Chloé Cooper Jones


There was little to like unless it was Margaret's turn to be line leader. Then she would be given the silver patch with the two L's marked on it. The pace of all would be hers to set and the halls would seem empty, but only for her—so full was she of the sight that belonged to the front.

It was not her turn today and so she was stuck in the middle, suffering the anxious odor of the boy in front of her, the squeak of his sneakers. These were the worst days, when her responsibilities were taken from her and passed off to a less-deserving classmate, behind whom she was forced to follow as they all drifted toward the gymnasium.

Soon she was able to enter and see, on the floor of the gym, the large circle of multi-colored cloth. It was parachute day. She joined in the cheers of her classmates and raised her hand. She hoped to be among the few chosen for the first parachute game, but she was not chosen, and the afternoon swelled with injustice. She joined the forgotten rest at the edges of the parachute  while a small girl crawled to the treasured spot in the center. Their gym teacher said, "1, 2, 3, Popcorn" and all around the ring they lifted and the small girl in the center was flung into the air. She came down and they caught her and lifted her again, all shouting, "Popcorn!" Margaret had only ever heard the small girl speak to the classroom gerbil. The small girl was one of eight children who lived on a farm a mile west of where Margaret and Margaret's father lived. The small girl's family also received gifts of clothes and food from ladies appearing in doorways. Margaret knew this because, like her, the small girl also came to school in clothes whose poor fit was altered with rolled sleeves and pinned waists and, like her, the small girl also came to the lunchroom with small squares of casseroles wrapped in plastic. Margaret knew the girl's family accepted the town's offerings and the small girl knew the same was true for Margaret and for that reason they never spoke and maybe had decided to hate each other by always turning their eyes from one another.  But it was impossible to ignore the girl now as she floated above them all, her hair coming loose from its ties to move without weight like a plant underwater.  The small girl was lost with happiness. She called out and laughed in loud squawks. Watching her, Margaret felt herself begin to cry.

The second game was Mushroom Cap. In unison, they lifted the parachute so that it made the highest dome possible and then all ran underneath it and pulled the edge down to the ground and sat. Then they were altogether, protected under the parachute's colors, lit from above by the gymnasium's lights, the parachute's glowing pinwheel slowly lowering on top of their heads.

The most important moment came when the parachute had fallen all the way and each student was suddenly covered, unseen through the cloth, free from other eyes, allowed to be alone.