Art by Norman E. Masters
Robin did not blink for so long that it almost frightened her.
She looked away."
The schoolbus was parked by the auditorium door when she got there. She said hi to Robin who was sitting on the doorstoop with another girl then got on the bus. She sat near the back. Soon a dozen others and Miss Sanderson came and the bus started.
Through the gold and green countryside with the wind roaring past, bound for Paradise Playland. While the chorus teacher opened windows the chorus members badly mistreated a quarter hundred songs. "Sweet Violets," "Junior Birdman," "Dark Water," "Way In the Middle of the Air," "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds," and "Madame Jeanette" were among them. Roselyn sang with them until they began that business with the lap-patting and the hubbing of the hands circularly in front of the face, which was a little absurd.
She looked out the window at the cows grazing in the faraway fields, the red barns, the small paintless statted corncribs. There was the smell of hay being baked in the slow warmth of the June sunshine. Once the raw sharp stench of peas as the bus passed a canning factory. Image of her grandmother's wrinkled hands as she depodded peas into a blue streaked with white basin by running her thumbnail along the pod's slit, then sliding the thumb along the smooth inner surface. The small sound of the peas falling into the basin. The pods being dropped into a box lettered: Campbell's Soups. The fresh clean odor of the peas and their good taste. This came across her mind and was gone.
"Every party has a pooper, That's why we invited you,"
They were singing now to the tune of "Pretty Baby."
"Party pooper, party pooper."
Roselyn watched them, a part and yet apart. Later it was:
"Here's to Robin and the way she does the hula-hop, Here's to Robin and the way she does the hula-hop Here's to Robin, Here's to Robin, And the way she does the hula-hop."
"Robin is a social flop;" one boy said, "she won't do the hula-hop."
Then they were at the lake and all the others were shouting out and rushing away toward the bath-houses. Miss Van waited for her, smiling.
"Hi, Roz," she said.
"Didn't you want to go bathing?"
"Nah -- no."
"That's good. I wanted to talk to you anyway."
A road wound through a small wood, then there was a smooth lawn which stretched a few hundred feet to Paradise Beach. A woman in a vermillion bathing suit with a cigarette in her mouth was pitching a softball; a man in the shade of the trees read the New York Times; four Negroes tossed a football back and forth; someone lay on the warm grass with a notebook open. It was on this lawn that Miss Sanderson unfolded her blanket. Roselyn went to the stand and bought two Royal Palms, brought them back, sat down beside Miss Van and then it was that they talked.
"What are you planning for the summer?"
"I dunno exactly. Put my application in to Central City." The bottle was sweaty in her hand.
"What would you like to do?"
"Anything they put me on. What do you do all summer, Miss Sanderson?"
"Go to school."
"In the summer?"
She smiled saying that she was working on her doctor's degree. Roselyn noticed that she was pretty when her small head was turned so that the scar could not be seen. The jacket of her brown suit had been folded and laid down beside her on the blanket. Her auburn hair was smooth and clipped short, fluffed only at the ends; her legs were beneath her small body, tucked. Touche'.
They talked about nothing much. Roselyn said that her mother was sick and in the hospital when it wasn't serious; that was why she wanted to get a job. She had no plans about what she'd do when she graduated.
"You've got a place in music," Miss Vann said. "You have a good voice."
"You'll be singing solos next year. And the Choralettes need a voice like yours."
"Hi, honey-o's," a voice said.
Roselyn knew without looking up who it was. She was the small ankle with the locker key on an elastic band around it, the pebbly white rubber bathing shoes. She felt a hand on her shoulder and looking up saw (IMAGES OF TWO CLEAR BUT DISTORTED). They spun into nothing as Robin took the glasses off. "How're my little honey-o's today?" POR NADA, POR EQUA.
Roselyn smiled. It was as if she were their mother talking to them like her two small children.
Miss Sanderson told them both about the Choralettes, an octet which would be formed the following fall. There would be four boys and four girls in it, two other girls besides Roselyn and Robin.
"Like to take a canoe out on the lake?" Robin said.
"No," Miss Sanderson said. "I'm strictly a land-lubber. You two go."
They looked at each other.
"Wanna?" Robin said.
Roselyn looked past her to where three boys were pouring lemonade over Twig's head. Twig was a girl. Some said. The boys picking her up dumped her into a wire basket. With the other trash.
"C'mon," said Robin, "the water's beautiful."
"Okay." She got up. "Sure you don't wanna go, Miss Sanderson?"
"Of course. Have fun."
"Bye-bye," said Robin.
They did not have to wait in line for a canoe; Robin had already gotten one. It was calm out on Paradise Lake, and not at all like Seneca Lake, where there was always the humming sound of motorboats as they darted across the white waves scrolling unendingly in to shore. The lake was still, bottomless, nearly rippleless.
They paddled to the other side to a point where the lake narrowed to a stream which went under a log bridge and then into another smaller lake with lily pads atop and thick lakeweed just below the surface. They dragged the canoe ashore. Robin spread her blanket on the grass; they sat down together on it. Neither had spoken since they'd gotten in the canoe.
"Nice day," said Robin.
"What madeya change your mind?"
"Comin' to the picnic."
"Oh. Miss Sanderson talked me into it."
"I'm glad she did."
They watched as a fish broke through the water, arced, and splashing, disappeared. Robin turned over on her stomach. "Thermos of lemonade in the boat."
"I'm not thirsty."
"Neither am I."
Roselyn looked out across the lake.
"Life's funny, isn't it?" said Robin.
"How you mean?"
"I dunno. Jus funny. Like you an me sitting here an it being a Sunday in June. Pretty soon exams'll be all over and we won't see each other til next fall. The lake's quiet. Clouds are like muffin dough, the sky's blue and here we are sittin on a blanket talkin. I have a feelin it's goin to be a strange afternoon."
"I think I know what you mean."
They looked at each other. Robin did not blink for so long that it almost frightened her. She looked away.
"You should've come with us the other night honey-o. We missed you."
"Twig got pizza all over the front of her dress. Serves her right for... Long Tom Tillotson got drunk. Smoked a cigar. They nearly threw him out. He kept getting more and more embarassing. Pulled all the tables together so the waitreses couldn't get through. Sang songs. Got on a high note. Waitress turned and shh-ed us. We cut the note off sharp. Left the old gal standin with her mouth open. Were we tools? us about the tooliest lil ole bunch yever did see. Had pizza loaded with mushrooms and pepperoni and an--"
"Anchovies. Afterwards we linked arms and walked up Sconondoa Street singin 'Onward Christian Soldiers' at two in the morning. A police car passed. The cop stared at us but didn't stop. Probably thought we were looney. We were. Then we ducked under the railroad gates. Almost got run over by a train. What would Miss Sanderson've thought? Ran all the way home singing 'Junior Birdmen'. Fell into bed.
"When my mother woke me up she acted like to throw a fit. She thought I'd had a few. I was too tired even to take off my dress. I told her it was Friday. She said I couldn't come to the picnic. But I helped her dust, went crosstown to the store and buttered her up. So the old gal let me come. You should a bin there honey-o. You woulda had a ball."
Roselyn smiled. "Where'd you get that?"
"I dunno. Bin sayin it longer than I can remember."
"I like the way you say it."
"Say it again."
"Honey-o. I love my daddy-o My mommy-o My sissie-o My brother-o But I don't love em Nawthin like I love my lil sweet honey-o."
Roselyn turned away biting her lip, her throat thick, wondering if she should say something. "Robin, I..."
"Robin have you ever -- I mean did you once maybe have a crush on somebody?"
"No -- I mean -- Once. In sixth grade."
"What did you say? I mean, how did you --"
"Well I was a mere child then of course. It was ages and ages ago but --" She stopped, and rolling over on her back, put both hands over her face. Roselyn only heard the laughter, but it made her whirl, her eyes widening, then narrowing. Her hand, fisting, touched her throat. Was Robin laughing at her?
"O Roz -- this is precious."
"You've got a crush on me and are afraid to tell me. And here I've had one on you for jus the longest time."
"No." Her mouth was open. She felt a sharp ache in her throat. "Why didn't you -- "
"I tried to, honey-o. But you were so quiet. And aloof. Goll-EE. I didn't know whether you liked me or not."
And she suddenly remembered many things: Robin looking at her in chorus and smiling, Robin waiting for her outside the auditorium, Robin sitting behind her in English class, and every time herself speaking gruffly, not because she wanted to, but because she never knew quite what to say, how to talk to her.
Side by side on the blanket they looked at each other. They were thrilled with each other. No one else was around.
"Hi honey-o," said Robin.
"Hi honey-o," said Roselyn. She touched the girl's arm. It sent a little shock through her. "May I?" She moved forward.
"No. Let me first. Please. I've been waiting longer."
"All right. Quick though."
Robin kissed the girl.
"Now I owe you one." Roselyn's hands were tightly around the girl's arms, fingers trembling.
"Don't bother to count. You'll lose track."
She moved forward just a little.
"Maybe we shouldn't have done that," Robin said later. Robin's locker key was around her waist.
"Why not," said Robin. "It's nothing. Over halfa the girls in the school've got crushes. I could name a coupla dozen without even tryin' hard."
"Remember all the things we said?"
"Couldn't forget 'em."
"Think we'll keep our promise?"
"I will if you will."
"Then so will I."
"I probably won't see you too often this summer."
"I'll call you up if you want me to."
"No. I'll call you," Roselyn said.
"Shall we go back now, honey-o?"
"If you want to."
"Maybe we better. Kinda late. Want any more lemonade?"
They folded the blanket, put it in the canoe, then got in and paddled out of the small nameless lake with the lilypads and the lakeweed, under the log bridge and onto Paradise Lake remembering all they had done together during the strange Sunday afternoon then that last thing which had been Robin's idea: there was now in the woods a tall oak and on it was carved a heart, pierced, and within it their names:
ROBIN & ROZ