“Thank you very much,” said Ms. Medwin. “You’ve created quite a character, Dawn. Now … are there any questions or comments?”
I had some.
But I kept them to myself. For many reasons. I didn’t want to put Harriet’s friend on the spot, even though I didn’t think Harriet ought to be her friend. But I knew already that we often can’t help who are friends turn out to be. There are all sorts of reasons, ranging from convenience to necessity to pity to whatever.
I also didn’t want to challenge Dawn Softlight in front of the class: That was a certain way to end up either farther outside the School Circle than I already was. I mean, I don’t mind being left alone (in fact, I love being left alone!), but I’d learned that if I was too aggressive about my outsider status, then kids no longer ignored me. Then they hassled me.
So I just sat there with a sweet smile while Silence ruled the room. No one was saying anything. Kids had been more responsive when Dwayne Hardfall had finished reading his poem a little earlier in the period. Much of it was praise. That was so awesome, Hardfall! And I didn’t even know you could write! That one got quite a few laughs—even from Dwayne, because one of his best friends had said it. (If anyone outside his friends had said something like that, there would have been Destruction and Death after school that day.)
But there were some good questions and comments, too. Like Where did you get the idea for the brain cancer? I was looking right at Dwayne when that question came, and I swear I saw tears leap to his eyes. My grandma, he began. But that was all. He just put his head down, and the rest of us just sat there, once again in wonder at Dwayne Hardfall.
People also asked him about the birds (his uncle had a pet store) and about hating the father (Dwayne: No comment.) and about leaving town. There we got into a really good discussion when Ms. Medwin asked, Why do you think many young people always want to go live somewhere else than their own hometown?
All kinds of kids (not me) said things about wanting to have a fresh start, about being away from parents who’d made all their decisions, about wanting to see more of the world. That sort of thing.
But now Dawn Softlight had no questions or comments. But she just stood there in that wedding gown with her triumphant smile fastened on her face.
Ms. Medwin tried again, “Come on … doesn’t anyone have a question for Dawn? Or a comment?”
A couple of kids muttered It was good and I liked it. But nothing more sharp-edged than that.
So Ms. Medwin asked, “Whose wedding dress are you wearing, Dawn?”
“It was my mom’s!” she chirped.
“It’s very lovely,” said Ms. Medwin. Pause. “And, Dawn, tell me, why did you decide to wear a wedding dress? Does it fit somehow with the poem you wrote?”
Dawn looked shocked. “Fit with the poem? Oh, no way! I just wore it because you told us to dress up, and this was the fanciest dress in the house!”
One of Dawn’s friends—maybe remembering that part of our grade was based on how well we handled questions?—chirped, “I like how you said you stayed young and beautiful forever.”
Other kids: Yeah, that was great/awesome/etc.
Ms. Medwin: “What did you mean by saying you stayed young and beautiful forever? I mean, if the person is dead and under the ground—”
“You’re always picking on me!” cried Dawn. “It’s just a stupid poem!”
You got that right, I thought.
But then Dawn was running out of the room crying—with a flock of friends clucking and ruffling feathers right behind her. Harriet, looking reluctant, was the last of them. She glanced at me and shrugged. Then looked at Ms. Medwin. “I’ll go get her,” she said. “See if I can bring her back.”
“Thank you,” said Ms. Medwin, who seemed to be fighting the urge to say something nasty. At least, that’s what I hoped she was doing.