|Home | About | Donate/Volunteer | Contact | Jobs| Early Schizophrenia Screening Test||
[If you want to read story in its entirety, scroll down to Part 1 and read upwards]
The scraping of a shovel against the sidewalk outside woke me. The sky was white, sunlight pouring in through the window. I turned to waken Emmi only to discover she was already out of bed. I could smell the sweet odor of bacon frying. Then I remembered what had happened the night before. Flinging off the quilt, I dressed quickly, transferring my half of the glass eye to my jeans’ pocket.
Downstairs, Emmi's mother seemed much taller than she had before. She looked down at me, telling me that Emmi had gone with her brothers to shovel driveways. I nodded mutely and sat down to eat a breakfast I could barely swallow. Every time I looked up at Mrs. Quigley, I knew she was going to question me about the eye. Every word she said was freighted with double meaning. I thought of confessing, throwing myself on her mercy, but I couldn't do that without betraying Emmi. The coolness of the glass in my jeans burned through my pocket.
When I got home, my mother was working in her study “Have a good time, Freddie?”
Numb, I said yes but offered no more. This was only a small lie, a small sin compared to the sin I'd committed the night before. I wanted to bury my head in my mother's lap and tell her everything -- not just about the eye, but about sin and baptism and how she and Daddy would go to hell if they didn’t get married again. For once, I wanted to hear her clear-headed analysis of church and religion, to have her comfort me, assure me that no matter what Emmi said or believed I didn't need to be saved.
Instead, she remained preoccupied at her desk and when I said I was going up to clean my room, she murmured, “good for you,” and went back to rifling through a stack of papers.
The following two weeks were vacation. My mother arranged for me to take typing lessons at the high school, an intensive course with classes every day. I was glad to have something to do to take my mind off what could only be impending disaster. Too superstitious to throw the half glass eye away, I wore it in my jeans pocket every day and kept it under my pillow at night. Whenever the phone rang, the pulse in my neck quickened and I was sure Mrs. Quigley was telling my mother I would burn in hell or, if Dante and Aunt Tom were right, freeze. Although my mother once said that Dante was one of the world's finest writers, I knew she didn't believe in hell. But I was beginning to.
No call came, no word from Emmi. I plodded through vacation not sneaking a cigarette even once, amending my expletives. Although my hair needed washing and my hands were stained from typewriter ribbons, I couldn't shower. I went to typing class and did my homework so listlessly my mother came to talk to me in her soothing voice about what a difficult time adolescence was. I was not relieved.
I didn’t see or hear from Emmi the entire two weeks and assumed the worst: she was doing prayer penance, or in a convent, or blind herself. By Monday morning my eyes throbbed and my vision blurred. When the school bus rattled to a stop and opened its doors to let me on, I longed to run back home and beg my mother's, Mrs. Quigley’s, and Aunt Tom’s forgiveness, even though I knew I'd never deserve God's.
From the stiff seat on the bus, the glass eyeball bulging against my skin, I peered out at the snow on the streets, drifts crusted over with soot, believing there was no one in the world more soul-sick than I. If the sky opened at that moment and God Himself charged me to come forward to stand trial, I would not have been surprised.
By the time the bus arrived at school, anxiety had my heart popping in my chest like a string of igniting caps. Miss Ivor was correcting papers at her desk, and when I came in she squinted at me and said, “Good morning, Winifred. How was your vacation?”
I didn't dare speak, afraid that a stammer or hitch in my voice might betray me. Instead, I nodded, forced a smile. The bell rang and the room quieted for roll call. Emmi still hadn't arrived. Sick with dread, compounding my sins a thousand-fold, I concocted one excuse after another, even the baldest of lies to conceal what I'd done when the accusations came. My cold Unitarian soul would brook none of them.
In the middle of the roll, the door opened, just as it had that first day months earlier, and Emmi appeared, ribbons in her wind-blown pig tails, her cheeks flushed with cold.
"So, you've decided to join us, Mary Elizabeth," Miss Ivor commented dryly. Emmi flew over to our desk and dumped her books and purse on top. Out of breath, she elbowed me and stage-whispered, “Freddie! How are you? Long time, no see, huh?”
I stared at her.
“What did you do all vacation?” she continued. “Me? Ugh, I had to clean house and baby-sit the whole time. Except for going with Aunt Tom to the eye doctor's, I didn't get out of the house once. Can you believe it -- I'm almost glad school’s started again!"
Eye doctor? Aunt Tom? Emmi looked as innocent as she had the day we met. Nothing in her eyes hinted that the condition of her soul was as black and forlorn as mine. Before I could think of a thing to say, the second bell rang. Emmi gathered up her books then hitched her arm through mine. “Freddie, what's the matter?”
Out in the hall, I shook my arm free. “How can you ask that?” I spat. “You of all people!”
“What do you mean? I only asked why you seemed depressed. Boy, don't be so crabby!”
"Why didn't you call me? Don't you know I've been tortured all vacation worrying?"
“About what? Aunt Tom’s eyeball, what else!”
Emmi looked as though I were speaking in tongues, then her mouth ovalled. “Oh, Freddie! That's ancient history. They all thought it rolled off the dresser and got lost in the insulation. No one even suspected.”
“But it was a sin! We committed a sin, we ‘deliberately transgressed a law of God.’” I said, reciting the catechism she herself had taught me.
Emmi folded a stick of chewing gum into her mouth. “Oh, that,” she said. “It wasn't so bad really. I went to confession--”
“You told a priest?!”
“Sure. It's confidential. That’s what they’re there for. I told him everything. He gave me a penance, then absolved me.”
The last bell rang and Emmi unlinked her arm from mine. “See you at lunch.” She turned on her heels and headed off.
All of my sins counting against me, as Emmi's never would, I stood there in the middle of the empty corridor, alone.
Posted by pamwagg at December 15, 2005 06:18 PM