Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1095754-Silent-Witness
by Shelly
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Teen · #1095754
Too late to be brave and too late to say I'm sorry
Terry tried very hard to hold back her tears. Sitting at her desk, in the classroom, she kept her face down. Her long unkempt hair served as a compassionate veil against the relentless teasing from the popular girls. Trembling, she tried to concentrate on the writing assignment the teacher had just scribbled on the chalkboard, “ A Weekend Getaway." I tried as she did; to think of what I would write. I thought of an adventure to some tropical island, (not very creative--a cliche'). I knew that she would have some mystical tale of some clandestine adventure filled with imagery, emotion and great characters.

Creative writing was one of the classes I believe Terry looked forward to. Most of the time Terry loved to write, it was the perfect outlet for her to escape the cold realities of being poor, shy and not-so pretty. Also, she had a “natural talent” for writing. I would always see her in the library helping the "other undesireables" with their essays or constantly writing in her journal. Looking back now… I realize how much circumstance can influence one’s ability to tell a story from the heart.


The next day Terry arrived to class late. I could see her standing outside the classroom door. Pacing back and forth while chewing her fingernails; trying to muster some confidence to enter the room. I could feel her panic. I wondered… why does she put herself through this…why won’t she just get here on time.

She glanced through the door window. Her expression conveyed that she was hoping and praying the class would be preoccupied with their studies. That some how they would not notice her, but in her heart she knew better.

Terry opened the door with great trepidation. A whirlwind of snickering faces and pointing fingers caused her to stumble to the floor; papers went swirling into the air; pens and pencils went rolling acoss the floor. The room roared with laughter.

The teacher scampered to help her up and in a condescending tone reminded her, “You're late again Terry. This is starting to happen more times than not.”

Terry stuttered. “I… I’m sorry Mrs. Timbrook. It won’t happen again, I… I promise.”

Mrs. Timbrook told her to take her seat and Terry obliged her without hesitation.

The class continued to chuckle and make faces. It was common practice for the class to hold their noses when she sat down and today had no exceptions. They were in full force and held on to the steadfast rule, “if you did not laugh with them” you become a target of their harassment. I however, did not participate in their brutal rituals. I often pretended to be busy with homework, too busy for their convictions or too noble to descend to their level… and it worked. My disguise and impromptu acting kept me safe…just out of reach. I was the “silent witness.”

In retrospect, I was the worst of the lot. However, I considered myself fortunate at that time. I was captain of the varsity cheerleading squad, and class president. I was also a very desperate overachiever, compensating for my own shortcomings, thus I felt sorry for Terry. For selfish reasons, I know now, because she and I had more in common than not.

You see… I was just one step short of being considered poor white trash; living on the outskirts of town in a two-bedroom trailer with my two brothers and mother, where my personal lifestyle was concealed. She lived on the south end of town, in a boarded up vacant house, with her younger sister, (age thirteen), two brothers, (ages five and six), mother and grandmother. The only difference was…my mother was able to pay her water bill and her mother was not. Where you stood within the strict observations of the “upper” ninth grade class was determined by what you wore and wearing the same clothes for three-straight days warranted an immediate branding and placement among the less than desirable students. I walked that tight rope, for many years to follow. She was never given the chance, at least not in her short-lived years on this earth.

Mrs.Timbrook spoke up. “Terry, since you were late, you can be the first to read your short story on where you would choose to go for a weekend getaway.”

Terry shook while she searched through her papers and replied. “I forgot to do my homework Mrs. Timbrook.”

Mrs.Timbrook tilted her head as if to imply disgust and approached Terry with her arms crossed tightly against her chest and snapped. “ No you didn't… I saw your homework when you so clumsily dropped your books. Come on now. You are wasting class time and mine!”

I glared at that teacher hoping she would feel my hatred. I thought, How cruel can she be? How could she put Terry in that position knowing how the class would react? Does she have no compassion?

The class began to roar. Some were throwing papers at her while others held their noses. I began to sweat and I felt my face become flush. I could almost feel Terry’s pain. My heart began to pound against my chest, in rhythm with hers… I think, but I did nothing.

Mrs. Timbrook slapped her grade book against the chalkboard, CRACK, and yelled. “That will be enough! I can make this easy and just hand out Fs for everyone!

The class went silent, but the smirks on their faces remained.

Terry pulled out the paper titled, “A Weekend Getaway” and with a defeated and frail voice began to read…

“ To spend a weekend doing exactly what I want would be a unique experience. An escape from reality would be my only consideration. Visiting an ornate, statuesque, haunted Victorian mansion would be the perfect door to enter and escape. A shadowy, gothic-style foyer decorated with ghostly portraits of long, passed people and unfamiliar places would catapult me into another place in time. A musty scent would permeate the still, chilled air and would give evidence to years of uninterrupted seclusion. The unusual silence would lend additional testimony to that fact.”

Terry stopped reading to catch her breath and pull back her hair. She could hear the whispers. She could feel their convictions. At that moment, she slowly turned her head towards me and looked into my eyes. I felt that she was searching… almost pleading for some sort of compassion, and I gave her a tiny smile to convey my heartfelt admiration for being able to get thru this moment that has been given to her.

She continued to read…

“Drawing me further from reality would be an enchanting, dark mahogany staircase. It’s antiquated grandeur and fortitude would be an alluring bridge into the unknown. Once it’s spiraling path is ascended, a labyrinth of secretive rooms would provide endless hours of adventure. Lonely spirits would welcome my presence. They would surely occupy my mind, and hide the unrelenting light of reality behind the dust covered tapestries and commiserate with my reality-torn and tortured soul.”


Then, an out-spoken mean girl giggled and said. "Great we will be reading about a suicide by some crazed student from our school tomorrow. Why do we have to deal with these kind of people?"

The class broke out in a roar of laughter and again Mrs. Timbroke threaten them with Fs.

Mrs. Timbrook again tilted her head and scratched her ear. She looked at Terry and said. “That was…how should I put this…concerning. I was looking for something with a more optimistic tone.”

She smacked her lips together to clean away any evidence of lunch and then told Terry to be seated. Terry sat down and with a great sweep of her pen she began to tear her homework apart. I wanted to tell her to stop…to tell her that her story was always better than everyone else’s. But I said nothing. I was ashamed of myself. How could I be such a coward? Why could I not rise above it all?

My pleas, however, would be in vain and the next day of school would shatter any hopes that I may have had for atonement.

The long ride on the school bus that morning seemed typical. Same kids, doing the same things except for Dana. She sat quietly and didn’t participate in the usual horseplay. She just stared out the window. Dana was one the branded undesirables but she also was one of the toughest girls in school, so her torment was far from the punishment Terry received on a daily basis. As we approached the south end of town all of the kids on the bus noticed all the fire trucks in front of Terry’s destroyed home. The bus became silent...not a whisper. Their faces were pressed against the school bus windows.

Then Carol, (one of Terry’s staunch tormenters), stood up and declared. “It’s about time that bug-infested shack burnt down! My daddy always said that it was the armpit of our community!”

Then Dana broke her silence while clutching her fists at Carol. “You just shut your mouth up! Or I will shut it for you!”

Her eyes welled up with tears. I knew something far worse had happened to make someone as tough as Dana to cry. I began to pray…please don’t let this be happening.

Dana cried out loud…“She’s dead…they are all dead! It’s true, my daddy is a volunteer fireman and he helped put out this fire. He called home and told my mother. The chimney caught on fire. They found Terry, her brothers and sister in the upstairs bathroom. Terry was found covering them, as a mother would protect her child. They couldn’t get out because the windows were boarded up. They couldn’t get out!”

She fell to her seat sobbing. All you could hear was her sobbing. I sat silent and from that point on I was the silent witness… no chance to be the sweet, wonderful and brave child that Terry was… no chance to tell her “I’m sorry.”

© Copyright 2006 Shelly (maryhall at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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