The girls are chain-smoking cigarettes outside waiting for someone to notice them not noticing anyone else (the paradox of youth).
The air is a perfect 80 degrees. Winter is over. The people around us are musing, eternally, how much of their lives they’ve spent sitting in cars. There’s trash on the street. Everything is concrete; the city is winning its war on nature. But weeds still come up through the cracks in the sidewalk.
We live in the north. We spend our time in the sun. We drink iced tea from plastic cups. We walk the streets in new sneakers dropped online at early hours from secret sites before anyone else can get them. This is what we do while the rest of the world crumbles. Beauty is still the greatest currency. Except, perhaps, the ability not to feel or care. Flippancy is gold. Time is money and it is on our side. To care is to die drowning in someone/everyone else’s problems. This is youth, and it is the only thing we have.
People don’t know anything about us more than that.
We’re near corner door in the alley where Bella went to get her baby cut out. There wasn’t anywhere else she could go, no one to help, a sister far away, a mother who told her she shouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first place.
She wakes up early in the morning to run. She spent her paycheck on new running gear: shoes, shorts, headbands. I sleep in late and wait for her to call. We wait for something to happen. She’s sweating and smiling when she’s finished. We were raised by wolves, she says, and the only thing that brings joy is bettering the self. I tell her that’s nonsense. There are a lot of things that bring joy. Victory, for one. Good food and music and friends and disappearing into the night under the stars that remind you how big and how small everything is.
Through the trash a skinny black Labrador puppy, so skinny her ribs show through the fur, sniffs our palms with a half-eaten something hanging from her mouth. She sits back on her haunches, watching us, quizzically, sadly with her head cocked to her side. Cars pass on the street. We watch her too. And we sit there for a while, just like that.
Cigarette smokes blows past us in the breeze. It will always remind me of home.