Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Help (02/20/06)
TITLE: The Loudest Silence
By Stephanie Bullard
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She came into our class in the middle of fourth grade. Limp, uncombed hair. No bows. Pale, unwashed face. No smile. Faded jeans. Long-sleeved shirt. And those eyes.
Beyond the normal, first-day-newcomer stares, we didn’t pay much attention to her. It wasn’t really intentional. There just wasn’t anything to pay attention to. She never talked to anyone, never made comments or asked questions. She just sort of slipped out of the conscious part of our minds and into the shadowy land of the ignored.
On the playground, she never played with any of us, never tried. She would just sit on the swings. She didn’t swing. She just sat. I think she liked the swings. While the other kids ran around and yelled, and kicked kick-balls and threw stones for hop-scotch, and got smacked in the head by tether-balls, she would just sit, not really looking at anything; just staring. Those eyes. I never made any real attempt to interact with her. But I did notice her. Sitting there.
It happened near the end of the school-year. I remember because it was warm, and sunny, and we got to go out for an extra recess. One of the boys – I think it was Bailey – found a baby bird over by the fence. It had fallen out of its nest and was flopping around on the blacktop, blind and naked, with bulbous, grotesque eyes and a wide yellow beak. Soon all the kids had gathered around in a huddled semi-circle, watching with morbid fascination. Then one of the other boys – I think it was Wyatt – got the idea to throw a stone at the baby bird. When it bounced off the pavement and the bird jumped, tipping sideways, everyone laughed and several other kids bent to pick up stones.
“Don’t! Stop it!” We all looked up, surprised, those with stones held them in mid-air. There she was, at the edge of the semi-circle, tears in those eyes. We were all so shocked – it was the first time we had ever heard her speak – that we just stood there. She walked stiffly forward, bent, and picked up the baby bird, cradling it in her cupped hand. Not knowing what else to do, everyone just sort of melted away, going to find some other form of amusement. Except me. I watched as she walked over to the fence. The bird’s nest was in a bush right by the edge, and she stretched her arm through the fence, gently placing it back in the nest. When she shoved her arm through the fence, the long sleeve of her shirt caught, and was pushed back, revealing her wrist and arm up to her elbow. It was just for a moment, and she quickly pulled it back down. But I still saw. I saw the mottled skin, covered with angry marks. I saw the yellow and green of old bruises, melding with the blue, black and purple of new bruises, in a kind of sick kaleidoscope. I didn’t know much back then, but I knew that what I saw, and the tingle that went all over my back when I saw it, was terribly wrong.
After she put the baby bird back, she went back to the swing. I followed her. I sat down beside her. She didn’t look at me. I didn’t look at her.
“I saw your arm.” She didn’t say anything. Instead, she just turned those green-blue eyes rimmed with gray on me. And with that silent look, I heard so much. I learned more about the cruel realities in life from that one look than I have ever since. And then she looked away.
I was very scared as I walked up to my teacher after class that day, my insides were shaking and my breath was not working right. I didn’t know much, but somehow I knew I had to tell someone. I had to do something.
The next day at recess, I sat on a swing. Alone. While the normal fourth-grade activity was going on around me, I sat and stared at nothing, seeing in my mind a battered arm, and big green-blue eyes rimmed with gray. I didn’t want to know. I wanted to be care-free again. I wanted to be young, and I felt so old.
I never saw her again. And though I have forgotten much, I’ll never forget those eyes.
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