Fall, Freshman Year
Margaret Emma Brandl

Fall, Freshman Year

We got out of the car. The snow made the air even colder, and with the wind blowing, I was regretting even more my decision not to bring a real coat to school. Marta rubbed her hands up and down her arms—she was cold now, too, but not discussing it.

For the first time since we’d started our endeavor, I got a good look at her face. There was steel in her eyes, but the downturn of her mouth and the set of her eyebrows reminded me of the look we’d seen on Preston’s face when he emerged from the office to give us the news. Marta looked sad. She looked desperate.

“I guess . . . let’s walk the trail. Not very far.”

I led the way, hoping I would be able to do something useful by getting a head start.


We had stopped at the part where the trail meets up with the lake, which was covered in most places by a thin sheen of ice. The wind was harsher here, whipping right through us to our bones, but Marta stood with her hands on her hips, watching the lake as if it held answers.

“It’s probably some misunderstanding,” I babbled, unsure whether speaking would help. I had never seen Marta like this. “I mean, maybe some relative came and picked him up and he’s with them. Maybe his aunt died and he left and he just forgot to call the school.”

Marta shook her head, infinitesimally. “That’s not like him.”

I opened my mouth and closed it again. She didn’t move. “Marta, what do you think happened to him?”

“My dad died. You know that, right? My dad died?” Marta turned and looked at me. I hesitated, realized it would be stupid to lie. I nodded.

“Last year,” Marta continued. “It was during a football game. We were up in the bleachers and some parent came and told Mr. Przybylak. And the whole band was there—I mean, it wasn’t like we were on break or the game wasn’t happening. And there were people’s parents working the concessions, and teachers, and all these other people who knew me.” She turned from the lake and started walking down the trail but kept talking—I hurried to follow along, kicking up more snow than I’d wanted to. By now my low, thin sneakers were probably soaked through; I could feel my cold, damp socks getting worse with fresh snow.

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Margaret Emma Brandl

is a Ph.D. candidate in English specializing in creative writing (fiction) at Texas Tech University, where she teaches English classes and serves as an associate editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. Her writing has appeared in Gulf CoastThe Cincinnati ReviewPithead ChapelHobart, and other journals.