but actually tell me what you know about Jesse’s problems. Or start looking for another school tomorrow, because if we can’t get this settled right now, Jesse is not coming back to my room.”

She agreed.

He arrived at her house twenty minutes later. It was larger and in a nicer neighborhood than Neil had expected. Mrs. Herrera would certainly have a hard time paying for such a house on one salary, so it probably dated from before her husband’s death.

She met him at the door and led him into the living room. The furniture was well built and stylish. It had been expensive once, but now it was shabby. It was clean and neat; there were no toys underfoot to give evidence that a child lived there. more Monday

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