Bridge to Terabithia

by Katherine Paterson

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Chapter 11 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 640

Brenda’s insensitive declaration that his “girl friend” is dead does not at first register in Jesse’s mind. Finally, his father speaks, telling him, “They found the Burke girl this morning down in the creek.” According to Mr. Aarons, the rope they had been using to swing across into Terabithia had broken, and Leslie had apparently hit her head when she had fallen and drowned. His father says he is “real sorry,” but Jesse refuses to believe that Leslie is dead. He turns around and runs blindly out the door, down to the main road, then west, away from Washington and the old Perkins place. Jesse hardly notices when an approaching car honks at him and swerves out of the way. Somewhere in his mind, he gets the feeling that if he continues to run he can keep Leslie from being dead, so he surges forward until he begins to stumble, then keeps on going nonetheless. Jesse hears the sound of his father’s pickup truck, then his father is there, stopping Jesse and picking him up as if he were a baby. The two drive home without speaking, and when they arrive, Jesse wordlessly goes in and lies down on his bed.

Jesse awakens to the dark stillness of the night. He thinks confusedly that a dream has broken his sleep, and he vaguely remembers being told that Leslie is dead but concludes that this was part of his dream. Uneasily, he imagines going over to the old Perkins place right now and taking Leslie over to Terabithia; they have never been there in the dark. He would apologize to Leslie for not having asked her to come to Washington with him and Miss Edmunds, and Leslie would say, “S’OK.” Then he would admit to her how very ashamed he is that he had been afraid to come to Terabithia yesterday morning.

Jesse awakens again to bright sunlight. He goes to the kitchen, where his mother is preparing breakfast. He tells her that he has forgotten to do the milking, but Momma, with uncharacteristic gentleness, tells him that his father has done it for him. Jesse sits at the table and his mother sets a plateful of pancakes before him, which he eats ravenously. Brenda, who is sitting across from him, meanly accuses him of not even caring. When Jesse looks at her, puzzled, Brenda condemns him for “sitting there eating pancakes like nothing happened” and adds that if she had been in his situation, she would be “crying [her] eyes out.” Jesse listens to Momma and Brenda talking, but their voices come from far away, as though he is dreaming. His father comes in, and Jesse is dimly aware that his parents are looking at each other and then at him. He thinks he should leave the table but is overcome with confusion, not knowing what he is supposed to do.

Jesse’s father says that he and Momma are going over to the Burkes’s place to “pay respects.” He says that Jesse should go too, as he had been “the one that really knowed the little girl.” Jesse does not understand what is going on, and mumbles, “What little girl?” which amazes his older sisters. Troubled, his father puts his hand softly on Jesse’s hand, saying, “Your friend Leslie is dead, Jesse. You need to understand that.” Jesse, still not comprehending, mechanically goes to his room and gets his windbreaker. As he is about to leave with his parents, May Belle jumps up and says she wants to go too because she has “never seen a dead person before.” Mrs. Aarons shouts at May Belle, and the little girl sits down as if she has been slapped. Mr. Aarons responds more gently, and then he, Mrs. Aarons, and Jesse go out the door.

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