The hall was crowded the first day of school. August had passed and September 1956 had arrived. Familiar faces passed by in the Junior High hallway. The school was alive with chatter, and hundreds of footsteps scurrying to class. Nollie (who was in the seventh grade this year) was walking towards me with another girl. She had spent the last month of summer in
, and I hadn’t seen her since her return. Abruptly they turned into the girl’s bathroom. That’s funny; I wonder why she didn’t speak. Oh well, she probably didn’t see me. Texas
Julie stepped up beside me; her dark sensitive eyes were troubled and she spoke in a soft whispered tone,
“Gloria, I think you should know what Nollie told Jan and me this morning.”
“She said you pushed Ray under the water.”
“What do you mean? I asked incredibly.
“I don’t know why she said it,” Julie answered sympathetically, “I’ve got to run or I’ll be late for class. I’ll see you at lunch, okay?”
“Okay,” I said numbly. My steps dragged as I entered my eight-grade classroom. Faces were a blur. I had hoped with the beginning of school that the memory of Ray would lessen. Ever since the drowning, no matter where I turned or what I did, suddenly, without warning, a sharp pain of remembrance would pierce me. The first hour of the new school year, I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.
I saw Nollie a couple of times between classes, but it was obvious, she was avoiding me. Every time she saw me coming, she darted off in the opposite direction.
“Mom, why would Nollie say that about me?” I asked, after I told her what Julie had said.
“I don’t know, but I’ll soon find out,” Mom said and walked out the back door, heading for the Smiths. She returned a half-hour later.
“Nollie’s mother says there will be no more such talk!” Mom said reassuringly.
“But Mom, how could Nollie even think that of me?”
I thought long and hard about Nollie. She had seen me trying to keep above the water by grabbing Ray’s shoulder. Didn’t she see him dogpaddling after that? No, she had gone for help. I finally decided Nollie felt guilty because she had hesitated in getting help. In order to ease her pain, she was blaming me for Ray’s death.
A few months passed, we moved to another house in Socorro. The socializing with the Smiths had come to an end. No one purposed it, but no longer could we enjoy fun and laughter together. Instead there was a void, emptiness, sadness and a longing for a special, freckled faced, green-eyed boy, who had laughed and shared his pleasant disposition with all who had loved him.
Every time the memory of Ray would fade, something would bring him to mind. I opened the school annual that year, and the Junior High section was dedicated to Marion Ray Smith. I gazed at the picture of my tender eyed, freckled friend. I had never known that his first name was “Marion”, the same as Daddy Slim.
(A few years later, Mrs. Smith gave birth to a baby boy. Mom said God had given them another son.)