I do not remember when Myra Sayla came to town, though she must have been in our class at school for two or three years. I start remembering her in the last year, or three years. I start remembering her in the last year, when her little brother Jimmy Sayla was in Grade One... Everybody knew of Jimmy Sayla’s shame and at recess (if he was not being kept in, as he often was, for doing something he shouldn’t in school) he did not dare go out on the school grounds, where the other little boys, and some bigger ones, were waiting to chase him and corner him against the back fence and thrash him with tree branches. He had to stay with Myra... So Myra and Jimmy spent every recess standing in the little back porch between the two sides Perhaps they watched the baseball games, the tag and skipping and building of leaf houses in the fall and snow forts in the winter; perhaps they did not watch at all.
Whenever you happened to look at them their heads were slightly bent, their narrow bodies hunched in, quite still. They had long smooth oval faces, melancholy and discreet—dark, oily, shining hair. The little boy’s was long, clipped at home, and Myra’s was worn in heavy braids coiled on top of her head so that she looked, from a distance, as if she was wearing a turban too big for her. Over their dark eyes the lids were never fully raised; they had a weary look. But it was more than that. They were like children in a medieval painting, they were like small figures carved of wood, for worship or magic, with faces smooth and aged, and meekly, cryptically communicative... One morning in the winter I was walking up the school hill very early; a neighbor had given me a ride into town. I lived about half a mile out of town, on a farm, and I should not have been going to the town school at all, but to a country school nearby where there were half a dozen pupils and a teacher a little demented. But my mother, who was an ambitious woman, had prevailed on the town trustees to accept me and my father to pay the extra tuition, and I went to school in town.
I was the only one in the class who carried a lunch pail and ate peanut-butter sandwiches in the high, bare, mustard-coloured cloakroom, the only one who had to wear rubber boots in the spring, when the roads were heavy with mud. I felt a little danger, on account of this; but I could not tell exactly what it was. I saw Myra and Jimmy ahead of me on the hill; they always went to school very early—sometimes so early that they had to stand outside waiting for the janitor to open the door.
They were walking slowly, and now and then Myra half turned around. I had often loitered in that way, wanting to walk with some important girl who was behind me, and not quite daring to stop and wait. Now it occurred to me that Myra might be doing this with me. I did not know what to do. I could not afford to be seen walking with her, and I did not even want to—but, on the other hand, the flattery of those humble, hopeful turnings was not lost on me. A role was shaping for me that I could not resist playing. I felt a great pleasurable rush of self conscious benevolence; before I thought what I was doing I called, “Myra! Hey, Myra, wait up, I got come.
Cracker Jack!” and I quickened my pace as she stopped. Myra waited, but she did not look at me; she waited in the withdrawn and rigid attitude with which she always met us. Perhaps she thought I was playing a trick on her, perhaps she expected me to run past and throw an empty Cracker Jack box in her face. And I opened the box
and held it out to her. She took a little. Jimmy ducked behind her coat and would not take any when I offered the box to him. “He’s shy,” I said reassuringly. “A lot of little kids are shy like that. He’ll probably grow out of it.” “Yes,” said Myra. “I have a brother four,” I said. “He’s awfully shy.” He wasn’t. “Have some more Cracker Jack,” I said. “I used to eat Cracker Jack all the time but I don’t anymore. I think it’s bad for your complexion.” There was a silence.
“Do you like Art?” said Myra faintly. “No, I like Social Studies and Spelling and Health.” “I like Art and Arithmetic.” Myra could add and multiply in her head faster than anyone else in the class. “I wish I was as good as you. In Arithmetic,” I said, and felt magnanimous.