S. O. S.
by Susan Snowden
All year we watched – and listened – as Henry Eklund clunked along, clomping his huge brick-like shoe, which was attached to steel shafts that braced his bad leg. My mother said that polio had withered Henry’s leg, left it shorter than the other one, that the big shoe made his legs even. Still, he had a terrible limp and cruel boys teased him in the
"Click-stomp, click-stomp," they’d chant, out of earshot of teachers, of course. This was a private school, and nice private school children didn’t deride their peers. That was behavior you’d expect from kids in public school, which is why my parents had refused to let me attend one. Those ill-mannered boys had little opportunity to taunt Henry in our classroom. Mrs. Pierce was as stern as the black lace-up shoes and gray suits she wore, and we were terrified of her. When I bring up her image today, decades later, I can still see the wart on her sunken cheek, and the deep lines that radiated out like spokes around her mouth, probably as a result of her lips being pursed for years. If you raised your hand to go to the bathroom she’d ignore you, or if she acknowledged you and you asked to please be excused, she’d tell you to hold it. She said second grade was very serious business; we dare not miss a thing. One day, Anthony Acosta wet his pants – he’d never even raised his hand – and then he sat there and sobbed because we were all staring at the puddle beneath his desk; but nobody laughed.
I remember only a few more things about that year, like Skipper Willingham getting his finger caught in a broken bar on the jungle gym. They rushed us inside, but from the window we could see grownups huddled around him. Skipper didn’t come back for a while, and when he did the tip of his pointing finger was missing.
As for me, I recall bringing little toys from home as payola for the girls I wanted to like me. I was running out of toys and getting panicky about it the day Henry Eklund tried to throw himself into the stairwell from the third-floor landing. Henry and I were at the end of the line snaking down to lunch. I stopped at the water fountain, then turned to find him poised on his good leg and using both hands to hoist his big-shoed foot over the railing. Though I was only seven years old, I immediately understood what he was doing and I grabbed him around the waist, planted my feet, and screamed "Help" over and over, louder than I’d ever yelled. My howls echoed through the empty hallway and down the cavernous stairwell. And now as I look back on that incident, which rendered me a hero of sorts, I realize I was not calling out for help just for Henry.
Susan Snowden has published stories, poems, and interviews in a variety of journals, including The New Orleans Review, Now and Then, Writer's Exchange, Waterways, and others. Her poems have appeared in several anthologies, including Earth and Soul: An Anthology of North Carolina Poetry. She has received awards for her work from Writer's Digest magazine, the NC Writers' Network, the Appalachian Writers' Association, and others. Her novel, Southern Fried Lies, was funded in part by a NC Arts Council grant and is currently being considered for publication. Susan is a book editor based inHendersonville, NC; she teaches creative writing part-time at Blue Ridge Community College. Her Web address is www. snowdeneditorial.com