The old woman struggled with the sack that wanted to tear itself from her withered arm. Not that it was heavy, because it wasn’t. It was its girth that gave her a loose hold on it. She thought about resting for a moment, but there was no place to sit the bag except for the ground, and then she might not be able to pick it up again.

And then there were the kids. The little brats that ran up and down the sidewalk, brushing by her, and the bicycles that nearly ran her over. Parents now days! What was wrong with them? Her children had never been like that. They weren’t that way now. How could they be from six feet under the Langston Cemetery?

When the last of the screaming banshees passed by, old soul continued on her plight, head sagging on her chest, lugging the bag over the cracks in the walk and dodging the holes. She thought she’d had a clear path to her house when she looked ahead and stopped just in time to avoid a collision with a young boy who had dropped his ball and had stooped down to retrieve it.

A slight gasp escaped the old woman’s mouth and the startled boy jerked his head upward to see a scowl looming over him.

“Oh,” he said, still bent over the ball. “I’m sorry.”

The woman did not move or change her expression. The lad’s eyes harrowed a bit as he rose and began to study the ancient creased and creviced face towering above him.

“What’s wrong with your face?” he asked, rolling the ball in his hands.

The woman flinched at the question. How dare that little wretch ask such a thing. She stared into the young face, wondering what prompted him to ask it, a face so innocent, so curious. No, he meant nothing by it. She remembered her own sons questioning everything. There was no respite from their incessant interrogations about life and the world. She hadn’t been bothered with such pleasantly annoying things for over sixty years.

“What happened to my face?” she squawked, lifting her nose and letting her eyes look down on the boy as if he were a vagrant urchin.

The lad tilted his head slightly, unsure of the woman’s intent.

“Life, she barked. “Life is what happened to my face.”

The boy scrunched his eyes and nose. “Life?” he asked.

They stared at each other until the young man broke the silence.

“My grandpa has a face like yours.”

The old woman pursed her lips.

“He says that every time you do something good for somebody you get a wrinkle in your face.”

The woman’s head tilted toward the boy, her eyes narrowing in curiosity.

“He’s got a lot of wrinkles, too,” the boy added.

He studied the woman’s face again, as if counting.

“But he doesn’t have as many as you do.”

Then he smiled and her face relaxed, surprised.

“Well,” said the boy, “nice to meet you.” He tossed his ball up and caught it, then went on his way down the sidewalk.

The old woman turned to watch him skipping away. She blinked to clear away the accumulating moisture. The bag in her arm was no longer a burden, and the corners of her lips forced themselves upward.

About marc cullison

Writer and retired college instructor, math and science. I write and read as much as I can. I am also working on my log house. So much to do.
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