Symphony 103

Seventh period was Carmen’s period for preparation. Neil dragged Joaquin and Jesse by the arm to her door and knocked by kicking the door frame. She came quickly, irritated, and instantly took in the gravity of the situation. She took over his class while Neil marched the combatants up to the office.

It was a long afternoon. Hector was called in. He was in tears, now that his anger had faded. All he could say, over and over, was how sorry he was to have hit Neil. He seemed completely unaware of having fought with Jesse; that had faded into insignificance in his mind beside the mortal sin of striking a teacher. Nothing Neil could say to him would ease his guilt.

Humberto and Aaron were called in and put to one side to sweat it out. The busses came and went, and phone calls went out to all the parents whose children were involved so that they would not panic when their children did not get off the bus.

Mrs. Herrera was the first to arrive. She had just walked in the door from work when the phone call came. Mr. Navarro came in next, yelled at Humberto for five minutes, then went out to sit in his truck and await the verdict.

Neil met Mrs. Herrera’s eyes as she came into Bill’s office. They were wet with tears and empty of hope. Bill Campbell was short and to the point. “We gave you and your son more chances than any child deserves, and after that Mr. McCrae took it on himself to give him still more chances. If this is the way Jesse repays us, we have nothing further to say to each other. Take you child and leave. Don’t bother bringing him back next year. You have the legal right of appeal, but I assure you now that appeal will be denied. Just take him and get out.”

Then Bill took a deep breath and relented enough to say, “When you get Jesse enrolled in another school, remember this incident. Get some help at once before he repeats it.”

Mrs. Herrera walked out of Neil’s life dragging Jesse behind her. He never saw either of them again.

# # #

Joaquin, Aaron, and Humberto were suspended for a week. Bill wanted to call a board meeting to consider the fact that Hector had struck a teacher, and it took Neil ten minutes of pleading to get his punishment reduced to a week’s suspension.

When the last student had left in the hands of his angry parents, it was nearly seven o’clock. The late winter sun was down and it was growing dark outside. Bill Campbell looked gray and haggard. Neil realized that he must be close to retirement age. The buoyancy and good humor which made him look younger had deserted him now and he looked old.

He got up and drew two cups of coffee from the unit on a cabinet behind his desk. Neil felt a moment of deja vu; Bill had done exactly the same thing in the middle of his employment interview. Only this time the coffee was stale and bitter. It matched their mood.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, then Bill said, “You really screwed up this time.”

“I know.”

“Didn’t you learn anything from your sex scandal?”

“I learned a lot; a whole bitter great deal.”

“You apparently didn’t learn when to go to someone for advice. You went into this whole Jesse Herrera matter with your eyes closed and you made a bad situation worse. Then you compounded your error by trying to hide things from me.”

Here it comes.

“The day Jesse Herrera ran home right after he came, did you think that would go unnoticed?”

Neil shrugged. “I guess I did.” more Monday


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