Page 41 - WTP Vol. IX #7
P. 41

 As Frances recalled, Martha was like a wind-up toy, her fingers fidgeting with a red and black lanyard, her foot tapping the side of the bed. They had noth- ing to say to each other, and Frances couldn’t figure out why Martha had invited her down.
“I saw you look at my paper,” she finally said. “Mrs. Kaiser hates me. But I don’t care. Her breath stinks and she knits formulas on her sweaters.”
“It’s the Pythagorean Theorem.”
Martha shrugged. “I’m terrible at math.”
“Pages of girls. Young, unformed,
most already wounded by life.”
“You’ll catch on. It takes time.”
“I won’t. I’m no good at school.” She picked at a scab on her ankle and a small bubble of blood blossomed on her tan, freckled leg.
“Who cares? You’ll never have to use geometry again.” “Yeah, but my parents will kill me if I flunk out.”
“They can’t be that bad.” Frances rolled her eyes. Her own parents had sent her away because her grades were slipping. And then, in an impulsive, irrational act she still doesn’t understand, she said, “I can help you.”
“Really?” Martha perked up. She leaned over and picked up a shiny red tin from the floor. “My grand- ma,” she said. “She sends me cookies and things.” She patted the bedspread. “Ugly, I know, but she made it for me. You want a brownie?” The smell of sugar and chocolate made Frances’ mouth water. When she took a small one and ate it in two bites, the glimmer of a smile crossed Martha’s face. The only smile Frances remembers. “You like it. Take as many as you want.” Martha held out the tin. Frances wanted to stuff her pockets, but careful not to seem greedy, she only took two.
That was the beginning. At first, it was only geometry,
but after awhile, Martha included history and French. Frances didn’t care. Schoolwork was easy for her. Be- sides, it gave them something to do. Cookies for help. She could live with that.
The next time Frances went down to Martha’s room, she looked at the photos. In one, a grey-haired woman sat in a deck chair with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other, laughing.
“My grandmother,” Martha said. “She loves me.”
The other was a picture of Martha standing on a surf- board, her knees bent, her arms high in the air, grinning like a maniac. It was hard to believe she
was the same person as the girl on the bed with bags under her eyes and nails bitten to the quick. “You’re a surfer,” Frances said.
Martha shrugged. A shaft of sunlight blasted the room and lit up Martha’s freckles and seemed to catch her hair on fire. Frances would swear that she blinked back tears.
All at once, Frances feels a surge of sympathy for this girl she hasn’t seen or thought of for so many years. Forced into saddle shoes, an ugly blue uni- form and a drab black chapel cape, she was a surfer girl who belonged in the wild. Instead, only blocks from her beloved sea, she was cooped up like some- one’s pet parakeet.
A few days before Thanksgiving break, they were sit- ting on Martha’s bed going over her homework.
Rain battered the window. The room was musty and gloomy.
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