by JEN SIRACA
Abruptly they were coming towards me. Their faces shone so brightly they could be mistaken for lamp posts. Sheila played with a yoyo, her new friend wore a gaudy bracelet and was flexing out her left ankle.
"There's twelve to a set," Sheila said informally. "That's the number we need to focus on."
The girl I did not know said, "They wanted to take us camping," and exaggerated a frown. Sheila traced something in the air and took a tootsie roll pop from my backpack. The new girl shook out her long, red hair.
"You pull it down," Sheila said grimly. "You separate from it before you bring it back." She opened a locker and stuck her gum inside. When she looked at me, I said, "Just don't drag me into it."
After lunch the seabirds were flapping. I swear one almost made it through an open window. They must have come for a meal. I'm almost sure that was it.
Lunch was green beans and roast beef. The girl I didn't know didn't eat a single green bean. Sheila absolutely could not believe that she had done this, and when the girl went to the bathroom, she wrapped them up in a paper sack. I told her it was the saddest thing I'd ever seen up to that point and she shushed me.
We just had Music so we skipped it. They were doing some kind of tournament in the park. The basic thrust of the thing was that the winner would get a new stereo. On the front of the stereo loomed a large one dollar bill.
Sheila and the other girl held hands. Everyone shouted and cheered when a fat man hugged the stereo. I took two of the red ones, they make you feel like a star, emitting only light and heat for eons. The blanket smelled incredible.
"This is how you sell it," Sheila told the other girl. She thought I was taking a nap. "You tell them they only have to do one thing. Like it's only going to happen once."
"But it's going to happen again," the girl said.
"You have to wow them," Sheila said. "They want to be convinced."
There were lots of birds in the park, too. I think I saw a thrush. On occasion it's enough to see that something upside down looks more familiar. I noticed how limber Sheila and her friend were, and wondered how their spindly legs could be so tan all the time. It was a grace of God, surely not the only grace, but like a subpar grace, a lesser blessing.
The girl went back to her house to get the cookies and Sheila made me play twenty questions. The answer to the pertinent query was the movie Cool Runnings. Dusk ravaged a mottled playground, people off work entered the grounds silently with their dogs. Sheila slowly and carefully fed a stray cat some, but not all, of the green beans.
"How does a relationship work?" I asked Sheila.
"That's even a wrong way to put it. You don't relate to others, they only relate to you. The key is to be capable of that."
I told her that seemed difficult. She wrinkled her nose. "Virginia's talked about nothing except you since this morning. It's boring to be in the middle of it."
I laughed and showed her a hole in the ground where someone had half-buried a photo of John Lennon. When I run my pale legs get so high, like my knees could pop above the act, heralding an ascent that has not yet occurred.
Jen Siraca is a writer living in New York.
Photographs by Stephen Wilkes.