Rosellen Brown

                   Thelma was the one in our class most likely to—

Thelma was the one in our class most likely to—
we didn't know what, but we knew. She scared the boys
because she had a voice like an organ note,
loud and long and thicker than other voices,
and she never forgot a fact or remembered
an insult, never backed off, made herself
useful three places at once. Imagine
how the teachers loved her and didn't hide it. She was so alive you couldn't
dislike her, though it was terrible how many did.

They used to call her Never-Been-Kissed and
worse, and the girls were hardly better: she wasn't much
of a girl to them. What Thelma was made for was
leaving Oxford and never looking back, her shoulder
fitted to the wind like something Chip calls
                       But here she is,
arrived on time for class reunion with a brood as large
as anyone's—twin beauties under a shifting cloak
of starlet hair, a boy long-legged, sweet
and confident, whose teachers probably love him too. "The law's
absorbed my energies" is how she answers
questions, which makes folks gape. Her tweedy husband
keeps his hands in his pockets and hugs the doorway
close to the exit.

There's whispering over the finger foods.
"I always thought she was—you know,"
says Dickie Wells, who was voted cutest. "She talked
so much. And none of us could ever impress her." Well, then.
People are shy in her shadow. They go out to look
at her car that's the color of good whiskey
ages in the barrel. It has a letter
on the back that shows they bought it
somewhere in Europe. Imagine the bumper sticker:

But she isn't there to gloat. Thelma wouldn't—I was
her friend for good reason. She walks from cluster
to cluster asking questions, smiling
like someone who means it. She tells her children
who starred in the Senior Follies, remembers
the basket Toby Simmons made that won a big one (though she says
she remembers him much taller.) She doesn't do a thing
to make us feel jealous or left behind and that's what's hard
to take, I guess: to some it's worse
than gloating. It's holier than we are, because we couldn't be half
so nice ourselves. Dickie says, sly, "I bet it's politics
she learned that from. I bet she runs for office
down there wherever it is she lives. I be damned if I'd forgive
the things we did to her."

                                          Sunday I ask my minister
to speak sometime on Charity Rebuffed. People are funny,
he tells me, not amused—the generous ones
keep on paying sometimes. No matter what, he says
(already hunting, I see in his eyes, for a Bible verse to pin it to),
we keep them in debt forever.

                                                                        –from Cora Fry's Pillow Book

Rosellen Brown, Cora Fry's Pillow Book, Farrar, Staus & Giroux, 1994.