"Red light!" I wheeled around in the snow to face her and my breath rose into the February air.
I caught Frances standing there, perfectly still, her foot crunched into a small snowbank. A pool of grease stained the snow to her left. To her right a patch of frozen sleet glistened like marble.
We were little warriors then, me battling my mother's second divorce from another mean drunk, and Frances battling a life just the wrong side of poverty. Both of us battling being the only two Black girls in a country school in the middle of a vast expanse of white Kentucky snow.
We waited for our mothers to get us from school, not with the others in the sixth grade hall but outside or in the auditorium. That's where we turned cartwheels and where we bought Mello Yellos from the soda machine, me secretly hoping that my mother would be the first to come. That's where we first noticed Enka, who always waited by herself.
Enka wore tattered clothes and had a dark spot on one of her front teeth; her stringy hair and pale skinny arms reminded me of a Raggedy Ann doll. She invaded Pikeville Elementary's clannish world---just showed up one day in the middle of November with her weird accent. Gypsies, probably, my mother said. And, she said absently, you'd better stay away from that girl.
In the lunch room Frances and I passed by Enka, sitting at the end of a table. "Hey, Greenteeth," I would say, and Frances would giggle, and we would both trip over to our own little end of a table where none of the White kids noticed us, let alone sat with us.
Biology class was our favorite time to make fun of Enka. Our teacher gave us daily seatwork while she sat at the front of the room, looking out the window and drinking from a leather flask. We were free to pass notes back and forth across the room. "Check out those shoes," I would write to Frances, and she would look right at Enka and snicker. Enka always pretended she didn't see us laughing.
That day she came outside in the cold February snow looking like she wanted to play our silly game. She smiled at us with that rotten tooth and shoved her mittened hands deep in her pockets. "Hey stupid," I said. My stepfather called me stupid so much I thought it was my name. "Better go in, stupid," I said to her, "or that hole in your head might freeze over."
She did go in. She went in and she didn't come back out until her father came to get her at 4:30. Frances was already gone. I was waiting in the front hall, memorizing plaques in the school's trophy case, when Enka's father took her roughly by the arm and pulled her out the door. He looked wild and angry, and even from where I was I could smell the unmistakable cloud of gin. But Enka said nothing to him---just let herself be pulled.
Copyright ©2000 Jacinda Townsend. All Rights Reserved.
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