Her name was Sarah, that’s all that I can really remember. That and she looked lovely in red.” I said.
“Sarah? What else can you tell me about her?” She asked, in her cushioned chair.
I laid back and stared at the ceiling, my voice and mind wandering to the wooden rafters and tiled ceilings.
She moved to my hometown in the middle of August: an uncommonly cool August day, as I remember it, because there was a girl I had never seen before sitting in the back wearing her auburn hair neatly in a ponytail that draped down over her shoulder that complimented the deep red dye of the loose shawl that she wore. It was a couple of days after the start of my seventh grade year, she simply stood out from the rest of the class simply because I didn’t know her. I had attended school with every one of the twenty or so students my age who lived in our small town. She was called to introduce herself in front of the class. Her name was Sarah, she said, and she had moved from California to here because of her father’s job had led them here. She stated all of this was a barely audible voice and her green eyes cast down to the ground. Nobody spoke to her that day. Nor the day after. Or the day after that. It wasn’t until the first week of September that I’d hear her speak again.
I was held up in class after school, that day, talking to my teacher or something, it doesn’t really matter anyhow. I ran to catch up to my friend who had definitely started to head to our neighborhood without me. I ran out the door and rounded a corner and ran pushed open the door that led out of the building. I stopped after the door hit someone standing there.And there on the ground, lying face down was that auburn haired girl with the red shawl. There was Sarah.
“Sorry!” I said, lending a hand to help her up. It took her a while to accept it. Her hand was so soft, I remember thinking, I lingered a moment too long even when she was up before dropping up.
“I’m s-sorry.” She stammered out. Those were the last two words I heard her speak. “I’m sorry.” And it was beautiful. As beautiful as the red draped over her shoulders. Her voice pierced through the ambiance of everyday life like an arrow whizzing through the air, and struck my heart at that moment. I must have looked like a fool standing there saying nothing, because she walked away after that, with a slight rouge tint on her cheeks. I remembered the soft touch of her hand, and felt my own cheeks flare up. I walked home with the feeling of her hand in mine. I really must have looked like a fool.
I tried to gather up the courage to speak to her, but ask any young pubescent boy with his first crush how feeble that courage is, and how quickly it falters and falls. I’d gather up the courage overnight while lying in my bed, only to fail the following morning as soon as I saw her. She was always in my peripherals; catching glimpses of her when her head was turned around, or watching from far away. I’d follow the same routine, day after day after day.
While watching her, I noticed something odd. She didn’t seem to get along with the other people in the class, I hadn’t noticed at that point, but it was painfully obvious to me now. No one spoke to her, and she spoke to no one. When classes let out for recesses, or for lunch breaks she’d sit at her desk, her downward gaze cast only on the desktop in front of her. Whenever she did head out she’d sit underneath a large pine tree that sat in the schoolyard. She seemed lonely to me, and realizing that gave me another burst of feeble courage that’d fail just like all the rest. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who picked up on her loneliness. Loneliness is a festering wound, it hurts you constantly and draws to it diseases and infections of the worst kind, as was the case of Sarah…
It was the middle of September when it started, a couple of girls gathered around her desk and introduced themselves. I still remember their names, burned into my memory. Sabrina, Charlotte, and Claire. They surrounded around her like a swarm of yapping feral dogs. They’d talk to her, asking about her hair, her choice of clothing, her hobbies, her…anything that they could think of! And they’d always through in some cruel barb, so quick quip to lower her self esteem. How they loved how, ‘lived in,’ her clothes look. How they adored her wild hair. How they just had to know where she got her tattered shoes. Each passing day they’d make these comments, and each day they’d grown more frequent and even more harsh. Each day they’d walk away giggling among themselves saying quietly-but-not-too-quietly about how ugly she was, how homely. And, every single day Sarah would take it. She’d never show any sign of sadness, or sorrow. She was resolute. A never-bending tree assailed by a winter storm. A cliff face assaulted by terrible waves. She was strong. Resolute, and all the more beautiful in my eyes.
As the days continued, as the seasons passed from one to the other, as the maple trees that surrounded the town turned from vibrant greens, to deep, beautiful reds, and finally losing its autumn coat, baring their branches to the world, everything fell into routine. The first snow of that winter fell one Monday in late November, and Sarah came to school wearing a long scarf tied loosely around her neck that dragged behind her wherever she walked. To me it seemed like a ball gown worn by an aristocratic lady in waiting. I remember thinking that once we were married -because we would definitely be married, once I gathered the courage to finally speak to her- that I’d buy her a wedding dress with the longest red veil. The gaggle of girls, however, didn’t see it the way that I saw it. They instead, saw it as another wound to attack, another scab to pull at, and like any good disease they struck. They would “accidentally,” step on it while she walked in front of them, usually causing the scarf to tighten around her neck and causing her to fall or yelp in pain. They’d give pseudo apologies and walk past laughing at the joke only they found funny. Yet, each time they did this she never once showed any sign of breaking. Not a lady in waiting, no. A queen, was she.
And so November ended and December began, it was the last day of class and I was finally going to do it, I was going to talk to her. She had a head start on me, and I hurried through the halls for the last time that semester, and rounded the final corner before going to the last stretch of hall to exit the building and catch up with her, but I was stopped.
There in the doorway was Sarah, blocking her way was Sabrina, the leader of this particular attack, shadowed closely by Charlotte and Claire over each shoulder.
“So I heard you called me a ‘bitch.’” Sabrina stated, her hand resting on her hip. She didn’t, I would know, I was watching her all semester long…”Well, are you going to answer me?” She continued, this time followed by a slap. “Answer me!” She screamed, the next slap was harder than the last. And the next harder than the one before it.
Before too long she had Sarah’s hair balled up in her hand as she slammed her face into the concrete over and over again. Her two shadows began jeering and pulling at her auburn locks. When they were finished she laid face down on the ground, even from that distance I could see the strands of pink that covered the snow in front of the girls.
“Let’s go.” Sabrina said, with a final kick to Sarah’s head. Not once during that whole thing did I hear her cry. Not a queen, no, not a queen an empress, I told myself.
I walked up to her to try to help her out, but I stopped short when I heard a soft sound. A quiet sob escaped Sarah’s lips for the first time that semester. She stood up, turned to face the door to make sure that no one was watching. Her now swollen green eyes locked with mine for a moment, and I saw her lip quivering for the briefest of second, and a single, sparkling tear trace down her red, swollen cheek. She turned and ran away, disappearing quickly into the winter… I wanted to go after her, I did, but I didn’t. I wanted to talk to her and try to help…but I was a coward, nothing but a coward. I walked home alone, the quivering of her lip on my mind all the way home. I didn’t eat dinner that night, I just went straight to sleep. I dreamt of her.
It quickly was replaced, however, by thoughts of free time, thoughts of roaming the snowy streets of the town. My friends and I went out when the sun was starting to hang dangerously low in the sky on the first day of the break to play hide and seek. It was one of them that suggested playing at the school, we all agreed. We hopped the fence when the sun had long set, and the moon was shrouded by a thick layer of nimbostratus clouds. We picked who was, “it,” by a quick game of rock, paper scissors and those of us who won split into various directions.
I knew immediately where I was going to hide: behind the giant pine that Sarah sat under some days during the semester. I ran there almost immediately, trying my hardest not to make deep indents on the snow. I got there in a couple of seconds and ducked behind it, trying to stop the puffs of white that escaped my nostrils and mouth. I froze there, however.
Above me I could hear…something. I didn’t know what it was, a steady knocking sound. Knock. Knock. Knock. It sounded. A slight wind blew and rattled the branches, knocking some pine needles onto my head, I brushed them off and there it was again. Knock. Knock. Knock. Three knocks, just like the last time. I stared into the branches and, squinting. I could barely make out something thanks to the strands of light that peeked through the clouds and the thick branches over head…
Knock. Knock. Knock. Another breeze caused it to knock again. Was it a loose branch? Knock. Knock. Knock. There it was again. I strained my hardest to see, and, for the second time that night I froze in place. The moon burst from underneath it’s cloak and illuminated the area. Knock. Knock. Knock. And there she was…there was Sarah. Knock. Knock. Knock. Hanging on the lowest hanging branch, her beautiful red scarf tied around her throat, swinging in the breeze, knocking her feet against the trunk with every cruel breeze that shot through the night…
I broke forth from my frozen terror and clawed at the tree like a madman, the frozen bark digging into the soft flesh of my fingers and sticking underneath my fingernails . Every time I made any amount of progress I’d fall back to the frozen earth. I don’t know how long I did this but I did it again, and again, and again. I could feel that the skin on my fingers had long since torn away, but I didn’t care. I had to help her. This time. I had to get to her this time. Climb. Fall. Climb. Fall. Climb again, fall again.
It ended when a man in blue grabbed my shoulder and put me on the ground. He said that there were reports of a child screaming at the schoolhouse, had I been screaming? I don’t’ remember doing that, but my mouth was open, and all that was coming out now was a garbled mess of sobs and blood…he looked up to where I was looking and spoke into his radio. He dragged me away from the tree as a team of other men climbed an aluminum ladder and cut her down. I broke away from the officer and ran to her.
Her face was blue and bloated: both eyes were swollen beyond recognition: the once emerald orbs now clouded over by the mist of death. A stream of red, now congealed blood stained her chin, and dribbled down her swollen neck, where her beautiful scarf was tied tightly…I screamed again, and was pulled in by one of the officers.
The rest of winter break was a blur,didn’t know where it was being held, nor would I want to see her, my Sarah like that again. On the first class of the new semester Sabrina made a show of sobbing like a child in front of the class, faking grief. I walked out and went home, and I refused to go to school after that. My family moved out of the town shortly after that and I attended a new school…I tried my hardest to forget, but I never did…I never will.
Her name was Sarah. That’s all that I remember. That’s all I want to remember. That and she looked lovely in red.