End of the line

Grey-toned skin with shadows that hang around her colorless smoky eyes stare at me, dark dots like black pearls. Mouth slightly open, joy glistens from the curve in her cheek, the round of her mouth, the glow in her hair. Optimism seeps from the woman’s face.

Who is she?

A black beret sits tilted on top of her head. Was the beret a rebellious attempt on her part? And if it was, were there other photos where she held a Lucky Strike between two fingers while she reclined back in the booth at a speakeasy with her friends?

My wrist twists. I’m hunting the haunting as I search for a name, a date, or a place written on the back of the yellow-stained paper. Leaning in, I squint at the scribble, trying to make out the smudged words on the back. “Unreadable,” I say to no one. 

Rubbing a hand over the letters, I say to the woman, “Tell me who you are, and how your photo ended up here, under my foot at the dump?” Scanning the hill of garbage, I see a crushed gift card box nearby. I bend forward, pick it up, and slide the photo into it.

I walk away from the mountain of black bags with rotting food, worn-out clothes, twisted blinds, and other household cast-offs and settle on a spot with weeds nearby. Pulling my gloves on, I get down on my knees, dig my fingers into the dirt and lift it over, and over, and over again until I’ve dug a hole just big enough.

I place the gift card holder into the hole. Closing my eyes, I remember the woman’s face. “I’m sorry,” I say. “This is the best I can do—,” as I throw dirt on top of the cardboard coffin.

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