Page 42 - WTP Vol. IX #7
P. 42

The Yearbook (continued from preceding page)
 “You hate this place as much as I do,” Martha said, twisting her skimpy braid around her index fin- ger. “But you do so much better than me. You have friends. The girls like you. They don’t like me.”
”Of course they do.”
They both knew it wasn’t true.
Maybe because Frances was sick of Martha’s sadness and frustrated that she couldn’t do anything about it or maybe because Martha’s unhappiness made Fran- ces think of her own; in a rare burst of honesty, she’d blurted, “You don’t like them. You ignore everyone. You act as if you don’t care. You never sit with us.”
Martha’s mouth twitched. She looked at the floor. Her eyelashes cast spiky shadows down her freckly cheeks. Frances grabbed a pencil and erased a word on Martha’s French translation, then rewrote the exact same word.
“Why should I? No one wants me there.” “Maybe if you tried, they would.”
“You don’t even want me.”
“That’s not true.”
But Frances had been lying. ~
She closes the yearbook, stands, jams the book under her arm and bends her head to keep from gash-
ing her skull on one of the nails sticking out of the ceiling. The attic stairs are narrow and steep, the kind of stairs a woman from church fell down last month, breaking her neck. Frances is not ready to
go. She’s got five young grandchildren she wants to watch grow up, and Peter, her husband, would be lost without her. She wants to sing “The Messiah” once more. Cursing her arthritis, she grips the wob- bly banister and takes a cautious step. Her breasts are damp with sweat, her eyes sting from the strain of reading under a 60 watt bulb. Once in the kitchen, she listens for Peter. Not a peep. He’s napping. Her shoulders sink with relief. As much as she loves him, she relishes her rare moments alone, when no one needs her or wants her. She pours a glass of chardon- nay, grabs the yearbook, and heads out to the yard.
It’s late afternoon, her favorite time of day, the light heavy and warm, the shadows long across the freshly-mown grass. At the foot of the lawn, high above the river, the trees’ young leaves burst forth
in a blaze of pale green. The gold-tinted water looks silky and smooth. A gaggle of geese swims in and out of the reeds, the goslings paddling frantically behind their mother, the gander upright and on guard.
For some reason, Frances can’t get Martha out of her mind. It surprises her that she remembers so much about a girl she hasn’t thought of for years. Whatever did they talk about besides homework and St. Ag- nes? They had nothing in common and weren’t really friends. Poor Martha was furious when in the spring, she found out that Frances’ father had taken a job in New York. “It’s unfair,” she said. “You get to leave and I’m stuck here for two more years.” In an act of spite, she shoved her grandmother’s tin under her bed and said, “Leave me alone.” Frances hadn’t returned for a month.
She flips through the yearbook, looking for herself in the picture of the glee club. She can’t find herself. Maybe she wasn’t in it. She’s got so many memories it’s hard to keep them straight. Half the time she’s not even sure she can trust them. Peter says they did something in 1978, and she hasn’t a clue. Sometimes she confuses her stories and mixes up the years as
if time doesn’t matter. She’s forgotten the feel of her son’s weight the first time she held him, her daugh- ter’s first laugh. But there are other memories she recalls down to the smallest detail.
Bored by the scribbles of the girls in the yearbook, Frances is about to wake Peter when she notices a long, two-page message at the end of the book. The writing is small and cramped, slanted to the left, but dark blue, and legible. She looks at the signature. It’s from Martha. Frances begins to read.
“Dear Frances,
There’s really so much I want to tell you, but it’s sort of hard to write about things that mean so much to me. And Frances you’ve meant a lot to me this year. I know that I wasn’t your best friend on the hall or even close to it. But, Frances, you were my very best friend and I’ll never forget what you have done for me. It was sort of like an understanding shoulder to lean on and I needed that so much. I know it sounds sort of funny for me to say that you were my best friend at school but Frances, you know how hard it is for me to make friends with the kids here and I always say and do the wrong things - things I don’t really mean. But Frances you seem to have understood me better than most anyone on the hall and I appreciate it very much. You know all the times you came to my room for food. Well, I never re- ally cared. If it would have made you come in my room more often, I would have given you all the food I had

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