Edna only sees the dumpling boys on Mondays at the corner of Fifty-Ninth and Harlan. They’re an odd bunch: all pudgy faces and meaty hands, skin thick and sticky like half-baked soda bread. The littlest one’s trying to grow a mustache, trying to scrunch his face together and sprout up a few more inches so he’s not a head shorter than the rest of ‘em. Edna sees him on Mondays too, chewing his lip beneath the sky’s angry hiss.
Today they’re throwing rocks at Ms. Turner’s windows and playing hop-scotch in the rain. She’s a ghost, they say—Ms. Turner is. She’s only halfway-there, stuck in her own sort of hell. But Edna’s been there long enough to know that Ms. Turner’s flesh hasn’t draped into curtains yet, it’s only shriveled. She’s been there long enough to remember when there was glass stuck to the sidewalk, when Ms. Turner’s husband took an old porcelain lamp and hurled it out the front-door. The boys don’t know this, of course—they’re stuck in another hell. One that sends boys off to wars before they’re old enough to realize the world isn’t all small rocks and big rocks and do you think if I tossed this rock right here it’d fit through the windowsill?
Edna’s pa used to tell her that there were two ways to die. Scared or still. Her pa always smelled like warm cabbage. He was always still. Edna thinks there are more than two ways to die now. The dumpling boys will die terrified, Ms. Turner will go ready. Edna will go when time thinks it’s best, but now that warm cabbage makes her choke she thinks it will be sooner. She could never go for long without missing someone.
There are two coins in Edna’s palm but neither are worth anything. Not here. If she was with her pa they’d buy stale gum and chew on the wads until they tasted like hard clay. The dumpling boys spit their gum out in the sewers. Edna’s positive they don’t get all the flavor out.
Even though the air is cold and musty the boys are still playing, still throwing those rocks ‘cause their parents never taught ‘em any better. Edna swears she can see red trickling through the street, red like fat strawberries: clotted red, deep red. The boys are laughing and skipping and running down to the dead-end but none of ‘em see the red, none of ‘em smell the smoke that Edna does, none of ‘em think that there are more than two ways to die. They call the smallest one, the trying-to-grow-a-mustache one The Kitten and punch him in the side every time they see a stray wandering. Edna doesn’t know much about The Kitten, just that he’s nothing like his ma. She used to live next door to Edna, flesh wrinkled and creased like Ms. Turner’s. Edna thought that she seemed like the kind of lady who’d warm up milk and set out a loaf of sourdough for her son, the kind of lady who’d scrub the cool rain from The Kitten’s hair, who’d watch him sleep and pluck out her gray hairs, smooth her skin. Edna knows she’s the kind of lady who prays to some distant father and son and holy spirit and sits by the fire, the kind of lady who prays again and again and hopes that the red doesn’t take her son.
Each of ‘em are different—the boys. They remind Edna of home. Of her pa and of the countryside, of how she used to take boiled potatoes and stick them to the table-top so that they crusted there like glue. Of how she locked her bedroom door with a string and a nail even when her pa told her not to. Of how the stars used to be millions of miles away instead of right up close. The boys are jogging away now, but Edna’s still watching, still remembering. Ms. Turner’s peering out the front door, sweeping up shards and thanking the lord that it wasn’t her husband breaking glass. They’re running and running and running, so fast that Edna’s sure they’re just a blur of red, sure that the world couldn’t possibly take ‘em away. But the world’s taken plenty more than it deserved before, and Edna’s taken plenty from it.
The rain is thin and watery like soup and Edna steps outside. She can barely see ‘em now, they’re too far down Fifty-Ninth, stepping in puddles and tossing rocks. The streetlights are flickering above Edna, glowing above the boys. Even though it’s day they’re shining like a thousand silver moons. They’re coming back alive.
Addie Rahmlow (she/her) is a teen writer, editor, and student from the Midwest. She enjoys screenwriting, photography and has an obsession with iced tea. Her work can be found in Interstellar Literary Review and Ice Lolly Review, among others, and has been recognized by the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She hopes you’re having a wonderful day!