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January 2013, vol 8, no 4

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Autumn Noelle Hall

For Whom the School Bell Tolls

“He was just a coward and that was the worst luck any man could have.”

“For what are we born if not to aid one another?”

—Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

shadow girl
her strangeness stranger
than my own

That hair, springing like some wild black grass from her head; the unwashed smell of her second-hand clothes ghosting across my desk; the way her near-translucent skin makes her seem as though she’s disappearing ...

darting eyes
the last two seeds in a dried
lotus pod

never-raised hand
no questions nor answers
in her reed-thin voice

The rabble of kids converging across ice-packed black top to cull her; the way her funny flower-child name rings from the brick walls as they taunt: “Zo-na Love, Zo-na Love, Zo-na Love”; how they drive her from the playground, nipping at her bare heels and baying with laughter, toward the row of steel dumpsters ...

pitiless brass
the midwest midwinter sun
of outdoor recess

soured milk cartons
and lunch-tray leavings
oddly odorless

This numbing fear, like a snowball lodged in my throat; the way I am matching each puff of her steam breath for breath; how my heart, wishing to leap from my chest in her aid, cannot pump hard enough to thaw my legs ...

outrunning the shoes
I cannot fill

lime green flip flops
her toes a white whiter
than the snow

Thirty-five years later, still frozen to that spot by the monkey bars, I witness the bullies snatching her plastic sandals and tossing them into the dumpster. The recess bell clangs, saving no one. Ashamed, I fall in behind as Zona Love lines up, shoeless and shivering in her threadbare sweater. Her defeat, so easily superseded by stomping boots and the dull thwacks of mittened high fives, is mine, too ...

unspoken sorries ...
reaching across time
to comfort thin air