فصل 10

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10

Three things happened the first week in November. Laura Danker wore a sweater to school for the first time. Mr. Benedict’s eyes almost popped out of his head. Actually, I didn’t notice Mr. Benedict’s eyes, but Nancy told me. Freddy the Lobster noticed too. He asked me, “How come you don’t look like that in a sweater, Margaret?” Then he laughed hard and slapped his leg. Very funny, I thought. I wore sweaters every day since I had so many of them. All made expressly for me by Grandma. Even if I stuffed my bra with socks I still wouldn’t look like Laura Danker. I wondered if it was true that she went behind the A amp;P with Evan and Moose. Why would she do a stupid thing like that?

What reminded me of Moose was that he cut our grass and cleaned up our leaves and said he’d be back in the spring. So unless I bumped into him at Nancy ‘s house I wouldn’t see him all winter. Not that he even knew I existed-I’d had to hide from him ever since that We must-we must incident. But I watched him secretly from my bedroom window.

The second thing that happened was that I went to church with Janie Loomis. Janie and I had gotten pretty friendly. We were especially friendly in gym because Ruth, the girl who was second in line, was absent a lot. So Janie and I got to talk and once I came right out and asked her if she went to church.

“When I have to,” she said.

So I asked her if I could go with her some time just to see what it was like and she said, “Sure, how about Sunday?”

So I went. The funniest thing was it was just like temple. Except it was all in English. But we read from a prayer book that didn’t make sense and the minister gave a sermon I couldn’t follow and I counted eight black hats, four red ones, six blue and two fur. At the end of the service everyone sang a hymn. Then we stood on line to shake hands with the minister. By then I was a pro at it.

Janie introduced me. “This is my friend Margaret Simon. She’s no religion.”

I almost fainted. What did Janie have to go and say that for? The minister looked at me like I was a freak. Then he smiled with an Aha-maybe-I’ll-win-her look.

“Welcome to the First Presbyterian Church, Margaret. I hope you’ll come back again.”

“Thank you,” I said.

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I’ve been to church. I didn’t feel anything special in there God. Even though I wanted to. I’m sure it has nothing to do with you. Next time I’ll try harder.

During this time I talked to Nancy every night. My father wanted to know why we had to phone each other so often when we were together in school all day. “What can you possibly have to discuss after only three hours?” he asked. I didn’t even try to explain. Lots of times we did our math homework over the phone. When we were done Nancy called Gretchen to check answers and I called Janie.

The third thing that happened that week was the principal of our school announced over the loudspeaker that the PTA was giving a Thanksgiving square dance for the three sixth-grade classes. Mr. Benedict asked us if we knew how to square dance. Most of us didn’t.

Nancy told the Four PTS’s the square dance was going to be really super. And she knew all about it because her mother was on the committee. She said we should all write down who we wanted to dance with and she’d see what she could do about it. It turned out that we all wanted Philip Leroy, so Nancy said, “Forget it-I’m no magician.”

For the next two weeks our gym period was devoted to square-dancing lessons. Mr. Benedict said if we were being given this party the least we could do to show our appreciation was to learn to do the basic steps. We practiced with records and Mr. Benedict jumped around a lot, clapping his hands. When he had to demonstrate a step he used Laura Danker as his partner. He said it was because she was tall enough to reach his shoulder properly, but Nancy gave me a knowing look. Anyway, none of the boys in our class wanted to be Laura’s partner because they were all a lot smaller than her. Even Philip Leroy only came up to her chin, and he was the tallest.

The problem with square-dance lessons was that most of the boys were a lot more interested in stepping on our feet than they were in learning how to dance. And a few of them were so good at it they could step on us in time to the music. Mostly, I concentrated on not getting my feet squashed.

On the morning of the square dance I dressed in my new skirt and blouse.

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I can’t wait until two o’clock God. That’s when out dance starts. Do you think I’ll get Philip Leroy for a partner? It’s not so much that I like him as a person God, but as a boy he’s very handsome. And I’d love to dance with him… just once or twice. Thank you God.

The PTA decorated the gym. It was supposed to look like a barn, I think. There were two piles of hay and three scarecrows. And a big sign on the wall in yellow letters saying Welcome to the Sixth Grade Square Dance… as if we didn’t know.

I was glad my mother wasn’t a chaperone. It’s bad enough trying to act natural at a dance, but when your mother’s there it’s impossible. I know because Mrs. Wheeler was a chaperone and Nancy was a wreck. The chaperones were dressed funny, like farmers or something. I mean, Nancy ‘s mother wore dungarees, a plaid shirt and a big straw hat. I didn’t blame Nancy for pretending not to know her.

We had a genuine square-dance caller. He was dressed up a lot like Mrs. Wheeler. He stood on the stage and told us what steps to do. He also worked the record player. He stamped his feet and jumped around and now and then I saw him mop his face off with a red handkerchief. Mr. Benedict kept telling us to get into the spirit of the party. “Relax and enjoy yourselves,” he said.

The three sixth grades were supposed to mingle but the Four PTS’s stuck close together. We had to line up every time there was a new dance. The girls lined up on one side and the boys on the other. That’s how you got a partner. The only trouble was there were four more girls than boys, so whoever wound up last on line had to dance with another leftover girl. That only happened to me and Janie once, thank goodness!

What we did was try to figure out who our partner was going to be in advance. Like, I knew when I was fourth in line that Norman Fishbein was going to be my partner because he was fourth in line on the boys’ side. So I switched around fast because Norman Fishbein is the biggest drip in my class. Well, at least one of the biggest drips. Also, Freddy Barnett was to be avoided because all he would do was tease me about how come I didn’t look like Laura Danker in a sweater. But I noticed that once when he danced with her his face was so red he looked more like a lobster than he did when he was all sunburned.

The girls shuffled around more than the boys because most of us wanted to get Philip Leroy for a partner. And finally I got him. This is how it happened. After everyone had a partner we had to make a square. My partner was Jay Hassler who was very polite and didn’t try to step on my foot once. Then the caller told us to switch partners with whoever was on our right side. Well, Philip Leroy was with Nancy on my right side, and Nancy was so mad she almost cried right in front of everyone. Even though I was thrilled to have Philip Leroy all to myself for a whole record, he was one of the foot steppers! And dancing with him made my hands sweat so bad I had to wipe them off on my new skirt.

At four o’clock the chaperones served us punch and cookies and at quarter to five the dance was over and my mother picked me up in our new car. (My father gave in around Halloween when my mother explained that she couldn’t even get a quart of milk because she had no car. And that Margaret couldn’t possibly walk to and from school in bad weather and that bad weather would be coming very soon. My mother didn’t like my father’s suggestion that if she got up early and drove him to the station she could use his car all day long.) Our new car is a Chevy. It’s green.

My mother was in a hurry to drive home from the square dance because she was in the middle of a new painting. It was a picture of a lot of different fruits in honor of Thanksgiving. My mother gives away a whole bunch of pictures every Christmas. My father thinks they wind up in other people’s attics.

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