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Emma used to be my best friend. I sat next to Emma in Mrs. Moyer’s class, that’s how we first met. After a little while we did everything together. At recess we would color in my coloring books, and race to see who was fastest, I always was of course, and I even shared my cookies with her at lunchtime (something I would never ever do with anyone else). We even acted like each other, at least most of the time (sometimes Emma didn’t eat her magic red skittles and she would get angry and yell a lot).
One day Emma came to class and she had the prettiest mittens in the whole wide world. They were all pink with big white polka dots and a little bow on the top of the wrists. Emma showed them for show-and-tell and didn’t take them off all day, not even to color. It was that day that she showed me her magic skittles and she told me that she didn’t need them anymore. She explained to me that they tasted yucky anyway, and she threw them away every day after that. I didn’t get why she didn’t like skittles anymore, I mean I always did, but that was Emma.
It was after the day she started wearing those mittens that we stopped being best friends. Emma started being mean, and we stopped coloring together, and we didn’t race, and she told me that my cookies were all dirty. Now I know my cookies weren’t dirty, my mommy put them in little bags for me and she always washed her hands.
Emma started telling all the kids at our lunch table that their food was dirty, even the ones with the cartoon lunch boxes, and I knew that wasn't true. One day she just yelled at us and said that our food was so dirty that she couldn’t even sit with us. She decided to sit all alone and just stared at her mittens, because even her food was dirty now.
I think mittens make people real sick, because Emma never ever took hers off and she got all white and little. Her hair was all icky and she smelled kinda funny too, like when mommy would forget to clean the refrigerator. She decided to sit by herself in class, and all she did was fiddle with her mitten hands in the little cubby under her desk and sharpen her pencils a lot. She wouldn’t do her worksheets, or answer Mrs. Moyer, or even go to recess (she spent recess in the bathroom now).
It had been a long time since I talked to Emma and she looked even sicker, and whiter, and her skin and hair got all ugly, and she got really, really small. Even her mittens had funny looking stains on them, and she loved those mittens more than anything. All she ever did was fiddle with her mittens, and whisper about all the dirty stuff, and tell herself that it was OK because she was clean. It was this day that I talked to her again.
It was recess, and I tripped over my shoelaces into some mud. Mrs. Moyer told me to go to the bathroom and wash myself off. I walked in and I saw Emma's back, she was all turned around. I said hi to her and went to get some paper towels from the dispenser, and I saw that Emma’s mittens were on the sink.
“Wanna play the secret game?” Emma asked me, still looking at the wall with her hands up at her face, like she was counting for hide-and-go-seek. She made funny sounds too like my puppy did when we fed him.
“How do you play?” I asked.
“I tell you a secret and you never ever tell anyone,” she said as she made more little sounds.
“OK,” I told her.
“I found something that wasn’t dirty. I’m not dirty.” She turned around. I screamed, and I ran real fast like when Emma would race with me. I realized that she never sharpened her pencils under her desk. She had her broken sharpener in one hand, the one where the plastic was torn off. Parts of Emma’s hands were missing, and torn up, and shaved off, and bitten. Other parts were black with yellowish stuff coming out. She had pieces, little pieces stuck to her lips and her teeth.
I ran, and I ran, and I cried into Mrs. Moyer’s hip. I didn’t want to play the secret game. I told her that Emma’s mittens were eating her. She laughed at me and told me that mittens couldn’t eat people, but I cried, and I cried until Mrs. Moyer left to go talk to Emma about scaring me.
Emma wasn’t in class for a long, long time after that. The principal said that no one could wear gloves or mittens anymore, and we got new desks without cubbies in them, and the school nurse had everyone come into her office, one at a time to look at our hands. All the kids in my class got papers for our mommies taped to our backpacks, and they were all about Emma, and my mommy said I couldn’t be her friend ever again.
When Emma did come back she still got to have a mitten, one little empty, blue, mitten. Her other mitten ate her hand clean off and she had a smooth place all around her wrist instead, Mrs. Moyer let her wear it over the place where her hand used to be, because everyone kept looking at the little stub.
Emma didn’t talk to anyone, and she didn’t color, and sometimes I watched her stare blankly out the window, biting at the inside of her cheeks, and she would whisper to herself that her mouth, it wasn’t dirty.