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Jess's father fills in the rest of the information for him. Leslie had tried to swing into Terabithia and the rope broke. She hit her head on something when she fell, which explains why the fact that she could swim did not help her. Jess denies it all point-blank, accusing his father of lying to him. In particular, he wants to assure May Belle that it is a lie, for he sees her looking terrified and knows she is remembering that Leslie was not a Christian and is therefore, to her understanding, going to hell. He shouts at May Belle that it is a lie and then runs out of the house.
The truth begins to seep in as he runs, and he counters it by running faster and faster, as if that can keep Leslie from being dead. His dad takes the pickup after him, and picks him up and carries him in. This seems to make something snap within Jess, and he allows himself to go numb. When they reach home, he quietly goes inside and lies down on his bed.
He wakes up in the middle of the night, not too sure what has happened. He knows in some part of his mind that Leslie is dead, but he refuses to accept it, "Leslie could not die any more than he himself could die." Instead, he lies awake, planning his next escape to Terabithia with Leslie. He structures whole conversations, apologizing for not inviting her to come to Washington with him and Miss Edmunds, describing the buffalo hunt. It occurs to him to tell her that he was scared to go to Terabithia that morning. But that hits too close to home, and he decides to stop thinking about it. He will tell Leslie when he sees her the next day. He recreates his day with Miss Edmunds in his mind instead, dredging up every detail, keeping the terrible memories at bay. Eventually he falls asleep.
When he wakes up his first thought is that he has forgotten the milking, but when he gets to the kitchen he discovers that his father has done it. His mother is strangely gentle toward him, and she has made him pancakes. Jess absorbs himself in eating his pancakes, thinking only how good they are. Eventually Brenda starts to heckle him for eating so calmly, saying, "If Jimmy Dicks died, I would not be able to eat a bite." Their mother tells her to keep her mouth shut, but she persists. All the time Jess is simply tucking away pancakes, not understanding much of what is going on around him.
His father comes in and tries to talk to him, to tell him that he is going over to the Burkes to pay his respects, and that Jess ought to come too, since he knew the "little girl" best. Jess asks what little girl, dully confused, and his father tries to explain to him, again, that Leslie is dead. As if sleepwalking, Jess goes to put his jacket on, and they leave for the Burkes'.
Jess is in complete shock throughout this entire chapter, and the chapter is absolutely heart wrenching. Paterson forces us to put ourselves in Jess's place, to try to imagine the anguish that would cause such a complete retreat from reality. The exact attention to detail, the conversations Jess imagines with Leslie, the pancakes he eats the following morning, all serve to evoke the scenes she describes with a precision and clarity which are amazing.
It is difficult to tell what Jess's emotions are since he is not really feeling them himself, but Paterson chooses certain details to suggest what he is feeling underneath the numbness. One such moment comes when Jess apologizes to Leslie in his mind for not inviting her to Washington with him. His feeling of guilt is clear. He is not feeling guilty because he thoughtlessly neglected to invite her, but he feels guilty because if he had invited her, she would not have died. There are flaws in this reasoning, because if the rope had not broken that day, it would simply have broken the next time they tried to swing into Terabithia, and either one of them might have died, but Jess does not allow himself to address the issue that clearly. He simply makes it all right in his mind by having Leslie, alive and well, breezily respond that she had been to Washington hundreds of times. He buries his guilt in the same way he is buried his grief, leaving only a vague trace of an immense shame.
The same thing happens in the exchange where he tells Leslie that he was scared to go to Terabithia that morning. Here, at last, is proof positive that fears are not necessarily irrational, that he does not need to blame himself for not being an entirely fearless individual. This is almost too much to handle for him. In addition to the incredible shock of having lost his best friend, he now must revise his worldview in an essential way as well. He had blamed himself so strictly for his fears, and now he sees that Leslie's lack of fear got her killed. But this, again, is too concrete a reminder of what has happened. Admitting that his fears were not senseless would be to admit that Leslie is dead, and Jess is studiously avoiding that thought. The anxiety that accompanies this line of thought provokes him to drop the whole thing and to retreat, instead, to safe recollections of his day with Miss Edmunds, when everything was perfect.
When Jess puts on his windbreaker at the end of the chapter in preparation to go over to the Burkes', it is a sign that he does understand what is happening on some level. It betrays a tacit acceptance of reality, but not a full one, as he has not allowed himself to feel anything yet. That will come later, because his grief must progress in stages, as it does for everyone.
The breaking of the rope into Terabithia is symbolic. When they first created Terabithia, Leslie had decreed that the only way to get in would be to swing on the "magic rope." Otherwise, it would simply be an ordinary woodsy area, not the magic kingdom of Terabithia. Jess feels this to be true as well. There are times when it would be easier to wade the creek, when he is carrying Prince Terrien, for example, but he always manages to find a way to use the rope, because he feels that he won't be entering Terabithia unless he does use the rope. When the rope breaks, it seems to signal the end of Terabithia as well as the end of his friendship with Leslie, and the magic will be ended then and there. The breaking of the rope becomes a tangible symbol of what had already become clear through Leslie's death.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bridge to Terabithia!