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Peter Griffith

The images come unannounced. The steering wheel, the road through the windshield, the dashboard, they all fade away, leaving relics of the past. Naked of the earth, baking under the sun and just waiting for some archaeologist of memory to go sifting through.

Let's go on a dig, shall we?

Brush away the dust and you find a little boy, like a cosmic cow lapping at hoarfrost and finding a Viking. He stands, slumped, dressed in the most punk rock attire that'll fit a nine-year-old. His knees are covered with sedimentary layers of scabs from who knows how many scrapes, and his face is covered with the bruises and scrapes of unpopularity. Still, you should've seen the other little boys. So. We have our protagonist.

The dirt sifts through the screen, leaving a frozen pond on the outskirts of Parma Heights. The aforementioned other little boys stumble around on their hockey skates, mingling with the little girls mincing on their figure skates. A game of Crack the Whip has started in the center of the pond, gradually engulfing each of the individual skaters. So. We have our setting.

The next thing to be unearthed is a little girl, decked out in the sort of pink and black snow gear that's bought by parents who intend to raise a princess. Her figure skates are as white as the snow surrounding the pond. She dangles precariously at the edge of the chain of children, her magenta mitten, so warm and yet so restricting, starting to slip from her hand. And now, with these elements of story unearthed, let's set it all in motion.

Peter stands at the edge of the pond, watching all the other children from the circle of parents, some stoically proud, some shouting encouragement, some barely refraining from plodding out onto the ice and stopping the game. He searches through each crowd for a familiar face, somebody to latch on to and to pretend to be a normal little boy with. The children are no good; boys he's fought with and girls who've made fun of him, troglodytes and harpies all. Though there is the one girl who keeps rotating past him, the one he doesn't quite recognize, how could she be anything but just like the others?

The adults aren't any good either. They have their own children to worry about, and don't have the time for him. Nobody has the time for him, it seems, except himself, and then only rarely. Some of the parents look at him with sympathy, no, pity, that wretched thing that makes him feel like curling up inside one of his boots and disappearing. They know his mother, some of them all too familiarly.

It's just when he begins to retreat into his own little world that it happens. Watching his breath turn into mist, letting the cold trying to creep in his bones go right through him and out the other side, contemplating the uniqueness of snowflakes... they're all different, sure, but does that make some of them ugly? Are there snowflakes too awful to rest in banks with the others? Are they doomed to melt before hitting the ground? It's at that moment that a shrill scream, tinged with laughter, breaks out across the pond.

He doesn't hear it, retreated too far into himself to notice that without.

He doesn't see her, careening across the ice directly at him, driven by the impetus of centrifugal force.

He snaps back into reality as she slams into him, the two of them falling to the snowy ground with a thump. She continues to laugh as they lie there together, her on top of him, and no parents come running to check if she's okay. In a position with no escape and, seemingly, no adult interference, he experiences his first opportunity to play at being responsible.

"Are you all right?" he asks through clenched teeth, the public and inescapable intimacy of the situation not lost on him. Nobody has let him come this close before without recoiling.

She continues to giggle, her exhalation warm on his cold face. "I'm fine. How about you?"

"Yeah, I'm okay." He looks into her eyes, and something she sees looking back makes her stop laughing.

An anti-climactic first kiss later, and she's bolted back to the pond. She makes a beckoning gesture as she goes, and he simply does his best to indicate that he has no skates without speaking before, finally, slinking off dejectedly.

Flash forward