One hundred and twenty seconds on the timer. It would be fast.
Outside my window I could see the neighbor’s kids drawing pictures on the sidewalk with pink and yellow chalk. The pictures were always the same, ugly flowers with awkward centers. A concrete garden that only got better when you watered it and washed it away.
Starting the timer, I stood there and watched the numbers roll down. Two, short, quick minutes.
The Hot Pocket was wonderful.
The sun was already reaching its zenith for the day. In a couple more hours, dusk would creep in, spreading a soft, Autumn glow over the canal. Sunset was always his favorite time of day down here.
Sitting on the pale, recycled, resin bench, legs spread wide and arms thrown open across the back rest to discourage people from trying to sit with him, Carl watched the fat boy with his too long, red hair struggle with his catch. He had managed to land fourteen fish in a little over an hour. That had to be some sort of record. As many times as he and JC had fished this area when they were boys, neither of them could boast of having caught fourteen in such a short time. It looked like catching them was only half the battle though. This kid was really working to get those fish home without losing anything.
Half-filled with water and bullheads, the blue bucket was too heavy. Alternating between dragging it a few inches, then trying to lift it while not losing the fishing pole clenched under his arm or the small gray tackle box balanced on the lid just under the handle, he battled his way along the path toward home.
Spotting the uniformed officer walking leisurely toward the him from the opposite direction, he thought this might be a battle the kid was going to lose. Shifting slightly to ease the growing numbness in his butt, he crossed one leg over a knee and waited. From his vantage point on the other side of the canal, he would have a clear view.
The instructions read: Push in on perforated area and pull up.
Cassie stared at the perforated area, a small, triangle of space surrounded by tiny cuts in the cardboard. Placing her finger over the spot she pushed lightly, testing the strength of the cuts. In theory it should just break inward with a satisfying popping sound. In theory…
Pressing harder, she noted the bowing of the top corner as the cardboard ignored the perforations, and its own printed instructions, and simply bent inward under the pressure. Her lips compressed into an irritated line. Why did she bother? The instructions never worked yet she always gave it the old college try.
She hadn’t even gone to college.
Was that why she couldn’t open the box? Was the trick to getting the perforations to work really just a matter of having a degree in something?
The entire, narrow side of the box collapsed under her finger as she pressed hard enough to explode a peach pit. Still nothing.
Huffing angrily, she stopped pushing and grabbed the lid, forcing her finger under the glued edge and shredding the box top. Dumping the contents into the pan of boiling water she grabbed a wooden spoon and maliciously churned the silver cheese package around with the macaroni.
Laying flat on her stomach with her arms tucked mantis style beneath her, and her thick, dark, ponytail draped back over one shoulder, Haley hovered her face above the surface of the pond, her breath making the barest of ripples on the water. Her time inside it had ended long ago, but to be able to watch, and breathe, and see the effect her very existence had upon those that came after; that was the true blessing of having lived at all. The ripples she caused were small and avoidable, barely noticeable to those inside. It was just enough to keep them trying. Enough to keep things from being easy.
Every now and then, she would roll onto her back and stare into the sky above that was always black and shimmering with stars, and wonder who was breathing ripples down onto her?