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When I walked home Thursday morning Byrd walked with me. She tagged a few feet behind, tripping over her red sneakers and lurching into me. My skin stung in the sharp wind. I didn't say anything and tried to walk faster. She kept pace.
We turned onto Cobb Street. The pale lawns were empty and the grass was spiked messily. Missus Ramsey rocked slowly on her porch and watched us suspiciously. Being young we were automatically saddled with the blame for anything that went wrong while we shuffled past her porch. I shifted my books under my arm. I tried not to look like trouble.
Byrd followed the sidewalk with her eyes and didn't look up. She let the wind toss her long sandy hair around as she chewed her lip. My house was getting closer, then she could walk herself to her sagging house at the end of the street. Beyond the blue house was a pebbly, cold beach and the ocean.
In all instances I was glad to get rid of her. Walking home in silence was worse when it was with her. Byrd doesn't talk. She talks to her older brother and her father, but I haven't heard her string together much more than a sentence yet.
The sky above Byrd's house was getting progressively darker. I could hear the rush and swell of the ocean, and there was a pale dash of sky above the horizon that gave way to a mass of dusky clouds. The thin trees managed a few ominous-sounding rustles.
Byrd continued to walk in her funny, tripping little way. Byrd is scrawny and clumsy, and shy to the point of hindrance. She has a slow, elliptical smile that rarely comes out for anything. Her brother's shadow is longer than she is, so she lives in that shade of darkness.
I turned onto the little path that leads to my house. She didn't misstep once, and kept on down the sidewalk into the wind. I watched her little figure stumble down the path. Despite her silence she made an gentle, pressing impression, and I was drawn to her.
She invited me to her house once. I didn't know what to say. I was reluctant to disappoint her pleading face. I put my books down on the other side of the little white picket fence and walked with her. I had passed her house on my way to the beach. I didn't allow it much more than a glance. There were always light curtains on the darkened windows, and the chipping gray-blue paint was sad. It mirrored her face: they both looked defeated and weather-worn. Byrd was young and had a lost look in her quiet eyes. The house was old and didn't have much life left in it. They complemented and comforted each other.
Where the sidewalk ended and the rough crab-grass began, Byrd began to angle our path toward her house. I walked on the street side, but her thin shadow did little to shade me from the sun. The waves were blue and swelled strongly. Seagulls circled over the water, cawing, but there were no children on the sand. The air was tinged with salt.
I pushed on my hair where it was pulled back, and walked. My scalp tingled from the change. We were quickly approaching her house. The sand hissed under my sandals and I wished I had said no. Her house peered at me through dark glass.
Byrd went to the back door, signaling an informal visit. A cracked shovel was jutting out from the ground, surrounded by decaying wood and grass seed. The paint was chipping in little haphazard sections. Byrd disappeared into the musky darkness, and I followed her through the screen door.
There was a television on in another room, the blue flashing glow extended around the corner. A light was on in the dirty kitchen. Byrd set her books down on the sloping kitchen table and ran a glass of water. She looked at me in the yellow light.
I didn't understand at first. "Oh, no thanks," I told her. I managed a little smile, still wary of the degree of poverty. It came to mind that her family might be home. Her brother wasn't in school.
I tried to see into the other room. From where I was standing, I could see there was no one in there. I was glad her father wasn't home. He was a large, sullen man with a peppery unshaven face and small eyes. He towered over Byrd when they were together.
The room was shabby and droopy, and smelled of briny sea water and cigarette smoke. I walked into the room a bit more. A thin film of dust covered every flat surface, including the hazy television screen.
I could see a small door in the back of the room, partially closed. A few fine spider webs moved in the breeze. A nicely dressed, muted woman on the television was hocking jewelry.
Byrd walked into the room with her water and sat on the couch. I half smiled and watched the ocean swell through the window. I was not sure what to do but stare. I scratched my arm and sat down in a dusty armchair by the window.
Byrd's eyes loomed above the glass, which covered her mouth and nose. She watched me quietly as I fidgeted. A small table was perched under the window, next to my chair. There were a few framed pictures, old black and white prints. I picked up a small one and wiped off the dust with my fingers.
"Na!" Byrd bolted from the couch and grabbed the picture. She bowed her head and used her blue shirt to wipe the grime off, gently. I was confused. What had I done? I watched her stare through the glass with a soft look in her eyes. I craned my neck a little to look at the picture.
"Who's that?" I asked quietly. She licked her top lip with the tip of her tongue and continued to look at the picture. Her mouth twitched a bit, and she turned the picture around so I could see it. "This is my mother," she told me.
The picture was stained under the glass. There was a crease down one side. A thin woman smiled mildly out from the center of the frame. Byrd smiled too, and I saw her mother's face in hers. Her eyes rose to meet mine.
"Where is she?" I asked.
Byrd set down the picture on the table with care, and turned to walk out of the room. I followed her through the kitchen and out to the small backyard. She kept walking against the wind, to a corner of the lot. I walked fast to keep up with her.
We were approaching a small grouping of flowers, coral posies and a bunch of daisies in a jam jar with water. I stopped in my tracks. Her mother was buried here?
Byrd reached the flowers and knelt down in the moist, rough grass. She picked a daisy out of the jar and sat still. Her thin white skirt flowed around her legs. I watched her. The wind threw my hair in my face, and I pushed it behind my ears.
After a few minutes, she stood up and walked back to me. Her knees were muddy and her face was flushed. She held her hand out, the daisy dangling in her fingers. I didn't know what to do with the offering, so I took it. Her eyes met mine and shone wetly in the muted sun. "I," my voice cracked, "I have to go home."
Her gray eyes flickered a little. "ABye," she smiled crookedly at me. I turned around and walked slowly back. The daisy was soft and the petals were half-gone. I fingered the rough yellow knob and walked. When I got to the road I turned to look back at her, and she was gone. 1