"When I was young," Sister Mary Anita said, "as young as you are, I felt a great deal of pain when I was teased about my looks. I've long since accepted my ... deformity. A prognathic jaw runs in our family, and I share it with an uncle. But I must admit, the occasional insult, or a drawing such as yours, still hurts."
Dot began to mumble and then stopped, desperate. Sister Mary Anita waited, and then handed her her own handkerchief.
"I'm sorry," Dot said again. She wiped her nose. The square of white material was cool and fresh. "Can I go now?"
"Of course not," Mary Anita said.
Dot was confounded. The magical two words, an apology, had dropped from her lips. Yet more was expected. What?
"I want you to understand something," the nun said. "I've told you how I feel. And I expect that you will never hurt me again."
The nun waited, and waited, until their eyes met. Then Dot's mouth fell wide. Her eyes spilled over. She knew that the strange feelings that had come upon her were the same feelings that Mary Anita had felt. Dot had never felt another person's feelings, never in her life.
"I won't do anything to hurt you," she blubbered passionately. "I'll kill myself first."
"I'm sure that will not be necessary," Sister Mary Anita said.
Dot tried to rescue her pride then, by turning away very quickly. Without permission, she ran out the schoolroom door, down the steps, and on into the street, where at last the magnetic force of the encounter weakened, and suddenly she could breathe. Even that was different, though. As she walked, she began to realize that her body was still fighting itself. Her lungs filled with air like two bags, but every time they did so, a place underneath them squeezed so painfully that the truth suddenly came clear.
"I love her now," she blurted out. She stopped on a crack, stepping on it, sickened. "Oh, God, I am in love."
Toddy Crieder was a hollow-chested, envious boy whose reputation had never recovered from the time he was sent home for eating tree bark. In the third grade he had put two crayons up his nose, pretend tusks. The pink one got stuck, and Toddy had to visit the clinic. This year, already, his stomach had been pumped in the emergency room. Dot despised him, but that only seemed to fuel his adoration of her.
Coming into the schoolyard the second day, a bright, cool morning, Toddy ran up to Dot, his thin legs knocking.
"Yeah," he cried. "Godzilla! Not bad, Adare."
He wheeled off, the laces of his tennis shoes dragging. Dot looked after him and felt the buzz inside her head begin. How she wanted to stuff that name back into her mouth, or at least Toddy's mouth.
"I hope you trip and murder yourself!" Dot screamed.
But Toddy did not trip. For all of his clumsiness, he managed to stay upright, and as Dot stood rooted in the center of the walk, she saw him whiz from clump to clump of children, laughing and gesturing, filling the air with small and derisive sounds. Sister Mary Anita swept out the door, a wooden-handled brass bell in her hand, and when she shook it up and down, the children, who played together in twos and threes, swung toward her and narrowed or widened their eyes and turned eagerly to one another. Some began to laugh. It seemed to Dot that all of them did, in fact, and that the sound, jerked from their lips, was large, uncanny, totally and horribly delicious.