Page 40 - WTP Vol. IX #7
P. 40

 Frances is up in the attic, prowling through card- board boxes and cracked leather trunks, searching for stuff to toss, when she discovers the yearbook.
On the floor beside her, there’s a stack of things she’ll tend to later, college transcripts, her thesis on Gabriel Fauré, a shoebox of love letters from her old boy- friend, Jack, but it’s the yearbook she puts in her lap before settling into the rocker, her bad leg perched on a box of china. The last time she saw it was fifty-nine years years ago, the end of her sophomore year. Her parents had forced her to go to boarding school, and the truth is, she never looked at it once she left. Its blue cover is faded, its pages buckled, the gold letter- ing ghostly. Curious, she opens it and finds her class.
Pages of girls. Young, unformed, most already wound- ed by life. Some relieved to escape their families, oth- ers, like her, furious to be there. Vaguely, she recog- nizes faces but can’t remember the names of most of them. She finds her picture and frowns at the pudgy girl with dark, deep-set eyes, a flipped bob, a face so bland it reveals nothing. Still, she had eyebrows back then, and fresh, unblemished skin.
As she leafs through the book, long-buried memories float to the surface. Playing lacrosse. Baked Alaska. The Glee Club. The crates of apples her grandfather sent which she donated to the kitchen. Snaking
along the edges of the pages and between the pic- tures, are hand-scribbled messages, some too pale to read, others so cryptic they’re indecipherable. A girl with frizzy pigtails glares at her from the page and Frances stares back, coaxing the girl’s name to rise, feeling as if she is playing hide-and-seek with her brain. It starts with an M, she’s sure, but what is it? Mary? Missy? Margaret? When it finally pops into her head—Martha Wild, the class misfit—Frances feels as if she’s won the lottery. Whatever happened to her? Frances has no idea. She doesn’t even know whether she’s still alive.
Martha had had furtive pale blue eyes and hair the color of red-barked madrone. Her knees and elbows poked out like burls on an oak tree. She rarely spoke and almost never smiled, and although she didn’t let anyone close, Frances always imagined she could feel her listening, that her ears pricked up like a dog’s when someone laughed, that she cocked her head to catch a whisper.
The first time Frances saw Martha on opening day, 33
they were sitting in a circle playing a kindergarten game with the drama teacher, a Mrs. Somebody-or- other, who put her hands on her ears and wiggled her fingers, then turned to the girl beside her, and said, “I’m a little bunny. My name is whatever-it-
was. Who are you?” No, Frances remembers think- ing, her eyes wide with horror. I will not pretend to be a rabbit. She thought of her next door neighbor back home, a gum-popping senior in short shorts and halter tops with a duck-tailed boyfriend, and
felt sick to her stomach. But when her turn came, Frances wiggled her fingers and muttered her name. Martha Wild refused. She had put her chin on her knees, balled her hands into fists and curled up like a threatened pill bug.
Sometime that fall, for no good reason, Martha had knocked on Frances’ bedroom door and stood in the doorway, half in, half out, her cheeks ablaze, her right foot needling her left. “Do you want to come down to my room?” she asked in a low, scratchy voice. Before Frances could answer, she said, “It’s fine if you say no.” But Frances said yes.
Her room was squished, like an afterthought, be- tween two fire doors at the end of the hall. The place was a mess, clothing scattered all over the floor, loose papers tossed in a corner, a geometry assignment with a large red F lying on top of a pile of books. There was a poster of a guy surfing the Pipeline on the wall. She flung herself down at the head of the bed and signaled Frances to sit at the foot.
The Yearbook
SuSan wadSworth

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