I liked school. It was the only place I felt slightly comfortable. I liked reading the most and math the least. When I was sitting in the classroom I could lose myself in what the teacher was saying and not think about how I didn’t fit in anywhere else.
“Hey, Blanche,” Jeffrey Peterson leaned forward in his chair and whispered at me while I was trying to listen to the teacher talk about John Steinbeck. I ignored him.
I felt a hard tug on my hair and I tightened my jaw. All I wanted to do was turn around and slug Jeffrey straight in the face.
“Blanche, how come you never dance? You always have your nose in a book. Don’t you ever have any fun?” Jeffrey was still talking.
“She doesn’t know how to have fun,” Stanley Stevens snickered softly on the other side of me. “But her sister sure does.”
“Don’t I know it,” Jeffrey said.
“You wish,” Stanley snorted.
“Excuse me. Jeffrey, Stanley. Do you have something to contribute?” Mr. Shultz interrupted their banter from the front of the room.
“Uh. No, sir,” Jeffrey said quickly.
Stanley just shook his head and straightened in his chair.
At lunch they sat next to me before my friend Emmy got back with her tray.
“So Hank Hakes was asking about you last week,” Jeffrey was saying. “I told him not to waste his time with you. You’re tighter than a drum and more boring than a silent movie.”
I looked at my sandwich and wished they would go away.
“Why are you so quiet anyhow?” Stanley asked.
I didn’t answer. I opened my book and prayed they would leave me alone. Harassing me was a favorite pass time of theirs.
Emmy stood behind them and cleared her throat.
“Hello, boys. Don’t you have a rock to climb back under?” She asked, bold as anything.
I wished I could be bold like her.
“We sure do. Wanna climb under it with us?” Jeffrey asked, smirking as he stood up.
“Not if you were the last snake on earth,” Emmy said with a look of disgust as she sat down next to me.
“Good luck talking to her. It’s like she took a vow of silence,” Stanley said as he and Jeffrey walked back to their own table.
“Okay, so you have to tell me all about this Hank guy that Mollie Franklin says was talking to you at the banquet,” Emmy said after the boys had left.
“I have no idea why he’s talking to me and I don’t know much about him.”
“You don’t give yourself enough credit, Blanche,” Emmy said. “You’re a pretty girl and smart too. I heard he’s got a gorgeous singing voice. And the most gorgeous green eyes. Does he have gorgeous green eyes?”
I remembered his eyes watching me that night and yes, he did have gorgeous green eyes but I wasn’t about to admit I noticed. I pushed my glasses up on my nose and lied.
“I didn’t even notice.”
“Millie said your dad was fit to be tied when he saw Hank with you.”
Emmy was originally from the south and though she had lived here five years, some of the old vernacular slipped through.
“Let’s talk about something else,” I tried to steer the conversation away from Hank.
“Millie said he’s like 25. Does he know how young you are? That doesn’t seem right, him trying to talk up a 17 year old,” Emmy was buttering her roll as she talked. “Still, it’s not like he’s 30 and if he’s nice then I guess that’s okay. Annie Jenkins got married at like 16, so it isn’t that unusual. And he was just talkin’ to you. It’s not like he asked to marry you or something crazy like that. So, do you think you’ll see him again?”
“No,” I said tersely. “And Annie Jenkins got married because she was pregnant.”
“Oh.” Emmy seemed disappointed.
Like me she wasn’t very social, and I had a feeling she had hoped to live vicariously through me for a little while.
“Do you want to come over and study for our history exam tonight?” I asked, desperate to change the subject.
“Oh yes! And then you can tell me everything about Hank.”
I sighed and drank my milk.
Edith was painting her toenails in our room when Emmy and I came home from school.
“What are you getting ready for?” I asked, laying my bag on my bed and pulling my history book out.
“Nothing special. Just life. You never know when someone’s going to come knocking on our door and whisk me away from here.”
She flipped a dark curl back over her shoulder and flashed a grin at me.
“How are the beauty classes going at the community center?” Emmy asked Edith.
“They’re fine,” Edith shrugged. “I guess. It’s kind of gross when they want us to cut old people’s hair, but we’ve gotta practice on someone I guess.”
She jumped off the bed and reached under it for a record she’d hid there.
“Mama is at the sewing circle and Daddy is still at work. I can play you guys this new song by Elvis.”
“Who?” I asked.
Emmy giggled. “Yeah – who?”
“Oh my gosh! You girls haven’t heard of Elvis? Listen to this!”
Edith put the record on and the sound of Rock N’ Roll filled our room.
“Well, since my baby left me
I found a new place to dwell
Well, it’s down at the end of Lonely Street
At Heartbreak Hotel
Where I’ll be–where I get so lonely, baby
Well, I’m so lonely
I get so lonely, I could die”
Edith started to dance and grabbed my hand to pull me to my feet.
“Come on, Blanche. Dance with me. No boys are here to watch you. Let it loose!”
I laughed at her and tried to copy her steps, tripping over my own feet.
“I can’t!” I giggled. “I’m horrible!”
“Just keep trying!” Emmy said, jumping to her feet to try to dance too.
“Although it’s always crowded
You still can find some room
For broken-hearted lovers
To cry there in the gloom
And be so, where they’ll be so lonely, baby
Well, they’re so lonely
They’ll be so lonely, they could die”
“What’s with this stuff about being so lonely they could die?” I asked breathlessly, giggling.
“I know! Who could ever be that lonely?” Emmy asked, laughing too.
“Oh, you’d be surprised!” Edith said. “It’s no fun to be alone. Think of all those people who die never having loved.”
“Are you sure you aren’t the one reading sappy romance novels at night?” Emmy asked Edith as we all fell on the bed laughing. Emmy sat up, leaning back on her elbows. “Edith – what do you know about Blanch and this Hank Hakes?”
“Emmy! Hush!” I cried.
“Oh, Blanche and Hank!” Edith practically crowed. “Hank has got it bad for my little sister. Jimmy says he’s been asking all kinds of questions about her and says he wants to know when she’s coming back to the dance hall again.”
Emmy looked at me.
“And are you?”
“Why not?” Edith asked. “You need to get out of your head and your books and get into life already!”
The record started skipping.
“So lonely I could die, so lonely I could die, so lonely I could die…”
Elvis said it over and over again until Edith lifted the needle off and put on a Fats Domino record.
“Do you think you’ll ever get married and leave this place, Edith?” Emmy asked.
“I definitely plan to,” Edith said, opening a box of chocolates she’d had stashed under the bed and offering me and Emmy one. “I don’t want to stay around here and marry some dirty farmer. I want to explore the world. I’m going to marry someone rich and he’s going to take me away.”
“If you’re going to marry someone rich then you should stop running around with that Jimmy Sickler,” I said, rolling my eyes. “You’ll end up the secretary at his dad’s mechanic shop.”
“Oh, he’s just someone to play around with until someone better comes along,” Edith said around a mouthful of chocolate. “Maybe when I finish my beautician certification I’ll move on to a bigger city and that’s where I’ll find my rich husband.”
“So, if Jimmy is just someone to play around with, what about Frank and Roger and Billy?” Emmy was giggling.
Edith glared a little then grinned.
“Hush up, you children. You don’t know anything about life or boys. Gotta keep it exciting, right?”
I took another chocolate and watched my sister. I worried about her. I worried about how much she craved the attention of so many boys at one time, rarely caring about their background or that they might hurt her.
I thought about Hank and how I liked his attention, but I didn’t need it like Edith needed attention. I had my books, I didn’t need a man to take me out of my world and into a new one to make life exciting. As I enjoyed the taste of the chocolate I started to wonder, though, what it would be like to live my life outside of a book and if I ever really would.