Sprinkles

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The old neighborhood was nearly unrecognizable.

And it's not because I'm older. Because I'm not. I am exactly the same age as I always am. No birthdays since my last birthday. I am no taller or shorter or thinner or fatter than normal.

Not a hair out of place. Ever.

No, the old neighborhood was always old and abandoned—the civil defense just sneezed fresh paint on it—but now it's a row of matchsticks burned to different sizes, powdered in white Nevada dust. Dead brush cuddles against standing walls and tucks under windowsills—playing hide-n-seek with front steps and whatever else lays scattered about.

I look and I see charred bones and dead things. I don't know why.

The missing pieces make the neighborhood nearly unrecognizable. That—and I think the whole place has aged, like, thirty years.

Hands in my jean pockets, I kick around in the dirt. Underneath, there's a smudge on the blistered tarmac in the shape of a lizard. Colored doors—dry wreckage—lie orphaned in the street. I walk slow and make a game, matching the right front door with the right house.

The metal house numbers are just dark smears, pasted shadows, like the lizard. Even the mailboxes have shrunken up and closed in on themselves. Guessing is purely instinctual. Size. Shape. Color. I have to do it from memory.

Purple house, green door?

There's a purple door I recognize, peeping out from beneath a dislodged flatbed. God knows where the truck is.

Purple door, green house?

Yes. Mrs. Pancake would keel at the thought of living in anything the color of a grape soda stain. Baby Bib, her neighbor, likes it the other way round.

But that was when her house still had a ceiling.

I hunt for the purple door's missing knob, scraping the toe of my boot along the rectangular edges, carving valleys. It's not there.

When I do find the doorknob, I have to pry it loose from a flower box coated in hardened plastic two houses down. The dirt yard is mined with dull orange lumps that I remember better as cheap, plastic flying saucers on sticks.

As I said, the old neighborhood was nearly unrecognizable. But what other pastel ghost town exists in the middle of a desert just off Route 95?

I know where I am.

Except, it's less a neighborhood now, and more a frosted donut that's sat in the sun so long the rainbow candies melted.

I only just blinked for a second, and fresh has turned rancid.

I always think I do it fast. Open, closed, on and off. And each time the dirt is a little bit thicker, the scrub brush a little bit bigger, and another wall has collapsed.

Darcy blames it on aliens.

Not this. I'm considering it. But she's not around to say. She was here, a blink ago...

Darcy blames everything on aliens. Like the time we stole her father's banana-yellow Buick, because we could, and forgot to put the parking brake on.

Aliens rolled it down the hill into an outcropping. Aliens dented the chrome.

And the cows. We didn't snip the barbed wire that midsummer night after Joshua Pink said, " Don't cut yourself, sugar tits," when he handed her a steak knife over beef patties at Greasy's. Aliens did.

Aliens shooed a dozen Herefords off Pink's property and got his daddy subpoenaed.

Aliens painted obscenities in drippy prism-colors on the boarded up Five and Dime.

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