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The swing creaked, softly. Its rusted chains felt hard and cold beneath the hands that grasped them, and every so often the links of chain would pinch against the skin. A stooped figure, seeming very apart from the hands, sat on the swing. Long, skinny legs fell to the ground, bending at an obtuse angle. Knobby knees rested together, and from them sprawled thin, sickly thighs and a straight pair of calves. Crooked feet rested on the pebbled ground, scratching along the rocks as the figure swung slightly. Back hunched, shoulders sagging, she lifted her head. Her hair was pixie-short and a sort of grayish brown, although she couldn’t be more than sixteen. Her eyes were bare, no makeup on her face. Her eyelashes were thin, as were her eyebrows. She let go of the swing and stood up awkwardly. Her torso was disproportionately small to her legs, her angular hips jutting out beneath her tight spaghetti-strap shirt. Her sternum was just visible below her collarbone, with thick ribs jutting outwards across her upper chest. She was walking, now, towards home. Her bare feet welcomed the cool feel of grass as she transitioned from gravel to soft, dead grass. She crossed towards the door, setting her hand on the handle, pushing it open. Her hand lingered there for a few moments more. It was scarred, this hand, gnarled at the knuckles and slightly discolored. She shut the door behind her, softly. Once inside, she tried to quiet her steps. Her mother was sleeping on the ratty couch that could be seen from the entranceway. She moaned slightly and turned around in her sleep. The girl walked through the tiny house, and out the backdoor. She had a sensation like coming up for air; she could breathe again. She stretched out her legs, then self-consciously went back to a shortened step. She swung open a gate in the chain-link fence surrounding the patch of yellowed grass her mother called a yard. She was out on a sidewalk again, lumbering down towards the main road. She counted her steps until the crossroad. The pedestrian sign was a red hand, and the light above it, for the cars, was red. Busy traffic flew past her. For a second, she envisioned herself stepping out, the feel of fast moving metal on her skin, in her, meeting her skeleton with a huge and important noise. When she opened her eyes, there was a white stick figure in a walking position illuminated on the sign. She crossed. She again counted her steps. One, two, three…
She didn’t really know how she found her way back home, and she didn’t care either. It was dark, though, when she entered. Her mom was still asleep. The girl went to her bed, crawled in, and turned to face the wall. Her eyes adjusted to the dark. She heard a soft humming and searched for the cause of the noise in the dark. Something light landed on her forehead. She started and shook it off, whipping her boney arms in the air around her. It was a fly. She saw it on the wall beside her, crawling slowly up the drywall. Its spindly legs moved rapidly beneath it, its fragile wings caught the light in an eerie way. She waved her hand towards it, and it flew. Fascinated, she tried to follow it but found that her eyes could not keep up. She stood and turned on a lamp. She saw it, then, on the ceiling. She looked around for something to throw at it. There was a sock and a dirty shirt on the floor near her. She picked up both and chucked the sock at the ceiling. Immediately, the fly started buzzing around again. She barely breathed. The shirt was motionless, held by her fist, dangling in the air, ready, waiting. The fly came closer. She swung at it, shirt ripping through the air with a cracking noise. A scream flew out of her mouth uncontrollably. The shirt snapped in the air, where the fly hand been, and then she pulled it back. She searched the air. Not finding it, she looked down. There was a small black dot on her carpet. She bent down, her eyes coming towards it, wanting to know but not wanting to see…
Its small figure was withdrawn, each black leg bent towards its body. It lay on its back, wings underneath it. It was still. A gasp escaped her lips as a tear fell from her eye. She got up, went to the kitchen, and grabbed the first piece of scratch paper she found. Retreating back to her bed, she knelt by the insect carcass and slowly shoved the paper underneath it. Its repulsive body rolled on with a light-weight grace. She carried it out the front door, into what her mother called the garden. She dug into the earth with her free hand and deposited the body into the earth. She carefully covered the hole with dirt. She stayed there, unsure of what to do. It was chilly outside, now that it was dark, but she stayed. No one else would mourn this fly. No one else would even know of its existence. She felt a deep sense of remorse, and tears welled again in her eyes. She would stay, she decided, until morning. Until she was sure the angels had come for its tiny soul. If unnoticed by earth, she thought, it had to at least be acknowledged by Heaven. And if Heaven had decided to overlook this fly, she would stand against It. She would fight for that fly until They decided to let him in. And so she sat. She hunched over and pulled her knees to her chest, her body fighting against the cold. She looked up at the dark sky, wondering at the stars. Could flies see stars? Had this one? Her heart was flooded with grief and determination. She stayed, stoically, until sunrise. The sky filled with dim color, then grew brighter and brighter until the sun itself was visible above the tiny houses of her neighbors. The park, slightly to her left, was shimmering in the sun, its metal surfaces reflecting every ray. She looked beside her, at the earth. The tiny mound was visible beside her, unchanged. She sighed. She rubbed the piece of paper in her hand. It was the same one that she had used to transport her tiny victim. She held it up to her eye.
It was a receipt, she saw. Nothing special. She threw it from her, angry at its insignificance. There were no signs, no acknowledgement, no purpose for her sitting here all night, except for her own indignation. She stood up, quickly, and went inside. She pulled on socks and tennis shoes, and left her mother sleeping on the couch. Back outside, she started running. She pumped her arms and pushed her legs, stretching them out, gaining ground, going faster and faster. She made it to the road, to the small, decrepit strip malls that loomed around her neighborhood. There was a 24-hour grocery store. Within it was a small floral section. She strode right up to the counter, sweaty and weak.
“Seeds,” she said, her voice ringing sharp against the stale interior of the store, “I need seeds.”
“Kind?” A small woman in a smock was cutting stems with a large knife.
The woman stopped.
“It always matters. Shade or no shade?”
“No.” The girl thought a moment. “The strongest, toughest seeds you have.”
“Here.” The woman handed her a packet. “Instructions right on the side. Two fifty.”
The girl stopped in her tracks and looked into the woman’s eye. She didn’t have money. Slowly but fruitlessly, she started to search her pockets. She became aware of her ragged appearance, of the dirt that smudged her jeans and her arms. She was awkward again, unsure and scared.
“Here,” a deep voice from behind her said, “I gotcha.” A large, dark hand laid down two dollar bills and two quarters. The woman accepted this and handed the seed packet to the girl. She clutched it in her hands and turned to face the man. He was old and dark-skinned, eyes crinkled at the sides, carrying a bunch of flowers in his arms.
“Thank you,” she broke down, tears streaming from her eyes, “thank you so much.”
“It’s no problem. I could tell it was important.” He stepped around the girl, holding the flowers out to the woman. “Sally, I think these need cutting too.”
The girl walked out of the store, crying and holding the seeds to her heart. Once outside, she collapsed, tears streaming from her face. A wide smile broke out across her face. She was so happy, in that moment. She wiped her eyes, stood, and ran home, mindful of her seeds.
When she got there, her mother was gone. She read the flower directions carefully, several times, and got to work. She rummaged through the petite shed in her yard and found a small, rusted shovel and some gardening gloves. She found the undersized mound where the fly was buried, and started by pushing a seed into it. Then she spread outwards, planting in logical rows along the side of her house. There were a lot of seeds in the packet, more than she had been expecting. As she worked, she felt the sun beat down on her arms, warming her from the outside in as her heart pumped fresh blood through her veins. She watered the seeds and then she rested, taking off the gloves and sitting in the sun.
Two weeks later, the garden was alive with flowers and buzzing with insects.