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by Robert Gray
Ten-year-old Maya skipped lightly while returning home from her friend Alice’s house. The air was warm and the sun felt fresh on her face. She turned back, amused by the accompanying silhouette that skipped with her. The houses she passed were nestled behind small picket fences; some were painted, others exposed bare wood. Each home attempted to be unique while still maintaining uniformity. Maya heard the summer songs of children laughing, the wah-pish of pool water splashes and the thwap-ta-thwap of her flip-flops as they smacked from heel to sidewalk. The smells of barbecues and pools made her nose twitch and her tummy rumble. A satchel hung on her back, which she filled with items discovered on her travel home: small rocks, sunflowers and twigs picked from the sidewalk. She had been down this street many times, but today she decided to explore new streets on her way home. Perhaps she would find something different to add to her satchel. A right turn greeted her with fragrant buds that colored the yards and grew through cracks in the sidewalk. As she retrieved an orange flower, several dogs greeted her by a fence and wagged their tails with playful curiosity. She reached her hand through a slat to pet the dogs and each offered wet kisses in return. She made another turn. Speckles of light pierced the branches, offering her shadows on the sidewalk to jump to and from. The houses were smaller and closer together, some with faded paint, others with a shudder or two broken, others still with stripped and broken porches. Then the houses ended and Maya saw a field of velvety grass, which reached her knee. She skipped through the grass and laughed as the blades tickled her legs. At the fields end, she noticed a small deli. Its windows boarded with a spray painted sign that read CLOSED. The deli attracted her. Patches of the same tall, velvety grass grew between fractures in the cement, and scents of apple, mint and smoked meat held in the air. Maya skipped down the parking lot. She was rewarded with wildflowers, each with green-ridged leaves and thin stems, vibrant with oranges, pinks, and purples that lay in a small patch alongside the deli. She grabbed the flowers by the handful and felt the cool buds rub against her skin. Behind the deli, Maya gazed at a dumpster framed with tall weeds. Next to the dumpster, she saw a raised mound with a single rose rooted at the center. She moved to the mound, which sunk under her foot and pulled down a flip-flop from her toes. She moved aside leaves and earth to free the flip-flop. She saw teeth, all of them dirty and twisted. The mouth and eye sockets filled to the brim with earth and filth. A purple and rotted slash forged the neck. And something that reminded Maya of the knots tied at the ends of small purple balloons scattered the dead man’s arms.
Near the corpse’s head, she plucked the wild rose. Beyond the rose, and next to a gnarled hand that uprooted from her weight, Maya saw a plastic bag filled with doctors’ needles and blackened water. The needles’ points had turned green and thick. In some of the needles, a brownish liquid stained the bases. Maya laid her flowers next to the body. And summer was over.