"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.

"Hello."

"Hello."


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."

"Oh."


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?