Mr. and Mrs. Wainwcenter came from Chicago, where they hadbothworked as window dressers for adepartment store. The storehadclosed down or had decided that it didnt need somanywindowsdressed—whatever had happened, they had lost their jobsandcome here, to live in Mrs. Eddys houseand try to set upawallpapering business.
They had a daughter, Frances, who was a year younger than Iwas.She was small and thin and she gotout of breath easily, becauseshehad asthma. On my first day in grade five, Mr. Wainwcentercameoutand stopped me on the road, with Frances lagging behind him.Heasked me if I would take Frances toschool and show her wherethegrade-four classroom was, and if I would be her friend, becauseshedidntknow anybody yet or where anything was. Frances wasalldolled up in a very short checked cotton dresswith a flouncearoundthe skirt and a matching hair ribbon.
Soon it became understood that I would walk to school withFrancesand walk home with her afterward.We both carried ourlunches toschool, but as I had not expressly been asked to eatlunch with herI neverdid. Very few students lived far enough awayto eat lunch atthe school, but there happened to be one girlin myown class whodid. Her name was Wanda Louise Palmer, and herparents owned andlived in thedance hall to the south of town. Sheand I ate togetherand formed a friendship of sorts, which wasbasedmostly on avoidingFrances. We ate in the girls basement,behind a barricade of brokenold desks thatwere heaped up in acorner. As soon as we finished,wed sneak out and leave the schoolgrounds to walkaround the nearbystreets or go downtown and look instore windows. Wanda Louiseshould have been aninterestingcompanion, because of her life at thedance hall, but she was soapt to lose track of what shewas tellingme (but not to stoptalking) that she was actually very boring. Allwe really had incommonwas our bond against Frances, and ourdesperate stifledlaughter when we peered through the desks andsawher looking forus. After a while, she didnt do that anymore; sheate her lunchalone.
I would like to think that it was Wanda Louise who pointed heroutto our classmates, when we stood inline ready to march intotheschoolroom, as the girl we were always trying to avoid. But Icouldhavebeen the one who did that, and certainly I went along withthejoke, and was glad to be on the side ofthose doing the gigglingandexcluding. Living on the outskirts of town, as I did, andbeingeasilyembarrassed yet a showoff, as I improbably was, I couldneverstand up for anybody who was beinghumiliated, never rise aboveafeeling of relief that it was not me.
The hair ribbons became part of it. Just to go up to Francesandsay, I love your hair ribbon. Where didyou get it? and havehersay, in innocent bewilderment, In Chicago, was a lastingsourceof glee. For awhile, in Chicago, or just Chicago, becametheanswer to everything. Where did you go afterschoolyesterday?Chicago. Or Where did your sister get her hairwaved? Oh, inChicago. Some girls gotinto fits of laughing thatwere likehiccups; some feared that they were going to be sick.
How much Frances was aware of, I dont know. She may havethoughtthat there was some special placewhere girls in my classalwayswent to have lunch. She may not have understood what thegigglingwasabout. She never asked about it.
She tried to hold my hand crossing the street, but I pulledawayand told her not to. She said she alwaysused to hold Sadieshand,when Sadie walked her to school in Chicago. But thatwasdifferent, shesaid. There arent any street-cars here.
One day, she offered me a cookie center over from her lunch.Irefused, so as not to feel an inconvenientobligation. Go on,shesaid. My mother put it in for you.
Then I understood. Her mother put in this extra cookie,thistreat, for me to eat when we had our lunchestogether. She hadnevertold her mother that I didnt show up at lunchtime and shecouldntfind me. Shemust have been eating the extra cookie herself,but nowthe dishonesty was bothering her. So every dayfrom then onsheoffered it, almost at the last minute, as if she wereembarrassed,and every day Iaccepted.
We began to have a little conversation on our walks, startingwhenwe were almost clear of town. Wewere both interested in moviestars.She had seen far more movies than I had—in Chicago, youcouldseemovies every afternoon, and Sadie used to take her—but Iwalkedpast our theatre and looked at the stillsevery time thepicturechanged, so I knew something about them, too. And I had onemoviemagazine athome, which a visiting cousin had center. It hadpicturesof Deanna Durbins wedding in it, so we talkedabout that,and aboutwhat we wanted our own weddings to be like—the bridalgowns andthebridesmaids dresses and the flowers and thegoing-away outfits.The same cousin had given me apresent—aZiegfeld Girl cutout book.Frances had seen the Ziegfeld Girlmovie, and we talked aboutwhichZiegfeld girl we would like to be.She chose Judy Garland becauseshe could sing, and I choseHedyLamarr because she was sobeautiful.
My father and mother used to sing in the Light OperaSociety,she said. They sang in The Pirates ofPenzance.
Lightopra society. Pirazapenzanze. I filed those words awaybutcould not ask what they meant.If her mother came out to greetus,she might ask if I could come in and play. I always said I hadtogostraight home. （接下页）