The windows are dirty and cracked, but they are not so badly damaged that water leaks in when it rains. Such puddles call attention, and nothing calls attention to the windows looking onto the backyard.
And so the backyard also goes unnoticed. It stretches to the horizon and to either side so far the windows cannot contain it all. The craggy trees are laden with thick vines, vines so old they have become ropes a child could climb to a forgotten world of imagination, overgrown with fat fairies and lazy monsters. These vines are twined over with thinner, younger vines, and those vines are laced with even younger vines, the whole affair so rich with life that big-blossomed flowers grow between the corpses of other flowers and the smell is as intoxicating as a smashed bottle of perfume. The edges of garden plots are still visible, old railroad ties blinking darkly through the greens and yellows of mold and rot. But now the garden plants are as wild as the weeds and they grow together as brothers and sisters. Raised tumors of dirt hump the ground where long-dead gophers built their highways. Rocks split the earth like wayward teeth.
The door to the backyard is weathered and unlocked. The keyhole is clogged with rust. Debris piles up against the door. From the outside, the windows are made opaque by sunlight during the day. Paw prints decorate the glass, but even they are old, off-white stains worn into symbol by the weather. Where those animals have gone, no one knows, just as no one knew where they came from.
And then there is the forest, which is what the kids called the furthest edge of the backyard. The trees grow thick, limbs and leaves weaving a roof through which light glances to create an atmosphere that’s clean and clear until footsteps call up swarms of dust. The ground cover crumbles under feet like the softest loam. Somewhere back here is a fence. Somewhere back here is an end to the yard. Somewhere back here rest all the toys that have been abandoned. And somewhere back here are the remains of all the games ever played. Piles of sticks resembling swords. Scars in the bark to mark the trails of intrepid explorers. Branches bent like old women from the weight of captured prisoners, long since sprung to freedom by brave confederates.
And here, in the half-dark closest to what a child sees in the moments before sleep overtakes her, is a sound that is familiar. At first a ticking, a rhinoceros beetle over dry leaves. Then a babbling brook, the rise and fall of it utterly unmechanical and unpredictable and comforting. Then the high, fluid voice of a child.
Almost unnoticeable with its head in the crotch of a tree, the child is veiled by a skein of moss and dust, the body fragile, as children’s bodies always are. The skin so pale it’s translucent. The blue veins pulse in time with the voice. The child is counting, but the numbers are too high. They are in the millions.
But it is not enough. It is never enough.
Andrew Kozma’s fiction has been published in Albedo One, Drabblecast, Interzone, and Daily Science Fiction. His book of poems, City of Regret (Zone 3 Press, 2007), won the Zone 3 First Book Award.