"The Osage Orange Tree" by William Stafford

(The Exposition of the story)


On that first day
of high school in the
prairie town where the
tree was, I stood in the
sun by the flagpole and
watched, but pretended
not to watch, the others. They stood in groups and
talked and knew each other, all except one - a girl though - in
a faded blue dress, carrying a sack
lunch and standing near the corner looking everywhere but at the crowd.

I might talk to her, I thought. But of course it was out of the question. That first day was easier when the classes started. Some of the teachers were kind; some were frightening. Some of the students didn't care, but I listened and waited; and at the end of the day I was relieved, less conspicuous from then on.

But that day was not really over. As I hurried to carry my new paper route, I was thinking about how in a strange town, if you are quiet, no one notices, and some may like you, later. I was thinking about this when I reached the north edge of town where the scattering houses dwindle. Beyond them to the north lay just openness, the plains, a big swoop of nothing. There, at the last house, just as I cut across a lot and threw to the last customer, I saw the girl in the blue dress coming along the street, heading on out of town, carrying books. And she saw me.



And because we stopped we were friends. I didn't know how I could stop, but I didn't hurry on. I stood. There was nothing to do but to act as if I were walking on out too. I had three papers left in the bag, and I frantically began to fold them - box them, as we called it - for throwing. We had begun to walk and talk. The girl was timid; I became more bold. Not much, but a little.

"Have you gone to school here before?" I asked.
"Yes, I went here last year."
A long pause.

A meadowlark sitting on a fencepost hunched his wings and flew. I kicked through the dust of the road. I began to look ahead. Where could we possibly be walking to? I couldn't be walking just because I wanted to be with her. Fortunately, there was one more house, a gray house by a sagging barn, set two hundred yards from the road. "I thought I'd see if I could get a customer here," I said, waving toward the house.

"That's where I live."


We were at the dusty car tracks that turned off the road to the house. The girl stopped. There was a tree at that corner, a straight but little tree with slim branches and shiny dark leaves.

"I could take a paper tonight to see if my father wants to buy it."
A great relief, this. What could I have said to her parents?