Making Faces
Author:Amy Harmon

Fern was up and running across the grass to her own house before the words had left his mouth. “I have a perfect little box! See if you can scrape him off the sidewalk,” she shouted over her shoulder.

 

Ambrose used a piece of bark from the Sheen's flowerbed to scoop up the spider's remains. Fern was back in thirty seconds. She held the white ring box open as Ambrose deposited the spider guts onto the pristine cotton. Fern put the lid on and gestured to him solemnly. He followed her to her back yard and together they scooped out handfuls of dirt from a corner of the garden.

 

“That should be big enough,” Ambrose said, taking the box out of Fern's hand and placing it the hole. They stared at the white box.

 

“Should we sing?” Fern asked.

 

“I only know one spider song.”

 

“Itsy Bitsy?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I know that one, too.” Together Fern and Ambrose sang the song about the spider getting washed down the waterspout and getting a second chance to climb when the sun came out again.

 

When the song was over, Fern put her hand in Ambrose's. “We should say a little prayer. My dad is a pastor. I know how, so I'll say it.”

 

Ambrose felt strange holding Fern's hand. It was moist and dirty from digging the grave and it was very small. But before he could protest, she was speaking, her eyes scrunched closed, her face screwed up in concentration.

 

“Father in Heaven, we're grateful for everything you have created. We loved watching this spider. He was cool and made us happy for a minute before Ambrose squished him. Thank you for making even ugly things beautiful. Amen.”

 

Ambrose hadn't closed his eyes. He was staring at Fern. She opened her eyes and smiled at him sweetly, dropping his hand. She began pushing the dirt over the white box, covering it completely and tamping it down. Ambrose found some rocks and arranged them in an S shape for spider. Fern added some rocks in the shape of a B in front of Ambrose's S.

 

“What's the B for?” Ambrose wondered out loud. He thought maybe the spider had a name he didn't know about.

 

“Beautiful Spider,” she said simply. “That's how I'm going to remember him.”

 

September, 2001

 

Fern loved summertime, the lazy days and the long hours with Bailey and her books, but fall in Pennsylvania was absolutely breathtaking. It was still early in the season, not quite mid-September, but the leaves had already started to change, and Hannah Lake was awash in splashes of color mixed in with the deep green of the fading summer. School was back in session. They were seniors now, the top of the heap, one year left before real life began.

 

But for Bailey, real life was now, this instant, because every day was a downhill slide. He didn't get stronger, he got weaker, he didn't get closer to adulthood, he got closer to the end, so he didn't look at life the way everyone else did. He had become very good at living in the moment, not looking too far ahead at what might come.

 

Bailey's disease had taken away his ability to raise his arms even to chest level, which made it impossible to do all the little things people did every day without thinking twice. His mom had worried about him staying in school. Most kids with Dushenne MD don't make it past twenty-one, and Bailey's days were numbered. Being exposed to illness on a daily basis was a concern, but Bailey's inability to touch his face actually protected him from germs that the rest of the kids managed to wipe all over themselves, and he rarely missed a day of school. If he held a clipboard in his lap he could manage, but holding the clipboard was awkward and if it slipped and fell he couldn't lean down to retrieve it. It was a lot easier for him to work at a computer or slide his wheelchair in close to a table and rest his hands on the top. Hannah Lake High School was small and not very well-funded, but with a little help and some adjustments to the normal routine, Bailey would finish high school, and he would probably finish at the top of his class.

 

Second hour pre-calculus was filled with seniors. Bailey and Fern sat in the back at a table high enough for Bailey to utilize, and Fern was his assigned aid, though he helped her more in the class than she helped him. Ambrose Young and Grant Nielson sat in the back of the room as well, and Fern was tickled to be so close to Ambrose, even though he didn't know she existed, three feet away from where he sat wedged in a desk that was too small for someone his size.

 

Mr. Hildy was late for class. He was habitually late to his second-hour class, and nobody minded really. He didn't have a class first hour and you could usually find him in the mornings with a cup of coffee in front of the TV in the teacher's lounge. But that Tuesday he came into class and flipped on the TV that hung in the corner of his classroom, just to the left of the chalkboard. The TVs were new, the chalkboards old, the teacher ancient, so nobody paid him much attention as he stood staring up at the screen, watching a newscaster talk about a plane crash. It was 9:00 am.