What the Woman Didn't Know

by Erin O'Sullivan

Roberta was fairly sure she was the only one who noticed the woman on the other side of the fence, clad in a sagging white sweater, watching them all. The woman worried Roberta because she had a look that said she was busy inside herself, forced there, and, for the first time, Roberta considered the possibility of such a thing following her into adulthood.

The woman, with her brown hair falling in strands from its messy bun, didn't know about the Macklin sisters putting Elmer's across the ends of the Roberta's ponytail or Mark yelling across the playground, you're a virgin, aren't you, tell us you're a virgin, and she'd shouted no in front of the whole school because it seemed certain that to answer yes would be a trick.

Roberta knew the woman didn't know any of this because of the way her fingers curled tight around the chain links, as if afraid to blow away in hurricane winds even though this was a breeze-less day. And, mostly, because of the way she stared at them all. She was looking inside of them, Roberta thought, or even beyond that, beyond the field, beyond the next tree-lined fence, into the neighboring cemetery, and maybe even beyond that.

In the outfield Roberta felt herself bend at the knees. She put a fist into her palm and surprised herself with the sound it made. If the woman stopped to see her, she might think Roberta to be an athlete, to be a girl in a field, one of many among friends in matching gym t-shirts. The woman didn't know what she was, what everyone around her had decided she was supposed to be, and, in this moment, Roberta realized, she might be anyone.

BIO: Erin O'Sullivan was born and raised in Chicago. She earned her BA in History and Psychology at the University of Illinois and her MFA at Oregon State University. She divides her time, unevenly, between teaching, writing, running, and traveling.