From Divide by Zero:
“Why did you do that?” Sharon asked. Sylvia just shrugged as they walked the tree-lined path in silence. “You always do it, don’t you?”
“Not always,” Sylvia mumbled.
“Oh come on!” Sharon stopped short. “Come on. Tell me one time you didn’t.”
They walked on. Dried leaves from long-gone fall crunched underfoot. The air smelled heavy and sickly sweet, pine needles dripping on the outer branches of trees. Light shone brighter as they came to the end of the path. Running water, shouts of children playing and adults calling names drifted nearby. Sunlight slanted through bark dust floating on air.
“Let’s stop here,” said Sharon when they came to a bench, so they sat. Sylvia gazed down at her hands, firmly, primly clasped over her knees, skirt pulled down, legs together. Beside her, Sharon threw herself into a sprawl, arms and legs akimbo on wooden slats. Then she stood again, stepping forward
“No,” Sharon said as Sylvia started to move. “No. You stay there. Let’s talk.” She faced her friend. “You listen, Sylvia. You just sit there and listen to me for a change.” She turned back to the tree-hidden sky, gathering thoughts from the air. “Okay. So we’re at the party and it’s snowing outside.” Arms thrown out dramatically. “Everyone’s happy. Right? Great music. Great food. Nothing bad going on. Nothing our mothers wouldn’t approve of, right?”
Sylvia nodded and groaned.
“And then my brother, my dear sweet Simon that you’ve been going all gooey-eyed over forever, my brother that’s only there ’cause I told him I wanted him to meet you—’cause you told me you wanted to meet him… Yeah?”
Sylvia nodded again.
“My brother asks you to dance, and you stand there like a brick. Then he tells you you’re pretty—I know, I was listening—he tells you you’re pretty and you run away like he’s threatened to murder you or something.”
Sylvia’s head angled down. Tears splashed on the backs of hands tightly clasped in her lap.
“Why?” Sharon asked, reaching to comfort her friend. “Why, Sylvia?”
But Sylvia didn’t answer. Her sobs were quiet, though they drowned out the birds and the water, children and parents too. The rest of the park belonged to a different world as Sylvia wept in her secret circle of shame.
A mother walked by, holding a small girl by the hand. “Amelia, this way.” The child hummed tunelessly, trailing a red-dressed doll and stuffed rabbit behind her.
A bunch of schoolchildren, youngsters with bright happy shouts and flashing feet, burst from sunlight into the trees. They raced past the bench with parents following. Sounds of tears and laughter stayed behind, waiting for seasons and time.
“Will you tell me sometime, Sylvia?”
“Maybe. But I don’t think we should stay in the woods on our own. We should warn those kids.”
But how do we warn our children, and how can they know when their safe world’s suddenly strange?