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Good-bye Emily: Short Story Fiction
I knew a girl named Emily from the first day of school. She was the skinniest girl in class. The skinniest girl I had ever seen. Just bony! Her hair was always a tangled mess of brown curls, and her clothes were old fashioned and plain. Emily always smelled like soap.
We sat across from each other the first day of school. She fidgeted all day, asked a hundred questions, talked out in class, sat with her feet tucked under her butt, and chewed the eraser off her pencil. Most of the other kids started making fun of Emily that first day. They said she was weird and funny looking. But I liked her.
Looking back I suppose I liked her out of pity in the beginning. A looking out for the underdog feeling. But she grew on me, and by second grade we were best friends. And by second grade I guess I knew how brave she was. She had to be brave to endure some of the things she went through.
In second grade a boy named Heath was having a birthday party, and everyone was talking about it. Emily thought the whole class was invited. So she thought she was invited too. Kids had been talking about it all week.
Some mothers were coming to pick all the kids up and drive them to the party after the last bell rang on Friday afternoon. We all brought wrapped gifts to school. Except Emily. I saw her looking at the art table where the gifts were stacked up, several times that day. She looked scared and she couldn't sit still. She was blabbering out even more than usual. The teacher scolder her more than once that day. And at recess she said her mama was suppose to be bringing a gift.
Sure enough, not long after lunch, Emily's mother showed up with a wrapped gift. Emily was absolutely beaming as she placed it on the art table with the others.
When the bell rang, she ran along with me to the parked cars waiting to take us to the party. She was about to hop into a car with me when Heath yelled at her, "You're not invited Emily!" The look on her face was so hurt. Thinking about it now, kind of breaks my heart. She ducked her head and said, "But I have a present."
The mother driving the car I was in asked Heath if Emily could come after all. He just shrugged his shoulders and got in his mom's car with a sour look on his face.
Emily rode quietly in the car, and wouldn't look at anyone. Not even me. She just kept her head down and rode without making a sound.
At the party, no-one would play with her. I tried to pretend she wasn't there, and ignored her too. Because everyone was talking about her being there without being invited. I guess I didn't want that kind of scorn rubbing off on me.
Heath opened his presents. But when he opened the one from Emily, he just sat it aside without saying thank-you, and went on to the next one. Then it was time for cake and ice-cream.
Heath's mom started passing out little paper party plates with the goodies loaded on them. But she told Emily, ever so sweetly, that she hadn't realized she was coming, and there just wasn't enough birthday cake to go around. So she gave Emily a Hostess cupcake. Children aren't the only ones who can be cruel! I hated Heath's mother in that moment.
Emily took her cupcake and went outside. When my mom came to pick me up later, I saw the cupcake laying on the ground by the sidewalk. Emily had left. She had just walked off. She told me a few days later she had been lost along time before she found her way home.
I went to play at her house a few times. It was the smallest house I had ever seen. Just one room, (Emily called it the "front room"), plus a kitchen and a bathroom. There was a double bed on one wall of the front room, and a roll-a-way bed in a corner across from it. A portable black and white TV sat on the dresser. One armchair was placed near the the closet door.
There were on curtains on the two windows. Only pull down shades. No toys in a toy box. No bookshelves with books. No basket of crochet. No pots of ivy, or a puppy underfoot. No carpet on the floor. But Emily's mother baked cookies, and we played in the yard.
Imaginary games. We created "tropical islands" at the edge of the garden, using leaves, sticks, weeds, and twigs. I had never done such a thing before. But with Emily it was fun! She made up stories about the people who lived on the islands. Interesting stories. Her imagination going a mile a minuet! I joined in and made up stuff too!
Sometimes Emily came to my house to play. She always wanted to play with my Barbies. Emily never had a Barbie of her own. But she loved to change those tiny clothes, and push them in the convertible.
Sometimes Emily embarrassed me at school. Like when she tried out for the lead roll as the little Dutch girl in our third grade play. She just cried and cried when the teacher gave her the part of a patchwork fairy. A part with no lines, where the character just stood in the background in a ragged dress. Her crying was completely out of proportion! I guess it was just one disappointment too many for her right then.
All the other kids started laughing at her and calling her a baby. I just stood away from her and looked at the floor, wishing she would quit it!
In fifth grade she was taken out of class one day for some "special testing". It ended up that her I.Q. was 127. But her behavior was so bad! She had begun to get into fights with other girls. She fought like a tiger as small as she was. And spent lots of time in the office. She questioned the teachers all the time. She wouldn't stay seated or stop talking out loudly in class.
We were in fifth grade when I first noticed the bruises on her arms and legs. Stripes really. She had started wearing pants and long sleeves even when it was warm at times. But I saw the marks on her arms one day in the restroom when she pushed her sleeves up to wash her hands.
I asked her, "What's that?" and pointed to what was, looking back, signs of a beating.
She told me to leave her alone and ran out of the restroom without drying her hands. She wouldn't speak to me for days afterward. But I began to notice other bruises when we played at her house or mine. And I never mentioned them again.
Time went on, and Emily and I stayed freinds. She became very pretty. Her tumbled curls had grown into long glistening waves. Her skin was flawless. She was always bone thin, but she was graceful, and poised, even though she was a ball of energy when she felt good.
But many times Emily was sickly. A contridiction I didn't think about. Sometimes she spent almost all day in the nurse's office. Her parents had no car to pick her up, so she would ride the bus home. On the days she was sick, she got off the bus a long way from her house. She told me she didn't want to throw up on the bus.
Even though Emily had become lovely, boys ignored her. Looking back I suppose it was because she had grown up the oddball out. The brunt of so much meanness. A trouble maker at times. She didn't go to the junior prom. We never double dated.
Then in our senior year, a new boy enrolled in our high school. He was another oddball. He was from a different part of the country. He sounded different. His clothes and shoes were different. Even his name, Carlo, was odd to the rest of us. But somehow he and Emily became a couple. Maybe because they were both "strangers in a strange land".
Before graduation, Emily came to my house in tears, and told me she was pregnant. Her Dad had heard her talking to her mother about it, and had beaten Emily up pretty bad. Her lip was busted and swollen. She thought her jaw was maybe broken, and spoke through clenched teeth.
She said Carlo refused to admit he was the father of her baby. She was beyond broken hearted. She had trusted Carlo, and had been convinced he loved her. Now she had decided to leave town. She couldn't face another beating, or the shame of Carlo dumping her.
I begged her not to go. And she agreed to spend the night. But only if it was a secret from my parents. She didn't want them to see her, or to know what was going on. So she slipped into my room before they got back from playing cards with our neighbors. And when I woke up the next morning Emily was gone.
She sent me a letter about a month later. She was in Kansas City. She had hitch hiked there, and it was cold. She said she had found a job washing dishes in a cafe, and was sleeping in a night shelter. She was saving money for an apartment. There was no return address.
I got another letter when her baby was born. It was a girl she named Carla Joann, C.J. for short. She had weighed 7 pounds and 7 ounces and was beautiful, the letter said. They were living in a small garage apartment, and she was going back to work in the cafe as soon as she found a babysitter. This time there was a return address.
We sent letters back and forth for a few months. Then I didn't hear from her for a while. The next thing I knew, she had gotten sick, lost her job and apartment. She and C.J. had left Kansas City with the last few dollars they had, and gone to Chicago. Someone had convinced her she could get a job as a model there. But that never happened.
Emily was "spare changing" on the streets, and her and C.J. were bouncing from shelter to shelter while she tried to find a job. She said no-one would hire her when they saw her with the baby at the interview. No return address again.
I heard from her off and on for a few years. She had finally taken a job as a topless dancer. A job she found ironic because she had such small breasts. There she met an older man who took her and the baby in. But she said he truned out to be a "weirdo" and didn't explain farther.
Buy then she had a car that she and C.J. called home from time to time. They were traveling.
A few years passed with no word from her. I had finished college and was married, working, and living what I considered the good life in our home town. I didn't think of Emily as ofen as I did before. So when my mom called to say I had a letter from Emily, I was surprised.
When I opened it and read what had happened to her I was full of sorrow, anger, and wonder that she was able to even write about it.
She had gotten so sick she had to go to the hospital. It was a county hospital in upstate New York. She was there two weeks, and the state had stepped in and taken custody of C.J. durning that time. With no home to go to, no job, and no family to help, Emily had lost parental rights to her daughter.
I recieved a letter from the state of New York a few months later. Emily had been found dead on the street. It was bitter cold, and evidently she had frozen to death. A note had been found in the pocket of her jeans, listing me as next of kin, with my mother's address. She had left instructions in the same note for her body to be cremated, with her ashes thrown away. The county had footed the bill for the cremation, but by law the ashes could not be thrown away.
Emily's ashes were sent to me. They sit on the mantel of our fireplace. A warm spot for her to be. My second child was a baby girl, who we named Emily Carla.