A boy walks across a yard.
The yard shoves the house back from the street, as yards are apt to do, but its grass is barely grass anymore, instead worn away to dirt in huge patches; overgrown with thistle in others.
The boy stops here and drops to sit in the dirt – might as well – and the seat of his pants is already dusty to match his dusty canvas shoes. He sits with his legs bent, the sharpness of each knee upright, feet planted wide and rooted in two sets of laces, worn and frayed at their dirty ends. His shorts are hollow around his child’s thighs, his skin deepened from the summer sun. He eyes the street, squinting in the sunlight. A car passes the street at the end of the block. In the distance, a dog barks – clipped, regular intervals. A dog barking at nothing.
The boy bought an ice cream sandwich from the convenience store across the street, and he is now tugging the package away from itself at the seams where it comes together and, fingertips pressing into the sandwich’s cool, soft sides, pulling it from the plastic.
Less than thirty minutes earlier, he had been on his belly, jammed up to his shoulder reaching under the couch, feeling for the cool, flat promise of loose change. Once he gathered enough of it – and an extra penny, which of course had no use whatsoever but was collected anyway – in the scoop of one small hand, he tucked it all into the soft blue of pant pocket, pressed his palm against the tiny metal handle of the screen door and went out into the world.
And now, here he was, enjoying this tiny delight; this thing that meant next to nothing outside of this moment and almost everything to him within it.
He is only partway through when he hears the screen door swing open. And he knows without looking that she’s standing in the doorway, one arm outstretched against the aluminum frame, scanning the street beyond him. He knows this without looking but he looks anyway. And when he does, he watches as she stares straight ahead, first sweeping the street and then the yard. She sighs.
“I can’t stand this yard.”
He turns his attention from her to the yard, glancing across it, seeing what she sees.
“Your father needs to mow.”
He looks back at her. He watches her in silence. The ice cream is softening and threatening to work its way over his fingertips. He knows this, and yet he waits, watching her…
“Be in by dark. Okay?”
And then she glances at him.
She meets his eyes with hers. But he has scarcely nodded his reply before she’s retreated back into the doorway and let the aluminum close behind her – a hoarse-whisper shut, rushing to close, catching and bobbing before it hits the frame and then pausing. Before closing entirely.
The boy waits for a moment. Then looks back to his sandwich. And sets to finishing it.