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It happened six years ago - when I was in my Junior year at high school - that I saw Sara Nell Workman for the first time and - not to be sentimental - I liked the girl. I liked her so much, in fact, that I would go to the library and read the cards inthe back of the books to find the ones she had borrowed. I would take those out and read them carefully, including one called Needlepoint and Needlecraft.
'It's for my sister,' I said hoarsely to the librarian who was looking at me curiously. There were some pencilled notes in the margins about hemstitching, and whether Sara made these notes or not, I don't know. At the time I liked to imagine that she did, and I read them over and over: "Two skeins of black, two orange, one yellow, and the tulip stencil. Mother's day, 17 days."
But when you're sixteen, you can't keep reading marginal notes over and over. At least I couldn't. And so the time came that I decided to ask Sara for a date. That day at school I couldn't find her by herself, and juniors in high school don't just up and ask a girl for a date in front of everybody.
At home that night I went out into the hall where the phone was and shut the door behind me. I wrote Sara's number on the pad and then one sentence: "Sara - Jezebel is on Friday night and I was just wondering if you'd like to see it with me." That sounded casual and easy enough to say, but when I heard the operator ringing the number, I got excited and crumpled the paper in my hand. For a second I considered hanging up, but then someone said, 'Hello.'
'Oh,' I said. 'May I speak to Sara Workman?'
'This is she,' she said, rather impatiently it seemed.
'Oh, Sara,' I said, 'uh, this is Dave…'
'Yes,' she said.
'Do you know what our history assignment is for tomorrow?' I asked hopelessly.
'Just a munute,' she said. She got her book and gave me the assignment. I thanked her and hung up. Then I untwisted the phone wire and went back to my room in brood. About an hour later I decided that the thing to do was to jump up suddenly without thimking, rush into the hall and phone her before I had a chance to become flustered. I jumped up quickly, but then I turned back to the dresser and brushed my hair before rushing out of the room.
When Sara answerd the phone, I blurted out, 'Would you like to go to the show with me Friday night? This is Dave.'
'Well, I don't know,' Sara said very slowly and coolly. 'What's on?'
'I don't know,' I said. 'I thought maybe we'd just go mess around uptown.'
'What?' she asked.
'I mean I don't know,'' I said. 'Lucy Belle or something like that.' I really couldn't remember.
'Jezebel!' she said. 'Bette Davis. Yeah! I'd love to see it.'
'Okay,' I said. 'Goodbye.'
The next day I avoided meeting Sara alone. In the line at the cafeteria she leaned against two people and said to me, 'That was you last night, wasn't it?'
'Yeah,' I said
She settled down for a moment. I was afraid that she was going to laugh, but she didn't.
Friday night at eight o'clock when we were leaving Sara's house, Mr. Workman, who looked like John L. Lewis,* asked, 'Who's driving?'
'I am,' I said.
'You got a license?'
'Yes, sir,' I said.
'Well,' he hollered, as we went down the walk, 'just see to it that you got Sara back here safe. And before eleven o'clock.'
'Yes, sir,' I said.
'Eleven o'clock, Sara,' he screamed.
She was embarrassed, but she hollered back, 'Yes, sir.' At the theater we had to stand in line, and when finally we did get seats they were in the third row. My neck was hurting before the newsreel was over, but Sara didn't seem to mind looking straight up at the screen.
When the picture was almost over, she caught me looking at her. 'Whatsa matter? She whispered.
'Headache,' I said. 'I think it's from looking straight…'
'Shhhh…' she whispered. On the screen Bette Davis was risking death by yellow fever to be with her man and nurse him.
Sara was very quiet when we came out of the show. As we walked down Main Street, I said, 'Do you think she should have stayed with him? She probably caught yellow fever, too.'
'It's not a matter of what you ahould or shouldn't do,' Sara said. 'For when you love a man, nothing can tear you away.'
'Good gosh!' I said. Above us a neaon light flickered off and on and buyyed as though it would explode.
We stood in fron of Shaeffer's drugstore for a minute. It was ten-fifteen then, and Sara was worried about getting home.
'Just something to drink,' she said, 'we haven't time to eat.'
She ordered a chocolate milk, and I wanted one, too, but I thought it would look kind of sophisticated to order something for mz headache. I couldn't remember ammonia and Coke, so I asked the waiter what he had for a headache.
'Aspirin, epsom salts, litho-bromide, anything you want,' he said.
'Bring me a litho-bromide,' I said, trying to sound weary, 'and a Coke.'
'Still hurts?' Sara asked softly.
I smiled at her without answering.
John Bowerman and two other seniors came in and took the booth next to ours. All of the booths and tables were filling with the crowd from the movie.
The waiter brought the order. My Coke was in one glass, two litho-bromide tablets were in the bottom of an empty glass, and there was a big glass of water.
I'd never taken a litho-bromide and I didn't know that the tablets were supposed to be dropped into a glass of water where they would fizz while dissolving. I just shook the tablets out into my hand, popped them into my mouth, and swallowed them one at a time as though they were aspirin. Then I drank half the Coke while Sara tasted her milkshake.
Before I had time to say anything, the litho-bromide started bubbling noisily in my stomach.
I drank the rest of the Coke and tried to pretend that nothing was happening. Sara put down her glass and stared at me, terrified. I sounded like somebody gargling under a barrel.
'It always does this,' I said bravely. But bythen the rumblings from the mixture were too ominous to be ignored by me or the people in the other booths. Everyone was staring at my stomach.
'Everybody's looking at you,' Sara whispered. She was so red that I was afraid she was going to cry.
'Sounds like somebody churning buttermilk,' John Bowerman said, coming around to our booth.
'He's effervescing!'** the waiter announced happily to the astonished customers. 'Just listen to him fizz!'
'Sara,' I said, and I was going to tell her to get me out of there, but I was afraid to open my mouth to say anything else. The rumbling just sounded deeper when I did, like drumming on a hollow log.
'Doc Schaeffer!' John Bowerman called out when Saara told him what I had done. Doc Schaeffer climbed over the prescription counter. 'Stand back!' he said to the crowd that was gathering around our booth.
They stepped back as though they expected me to explode.
'It's nothing serious,' Doc Shaeffer said. 'Get his head lower than his stomach. Give me a hand with him.'
'He says it always does this,' Sara said.
'That's pretty hard to believe,,' Doc said, as John Bowerman and the two seniors picked me up and carried me to the prescription counter. They stretched me out and let my head hang off with my mouth open. A dogfight couldn't have attracted more attention. Doc Schaeffer brought a wet towel from the back of the drugstore. Sara stood beside me and rubbed my forehead with it.
'Sara,' I said, and I suppose now I must have sounded rather melodramatic to the other people, 'you won't love me, will you?'
'Oh, my goodness!' Sara said. 'What time is it?'
'Ten till eleven,' John Bowerman said. Sara dropped the wet towel in my face. 'I've got to be home by eleven!' she said.
'I'll take you,' John said.
I took the towel off my face in time to see them stopping by the booth for Sara's pocketbook. She didn't even look back at me.
The four or five people who were standing by me went back to their tables. I lay quetly on the counter and watched the light above swaying gently in the noisy room. Gradually, two by two, the people left, and the noise at the dishes being stacked grew quieter and quieter. I watched the waiter turn the chairs upside down on the tables and felt sorry for him and for myself and for the whole pitiful world.