Chapter no 9 – The Grudge

Lesson, in Chemistry

When Calvin claimed he held no grudges and hated no one, he only meant it in that way that some people say they forget to eat. Meaning he was lying. No matter how hard he tried to pretend he’d left the past behind, it was right there, gnawing at his heart. Plenty of people had wronged him, but there was only one man he could not forgive. Only one man he swore to hate until his dying day.

He’d first glimpsed this man when he was ten. A long limo had pulled up to the gates of the boys home and the man had gotten out. He was tall, elegant, carefully dressed in a tailored suit and silver cuff links, none of which fit with the Iowan landscape. With the other boys, Calvin crowded the fence. A movie star, they guessed. Maybe a professional baseball player.

They were used to this. About twice a year, famous people came to the home, reporters in tow, to get their pictures taken with a few of the boys. Occasionally these visits resulted in a couple of baseball gloves or autographed headshots. But this man only had a briefcase. They all turned away.

But about a month after the man’s visit, all sorts of things started to arrive: science textbooks, math games, chemistry sets. And unlike the headshots or baseball gloves, there was enough to go around.

“The Lord doth provide,” the priest said, handing out a stack of brand-new biology books. “Which means you meek shall shut up and sit the hell still. You boys in the back, sit still, I mean it!” He slammed a ruler on a nearby desk, causing everyone to jump.

“Excuse me, Father,” Calvin said, leafing through his copy, “but there’s a problem with mine. Some of the pages are missing.”

“They’re not missing, Calvin,” the priest said. “They’ve been removed.” “Why?”

“Because they’re wrong, that’s why. Now open your books to page one hundred nineteen, boys. We’ll start with—”

“Evolution’s missing,” Calvin persisted, riffling through the pages. “That’s enough, Calvin.”


The ruler cracked down hard against his knuckles.

“Calvin,” the bishop said wearily. “What’s wrong with you? This is the fourth time you’ve been sent to me this week. And that doesn’t count the complaints I’ve received from our librarian about your lies.”

“What librarian?” Calvin asked, surprised. Surely the bishop couldn’t mean the drunk priest who often holed up in the small closet that housed the home’s pathetic book collection.

“Father Amos says you claim to have read everything in our stacks.

Lying is a sin, but brag-lying? There’s nothing worse.” “But I have read—”

“Silence!” he shouted, looming over the boy. “Some people are born bad apples,” he continued. “The result of parents who were bad themselves. But in your case, I don’t know where it comes from.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” he said, leaning forward, “that I suspect you were born good but went bad. Rotted,” he said, “through a series of bad choices. Are you familiar with the idea that beauty comes from within?”


“Well, your insides match your outward ugliness.”

Calvin touched his swollen knuckles, trying not to cry.

“Why can’t you be grateful for what you’ve got?” the bishop said. “Half the pages in a biology book are better than none, aren’t they? Lord, I knew this would be a problem.” He pushed away from his desk and plodded about his office. “Science books, chemistry sets. What we have to accept just to get cash for the coffers.” He turned to Calvin, angry. “Even that’s your fault,” he said. “We wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for your father—”

Calvin jerked his head up.

“Never mind.” The bishop retreated to his desk, picking at papers.

“You can’t talk about my father,” Calvin said, heat rising to his face. “You didn’t even know him!”

“I get to talk about whomever I like, Evans,” the bishop scowled. “And anyway, I don’t mean your father who died in the train wreck. I mean,” he said, “your actual father; the idiot who’s saddled us with all these damn science books. He came here about a month ago in a big limo searching for a ten-year-old whose adoptive parents got hit by a train, whose aunt wrapped her car around a tree, a young boy who ‘might be,’ the man said, ‘very tall?’ I went straight to the cabinet and pulled your file. Thought maybe he’d come to reclaim you like a misplaced suitcase—happens all the time in adoptions. But when I showed him your photograph, he lost interest.”

Calvin’s eyes widened, taking in the news. He’d been adopted? That wasn’t possible. His parents were still his parents, dead or not. He fought back tears, thinking of how happy he used to be, his hand tucked into the safety of his father’s bigger one, his head resting against his mother’s warm chest. The bishop was wrong. He was lying. The boys were always being told stories about how and why they ended up at All Saints: their mothers died in childbirth and their fathers couldn’t cope; they were a problem to raise; there were already too many mouths to feed. This was just one more.

“Just so you know,” the bishop said as if selecting from a list, “your real mother died in childbirth, and your real father couldn’t cope.”

“I don’t believe you!”

“I see,” the bishop said dryly as he withdrew two pieces of paper from Calvin’s file: an adoption certificate and a woman’s death certificate. “The budding scientist demands proof.”

Calvin stared down at the documents through a cloud of tears. He couldn’t make out a single word.

“All righty then,” the bishop said, clapping his hands together. “I’m sure this all comes as a shock, Calvin, but look on the bright side. You do have a father and he is looking out for you—or for your education at least. That’s far more than the other boys get. Try not to be so selfish about this. You’ve been lucky. First you had nice adoptive parents; now you have a rich father. Think of his gift”—he hesitated—“as a remembrance. As a tribute to your mother. A memorial.”

“But if he’s my real father,” Calvin said, still not believing him, “he would take me away from here. He would want me with him.”

The bishop looked down at Calvin, his eyes open with surprise. “What? No. I told you: your mother died in childbirth and your father couldn’t cope. No, we both agreed—especially after he’d read your file—that you’re better off staying here. A boy like you needs a moral environment, lots of discipline. Plenty of rich people send their kids to boarding school; All Saints isn’t that different.” He sniffed, taking in the sour smells from the kitchen. “Although he did insist that we swell our educational offerings. Which I found presumptuous,” he added, as he picked some cat hair off his sleeve. “Telling us—professional educators—how to educate.” He rose, turning his back on Calvin to look out the window at the roof that sagged on the west side of the building. “The good news is, he did leave us a nice chunk of change—not just for you, but for the other boys, too. Very generous. Or would have been if he hadn’t earmarked all of it for science and sports. God, rich people. They always think they know best.”

“He’s…he’s a scientist?”

“Did I say he was a scientist?” the bishop said. “Look. He came, he made inquiries, he left. Left a check, too. Far more than what most deadbeat fathers do.”

“But when’s he coming back?” Calvin begged, wanting more than anything to escape the home, even if it was with a man he didn’t know.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” the bishop said, turning away to look out the leaded window. “He didn’t say.”

Calvin trudged slowly back to his classroom, thinking about the man— thinking of ways to make him come back. He had to come back. But the only things that ever showed up were more science books.

Still, he was a child, and as children do, he held on to his hope long after the hope should have expired. He read all the books his new-to-the-scene father had sent—devoured them as if they were love, stocking his broken heart with theories and algorithms, determined to uncover the chemistry he and his father shared, the unbreakable bond that linked them for life. But what he realized through his self-study was that the complexity of chemistry went well beyond birthright, that it twisted and turned in sometimes heartless ways. And thus he had to live with the knowledge that not only had this other father discarded him—without even meeting him— but that chemistry itself had spawned the grudge he could neither hide nor outgrow.

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