Outside the window, the wind blows the leaves. They swirl and flutter soundlessly on the other side of the glass as the little girl presses her face to the window. Around her, voices move softly, and if she listens, she can hear what they say. She chooses not to listen; all she feels is the coolness of the window pane against her cheek as it blurs with her tears.
She unfolds the photograph in her hands and smoothes her fingers over its surface, rubbing her wet eyes with the back of her other hand. She slips the photo back into the pocket of her best dress and turns away from the window, still leaning against it. No, she thinks, it can't be true. I'll ask Mama.
"Mama?" she calls quietly, her sound lost among the voices. She walks to a woman standing by the door. "Grandmother?" Her grandmother holds up her hand, turning her face to the side. Her shoulders shake and she presses a hand to her mouth. The little girl looks away. She is drawn to the doorway.
She steps through the open door and the voices recede. Her hair blows away from her face and she cannot stop hearing the dimmed voices. They circle around her until they become the wind.
"Last night? It's such as tragedy."
"Yes, and who would ever have guessed? Hush - look, the child. Maxine, dear?"
The little girl's eyelids flutter at the sound of her name. Her chest rises and falls as her lungs fill with the wind. Ah, she thinks, Now I am the wind. Nothing can touch the wind. The wind is allowed to cry. She turns toward the voices, hands clasped behind her back.
"Would you like a cookie?" The lady is bent over, her eyes upon Maxine's, her look intent and searching. A finger points vaguely into the house, and the little girl remembers the table piled with food from the neighbors.
"No, thank you." Indeed, thinks the little girl, cookies at a time like this. My uncle is dead! My favorite uncle is dead! Behind her back, her hands tighten into angry fists, and around her knuckles the skin begins to look white.
The woman lets out the air she was holding in and turns back to her friend, her fingers propelling the friend away from the door by the elbow, further away from the little girl.
"He's dead!" cries the little girl inside her head, and the air in the house is surrounding her, suffocating her. She steps back outside the door and walks down the walkway. She places her feet carefully, avoiding all the cracks in the pavement. Step on a crack, break your mother's back. It is an old habit, but now she finds she must concentrate.
At the foot of the walkway, the morning paper for Wednesday, April 11, 1928 is lying unnoticed. She sits on the ground beside it, her legs straight in front of her, beneath the black material of her dress. She puts her finger on the paper and begins to read the headline aloud, slowly, pronouncing each word carefully.
"Broken-Hearted Mother Grieves for Son Who Was Killed During Attempt to Rob a Dakota Store."
The little girl continues, eyes wide.
"Bowed down by grief, a gray-haired mother at 409 Cook Street mourns the son, who was led to his death before the blazing shotgun of a Gayville, S.D., storekeeper by evil companions and bad influences ..."
It is a half an hour before her mother looks out the door and sees her. The little girl is lying clasping the paper, which is now damp with her tears. Her shoulders heave with sobs, for the uncle she didn't truly know, the one which was her favorite, a robber. "Ah," says her mother, "she knows."
Inside the house the babble of voices continues. Outside the girl lies on the grass and only hears her heart beating. The wind grabs the front page of the newspaper and whisks it away. It glides through the air in the breeze and runs into the street sign, momentarily covering up the letters that spell Cook Street before it lands in the street. Later that afternoon a car drives down the street and over the page, and the words are blotted from the paper, erasing the life of a robber. 1
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.