Symphony 110

You might want to check out today’s post in A Writing Life, which puts the next four Serial posts into perspective.


“What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything, Elanor. That’s what I just said.”

“I mean, what did she say you did?”

“That is between me and your parents.”

Tony Caraveli piped up, “Did she say you raped her?”

All the students in the classroom seemed to hold their breaths. Neil asked, “Do you really know what that means?”

“Sure. I watch television.”

Half a dozen students laughed, and Neil felt sadness for them that they were so wise in the evils of the world. He said, “No, she did not accuse me of that. Now let’s drop it.”

They wanted to talk more, but Neil had had more than enough.

# # #

Anger can cripple; it can destroy fluency and leave an intelligent person sounding like a stuttering fool. It can wrap itself around a man’s heart and destroy him from within. It can kill the joy of life.

Anger, carried for long enough becomes a powerful force. Turned inward, it harms its bearer. Turned outward, it can destroy those around him.

But an anger fine tuned, honed and directed by a thinking mind, can give its wielder tremendous power.

On Tuesday, March seventh, Bill Campbell wandered into Carmen’s room looking for student folders that were “missing” and “happened” to mention that the school board was meeting that night. After school, she told Neil.

For a long time, he did not respond to the news. He simply sat on her couch, staring at his hands, and there was no sound in the room but their breathing.   

When he looked up, his eyes were aflame and the anger that fueled them ran clear to the bone.

# # #

Neil arrived at the school a little after seven p.m., parked in the shadows at the edge of the lot and walked quietly about until he found that the lights were on in Donna Clementi’s room. Carmen had come with him. They stood together outside the room just long enough to get the gist of the conversation going on within; then Neil shoved the door open and entered.

They should have used the cafeteria on the other side of the fence, because every seat was full and there were people standing up against the walls. The members of the school board were sitting behind Donna’s desk, with Bill Campbell sitting off to one side. All five were there, just as they had been the day they decided to hire Neil. Alan Burke, the chairman, sat in the middle.

Carmen moved off to one side, and Neil walked down the middle aisle. There were no chairs left, so he crossed and leaned against the wall beside the table, just to Elaine Sanders’s left. A whisper moved wavelike through the crowd as those who knew Neil on sight told their neighbors who he was.

Alan Burke was at a loss for words. He had been willing, in response to parents’ demands, to hold a secret meeting, but he did not quite have nerve enough to ask Neil to leave. Pete Kemble, the newest board member, had more nerve and less sense. He said, “This is a closed meeting.”

Neil let his eyes move over the parents and said softly, “It looks like an open meeting to me.”

“It is a meeting you aren’t invited to.”

“Oh,” Neil replied, still softly. His anger was so great, and under such strict control, that he felt light headed. “Forgive me, then, for being a teacher, but you seem to be in need of some basic instruction in American government.”

He reached into Donna’s bookcase and withdrew an encyclopedia, opened it, and read them the sixth amendment to the Constitution. He closed it again and said, “If I am to be accused of something, I intend to confront my accusers.” more tomorrow


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