The narrator remembers herself as a young teenager, lying beside a lake after her usual morning swim. In early adolescence, she judged everyone and everything and reacted so timidly to the physical world around her that she could bear to observe things only through a frame she made with her hands.
Through this frame she sees herself projected onto the world. Every leaf that falls, every bird that flies overhead, she imagines is trying to signal her, to leave her some message. Each moment is fraught with the heightened significance adolescents impose on their environment. Like most adolescents, this girl is obsessed with a secret love, a love hopelessly unexpressed that appears “grotesquely altered in the outward world.”
Her love sent her a signal one day on the stairs; she allowed herself accidentally to touch his wrist as they passed, and he pretended not to notice. Since that day she has cherished the memory of their touch, a memory that she can bring to mind at any moment and burnish with longing until it “would swell with a sudden and overwhelming beauty, like a rose forced into premature bloom for a great occasion.”
Since that day she has worried over him, watched for him, wondered about him, but has never spoken to him or made any direct contact. Her love, she confesses, made her both an observer and a dreamer. She obsesses over the dangers she imagines he may face, and when one day in Latin class he gets a bloody nose, she falls over in a dead faint. “I saw red—vermilion—blood flow over the handkerchief,” she remembers, and adds, “I recognized it.”
Lying on the beach, she polishes the memory of the day on the stairs and ponders the sense of mystery and danger that surrounds this memory in her mind. The reality of children running on the beach vies with the reality of the memory: Which is the real moment? She cannot distinguish.
While she is in this state of half-dream and...
(The entire section is 801 words.)