The Guidance Counselor

He got  his degree and then a job, counseling
students on  their futures.  He’d see them for
fifteen  minutes at a time, juniors and seniors,
all day long.   On their way out of the little town
he’d come back  to.  He’d gone twenty-five miles
away and no  further.  He only spoke to the
best and the  brightest; the vocational kids

weren’t going anywhere, the middle of the
class would  end up like him.  It was the
college prep  kids whose parents pushed
them to him,  to make sure they were taking
the right  courses, getting involved in the
right  activities.  He made sure they looked
good on paper,  where it counted.

At  home, his own kids were out of control;
they smoked,  they drank, they let their hair grow.
They talked back to him. His wife said
she could do nothing with them. And so as he
guided the good kids down the chute towards
prosperity and respectability,
his own  slipped behind the point he’d worked

so  hard to reach: a home in town, nothing much,
but respectable. Each day he’d stare into the eyes
of the children who’d been raised right; each night
he’d return  home to find his wife smoking a cigarette
over a frying  pan, cooking hamburgers, with no idea
where his boys  were or when they’d be back.  He
knew they  weren’t playing sports, they’d given that

up  long ago.  He suspected they were hanging out
at the  drive-in, drinking Cokes and wasting time, not
making  anything of themselves as he had, coming
from nothing—a  farm north of town—and going off
to college to  get a white-collar job.  No, they had the
work ethic of  their mother; she’d latched on to him
as the girl he  knew at home, the one he could always

depend on being there when he drove back from college.
One day as he finished up at school he gazed long into the
eyes of a boy who was going to college back east; a math
genius, his father a doctor.   Why couldn’t my boys be like
that, he  almost said aloud as he ushered the boy out his wood
and frosted glass  office door.  Then he went home,
as if in a daze, opened up the back door  and found his wife

smoking, as usual.  He opened up the knife drawer, took one
out and said  “C’mon—upstairs.”  She didn’t believe him at
first, thought  he was kidding, but he backed her out of the
kitchen, up to  the second floor where the boys’ bedroom was.
There he kept  her until the kids came home, trooped upstairs
and ran past  him into the room to find her sitting on the floor,
leaning against the  wall.  Their father told them to sit down next

to  her; they were all going to stay there for a good long time
until they’d  changed their attitude.  The boys complained at
first but  after a while realized that their father meant business;
the knife was  real, and the look on his face was grim, determined.
“What do you  want us to do?” one of the boys asked in a sharp tone.
“I want you to  make something of yourselves,” he snapped.
“And you,”he snarled at his wife, “I want you to make something

out  of them while I’m gone all day making something out of other
people’s  kids.”  The mother and the two boys sat nervously, not
moving, like  dolls lined up on the floor, the sun from the west
spilling over  their shoulders.  They stared across the room at the
father, who  finally had to get up and relieve himself in the bathroom
down the  hall.  The elder boy climbed out a window quickly,
shinnied down  a pole, and ran to the police station ten blocks away.

The  police surrounded the house and the man came out with his hands
up over his  head; he’d dropped the knife when they told him to.
They put him  away in the State Home of the Mentally Disturbed,
where he  advised other inmates on career choices available to them.

 

From Town  Folk & Country People

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