ALL SENSE OF DIRECTION
1934. Right after Ruthie's sister died, the other kids hardly came around at all. Not Charlie Dell. Not even Sammy Perkins. Ruthie didn't see them at school because of the principal. He'd told her father maybe Ruthie should stay home the rest of the semester, give herself some time to make sense of it all. Suicide is such a challenging issue, he said, plus, right now, the other kids had no idea what to say.
Eventually Susie Perkins, Sammy's sister, ran up to Ruthie's window on her way home from school to tell Ruthie the news. The middle school kids were sneaking out at night, the boys playing football at the field, the girls cheering them on. They waited until their parents were fast asleep, then climbed out their windows. Ruthie said she'd come too.
At midnight, Ruthie sat on the sideline between Susie Perkins and Collette Stone. When someone scored, a cheer came from the players, then the girls. Ruthie coughed into her mittens, and fidgeted in the nightgown tucked between her coat and boots. At one point, Charlie Dell, in possession of the ball, spun around and around as the others tried to tackle him. He lost all sense of direction and threw his pass as hard as he could. It came through the darkness, darting at them.
For a moment, as the ball was flying, Ruthie thought it might hit her, knock her out and Charlie Dell might come to her rescue. The ball came closer, and she thought she saw the very tip of it buzzing for her, that the tip might catch her temple, knock her cold, and make everything better. But the ball passed Collette Stone's wide eyes, breezed past the tip of Ruthie's nose, and hit Susie Perkins. It had spiraled into Susie, blowing her over, and while it made her head bleed, it didn't quite knock her out.
Charlie Dell rushed to her, and Sammy Perkins ran home to wake Mrs. Perkins. Charlie knelt to Susie's side, held her hand, asked her if there was anything he could do, told her he was so, so, so sorry. Susie said she was going to be okay, that blood was no big deal, and everything was going to be just fine. And the way she said it, so confident, so sure, made Ruthie's knees ache. She noticed the wondrous purple bruise pulsing on Susie's head.
Susie went to the hospital that night. Mrs. Perkins told all the mothers, except Ruthie's, because Ruthie's mother already had so much on her mind. All of the kids were punished, the football locked away. Ruthie went back to her sketchpad, her library books. Her head felt winged and empty. She wanted to bang it against the wall so her bruise could match Susie's, so Charlie Dell could understand.
Stacy Bierlein is a contributing editor to the all-fiction literary magazine Other Voices. Her current works appear in Clackamas Literary Review, Pearl, PMS, Standards, and others. "All Sense of Direction" is part of a series of stories based on the life of her maternal grandmother.