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The Short Form

“The Healthiest Girl in Town”

Jean Stafford


My contemporaries took for granted all the sickness and dying that surrounded us—most of them had had a first-hand acquaintance with it—but I did not get used to these people who carried the badge of their doom in their pink cheeks as a blind mind carries his white stick in his hand. I continued to be fearful and fascinated each time I met a walker in the streets or on the mountain trails and each time some friend’s father, half gone in the lungs, watched me from where he sat in enforced ease on the veranda as other girls and I played pom-pom-pullaway in his front yard. Once Dotty MacKensie’s father, who was soon to die, laughed when I, showing off, turned a cartwheel, and he cried, “Well done, Jess!” and was taken thereupon with the last awful cough that finally was to undo and kill him. I did not trust their specious look of health and their look of immoderate cleanliness. At the same time, I was unduly drawn to them in the knowledge that a mystery encased them delicately; their death was an interior integument that seemed to lie just under their sun-tanned skin.