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The agonized screeching of rubber on asphalt reverberated through the thin dusk air. Glassy windows glinted green, yellow, red in harmony with traffic lights that flaunted their undeniable power over a world of concrete and metal. The smell of chili dogs and roasted chestnuts laced the chilly air as fading drops of sunlight glistened through the smog, casting a milky quality over the city, as though coating it in a razor-thin layer of glue.
A man in a heather-gray suit whipped through lanes of traffic, frown lines creasing his brow and gray speckling his 5 o’clock shadow. His polished black BMW rolled through a stop sign, a brief pause in its practiced siege of the city streets. It was inevitably halted by a glaring red eye that radiated indifference to the plight of the impatient. Green digits tick-tocked away on dashboards as fingers drummed out erratic rhythms on steering wheels.
The edgy man in the Beamer heaved out a sigh, resting his forehead on knuckles propped up onto the windowsill. His glazed eyes stared fixedly at some nondescript wall. The passing of a crimson van woke him from his traffic-induced trance.
A young girl, her white-blond hair pulled into pigtails, and a pink bow drooping unevenly across her bangs leaned out of the rear window. Blue eyes shined merrily as she wiggled chubby fingers, her comical imitation of a wave. The other hand gripped a kiddie ice cream cone, the type found at fast food restaurants. Chocolate syrup dribbled off her chin, half speckling the windowsill she hovered over, the rest disappearing down her pink pastel neckline. The reflective glass flung prisms of light at sapphire eyes as her shining face regarded the world with its perpetual smile. A wistful grin flitted across the commuter’s face at this display of beautiful innocence.
A few blocks later, the wail of sirens screamed through the bustling streets. A standard courtesy; cars moved aside, permitting the ambulance a narrow pathway to barrel through, before continuing on their way. An impassable wall of vehicles soon brought the black convertible to a standstill as they stopped behind a wall of flashing lights, drivers cursing their ill luck to be caught behind an accident scene.
The man slowly stepped out of the BMW, brow furrowed and eyes troubled. He joined the crowd that had begun to gather around the ambulance. A knot of dread twisted painfully in his gut as he gingerly pushed his way to the front. There, past the wall of high heels and working boots, leather and cotton, he caught a glimpse of a crimson van, its chocolate-spattered windows splintered into shards of glass that glittered on the asphalt like menacing stars.
A stretcher lay prone on the grimy street. A wisp of blond hair and a lopsided pink bow draped limply across the plastic pillow. Hunched-over medics blocked the chocolate-stained chin and the tiny rosebud lips, but he knew it was her. Hands pumped desperately at her heart, willing it to resume its regular beating, the beat that so many took for granted. Somewhere someone was screaming, a loud, high-pitched wailing barely distinguishable from the screech of tires from a fender-bender on 5th and Park. The small audience that watched held its’ collective breath, eyes glistening as they beheld concrete evidence of their own fragile lives.
The rhythm being beat out onto the girl’s chest gradually ceased, and a sparkling tear landed in the pearlescent blue recess of her closed eyelid. The medics bent their heads over her supine body, lamenting the loss of a fallen angel.
The audience bowed their heads as well, each grieving for the inevitable pain of her family. Silence permeated the air, a muted eulogy of the body on the stretcher.
Golden eyelashes suddenly began to flutter like the opening wings of a butterfly. Sapphire blue peeked from beneath pearly eyelids as a breath was finally sucked into oxygen-starved lungs. She gazed around sleepily, a hazy smile returning to her perfect lips. A woman propelled herself through the crowd, throwing herself on top of the little girl, sobbing as she crushed her daughter in an urgent embrace. The crowd wiped their tears away, and began to clap for the sheer joy that rippled through the air in a chorus of beaming faces.
The man in the heather-gray suit turned and walk back to his polished convertible with a heavy tread, his hands in pockets. After clambering into the drivers’ seat he reached into his ragged leather wallet and pulled out a crisp photo. Two radiant children and one beautiful wife beamed back at him. He folded the photo with care and tucked it into his chest pocket, close to his heart.