I was in the fourth grade, the youngest boy in my class. It had something to do
with my birthday. I was nine, and everyone else, except one girl, was already ten.
Sister Mary Robert told us we were all going on a field trip to Mary Lou
Blackburn’s house. She had leukemia and couldn’t come to school, so we were all going
to her house to visit her. Sister said it was a corporal work of mercy.
I didn’t know what leukemia was, but I knew it was worse than having measles or
chicken pox. I had both of them, and after a little while I got better and went back to
school. We never had a field trip to visit anybody with measles or chicken pox, so I
knew leukemia was worse.
We walked in a line down the sidewalk. Mary Lou lived two blocks from school.
I passed by her house every day on my way home, and I wondered if she was getting
better and would come back to school soon. Before she got sick, we walked home from
school together. Sometimes, I told her a joke, and she laughed, and if there was a mean
dog, I held her hand until it passed by.
When we got to Mary Lou’s house, Sister stood by the front door and let us go in
one at a time. I was surprised to see Mary Lou’s bed. It had wheels and was right in the
middle of the living room. She was sitting up in it, and she looked at me when I came in.
I looked back at her and told her I was sorry she was sick. She smiled at me when I told
her that. Her lips were blue. They were never blue before. I asked her why they were
blue, but before she could answer, Sister grabbed my shirt, pulled me away and called
Josephine to come in for her visit.
I thought about Mary Lou’s blue lips for a long time. After she died, when I
walked by her house, I always looked at it and wished she still lived there.
Leon Kortenkamp is a San Francisco Bay Area writer and artist who lives with his wife, Ginny, in Belmont, California. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Notre