Author: Bruce McAllister
There was a Martian kid I got to know in Palo Alto, California, when we lived there and I was in the third grade. This Martian kid, who had no other school to go to, sat up toward the teacher’s desk, and when we made the California Gold Mine out of chicken wire, plaster of Paris, and some rocks sprayed with gold paint, there was something in the classroom (or in his memories of Mars) that kept the Martian kid from going inside. He would lie on the floor near the teacher’s desk, getting all dusty on the floor (I always wondered how he managed not to sneeze), while we got inside the mine or played near the mouth of it. The teacher ignored him, didn’t want him in the class, and none of the kids tried to help him up. As we played, I would look back at him, and the corners of his big mouth (Martians don’t have teeth) were turned up like a crazy smile and I didn’t think he minded. Sometimes his mouth would open and close without making a sound, as it did when the man came one day to class (we were making salt maps of South America, or were we studying the missions?) and taught us words in Spanish and Portuguese.
The day I had to give my oral report (I chose to talk about sharks, rays, and skates—I loved them and had gotten two books on them from the library drawn pictures of the different kinds, though the pictures were too small to see really) I stammered a lot, but fInally I gave my report. At the end, I looked at him there on the floor looking up at me, and there were tears in his eyes and his mouth was opening and closing. This was the last time I saw him. They say he died a little later and his family went back to Mars. Sometimes I think he was moving his mouth like that to say “Thank you,” but other times I just can’t think this, and I know he was drowning in our air but didn’t want to interrupt me.
I’ve come back to this story every day since its debut … It is haunting me. I can’t get the image of the ‘smiling tear’ out of my head. The last line is crushing; yet it’s a great story … but there are times when I wish I could forget it.
Hi, Thomas: Glad the story touched you–that’s what writers care about–but I don’t want it to haunt too much. It’s a story about guilt, about things we do when we’re young and don’t understand; but there’s forgiveness, too. Bruce