The cracks in the pavement sprouted sharp, prickly weeds that spread across the sidewalk we walked together. Your shoes would kick at them, tossing up a bit of soil and a very angery plant.
"Don't feel it," you insisted, "they're fine."
But how could they be? They were no longer renting their time from us: the landpeople of the sidewalk. It was only a matter of how fast we could dash into the ill-lighted convenience store with a few sweaty coins tucked into our palms to be exchanged for a chilled glass bottle of some artificially-colored drink. Then we'd plop back down halfway between our street and the store, taking long sips of cold, sticky sweetness. When that was gone, I'd pour my last few hesitant drops onto the weeds.
"They need drink too." I'd retort. For a few years, you'd nod in solemn agreement. The years after that, we'd yank up the weeds when we were bored. Snaps of their stubborn roots seemed to pinch my eardrums. There wasn't much to talk about, unless Betty Jane got a new ribbon with some ridiculous design – maybe puppies this time. We'd throw around ideas: she'd got the ribbons from the balloon guy at the grocery store, she found them abandoned in the parking lots, or she had some foreign grandma with an affiliation for plain ribbons. Once, I snatched one from her shining gold hair. She shrieked, her blond curls tumbling onto her shoulders. I ran to the halfway-point. I buried the ribbon under one of the weeds, wrapping and tying it around the stubby stem.
"Keep it safe!" I yelled, jogging back to the playground. You watched me with a small smile on your face. When I came around the corner, you pulled me to your side by my loose hoodie. Your breath was warm on my ear.
"Did you hide it, hide it good?" You questioned. I grinned manically. Of course I did. Betty Jane wouldn't dare go near the threatening weeds.
We got older, and those weeds got real big. They were now like green fireworks; their centers exploding into huge hairy leaves that seemed to grope the edge of the grass. That's right – they stretched completely over it now. You still tried to kick them up. They just lost limb, their spiny leaves flying a few inches into the grass.
"Weeds. Takin' over everything." You'd say. I would cross my arms over my chest, agreeing with you but wanting to go fix those weeds right up proper. What they needed was a doctor. A weed doctor.
Summer was hot that year. The weeds shriveled a bit before getting bigger and thicker. We'd stomp them down – flattening them to the sidewalk's surface. Green juice stained the gray concrete. We still stopped at the halfway point, except getting candybars instead of drinks. Who knows what was in those bars? Something chewy that got stuck on our teeth, something really sweet which stung in the back of our throats. Cheaper than soda, though. We could get two candybars with some extra for a lollipop. A strawberry lollipop. You swore you gave it to baby Harriet on our street, but I saw you rip the clear wrapper off and stick the red globe into your mouth every week.
When winter came, it didn't snow. Just got super cold. We bundled up in knit hats and puffy coats, holding our knees to our chests and waiting for the chill of the sidewalk to make our butts cold through our jeans. The weeds got really thin, asking us if we wanted to use them like seats. I smiled at the smallest one – it still had Betty Jane's frayed ribbon around it.
When spring came, you moved away to Arizona. I'd heard it got mighty hot in 'zona, so I gave you some money when that big white van had all your stuff in its back.
"For some candybars." I said. You shoved the amount in your pocket.
"Yep." You agreed, crawling into your car and shutting the door. You saluted me. There wasn't anything more to say then. Because you knew and I knew I'd take care of that halfway point, of all those weeds and Betty Jane's ribbon. Those weeds asked me next time I went to the store.
Where'd he go? Is his momma making him stay home now?
"No, weeds." I said, kicking the biggest one because he was the loudest of all of them, "he ain't coming back today. Here's his pop."
And I poured it on there, waiting until the bright orange made the leaves of that weed dark green, Christmas green.