Magazine article The New Yorker

Beautiful Girl

Magazine article The New Yorker

Beautiful Girl

Article excerpt



When I was fifteen, I cut off the last joint of my left ring finger during a woodshop class. I was laughing at a joke while cutting a board on a table saw. The bite of the blade sent a great shock through me, and I didn't dare look down, but the bleached faces of the other boys told me just how bad it was.

They didn't reassemble bodies in those days. Later, I heard that one of the guys in the class had picked up the joint, complete with dirty fingernail, and scared some girls with it. No surprise, no hard feelings; it was the kind of thing I would've done, and not only because I was a jackass. The girls around me were coming into glorious bloom, and my way of pretending not to be in awe of them was to act as if we were still kids--to tease and provoke them.

I'd never had a girlfriend, not really. In sixth grade, in Seattle, my friend Terry and I used to meet his cousin Patty and another girl at the Admiral Theatre on Saturday nights. Patty and I sat in the back and made out for two hours without exchanging a word, while Terry did the same with Patty's friend. After the movie, Terry and I left by the side exit so his aunt wouldn't see him when she picked the girls up. Never a dance, never a soda with two straws.

That winter, I moved to a village in the Cascades. The elementary school had four rooms, where four teachers taught the eight grades. Of the ten kids in my class, nine were boys. Nevy drove us crazy, favoring this one, then that one. I had her attention for a while when I was new, and never again. Anyway, she was into horses, not boys.

The high school was in Concrete, thirty-two miles downriver. When we finally got there, we found girls, all right, but the pretty ones in our class got picked off by juniors and seniors, and the older ones wouldn't look at us.

That was the situation as I woke one afternoon with two-thirds of a finger and a bandage as big as a boxing glove to find a beautiful girl smiling down at me from the foot of my bed. By then, I'd been in the Mount Vernon Hospital for almost a week, because my stump had got infected and there was a danger of gangrene. I was floating on a morphine cloud and could only stare. "Hi," she said. "See, Daddy--just like Dr. Kildare!"

"That's my girl, Joelle," the man in the next bed said. There were five others on the ward, all men. Joelle sat on my bed and offered me a candy bar. She said that I looked exactly like Dr. …

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