The girl’s rain boots sloshed when she walked. Each bright pink, polka dotted step seemed heavy and the grimace on her face was plain, even behind the soggy scarf wrapped in front of it. She swung her backpack off her shoulders and tucked it under the bench as she sat down next to me. Carefully, she pulled each boot off, revealing wet, gray socks on each foot. Overturned each boot in turn, sending a cup or two of cold water splashing to the storm drain. She began peeling her socks off, but then turned to him and mouthed something he couldn’t understand.
“What was that?” he asked, removing his headphones.
“I said, did I miss the bus?”
“No, you didn’t it must just be late today.”
She nodded and went about ringing out her socks. He returned the headphones to his ears, watching her work. The girl couldn’t have been more than 11, but she was large for her age – taller than she should be and already showing signs of acne across her forehead. He looked down the street toward where the bus normally appears. There was only a single Subaru a few blocks down.
“Those aren’t very good rainboots,” he said finally, again removing his headphones.
“They are, too” she replied, “they are my favorite pair of shoes. It’s just that they leak sometimes.”
“But if they leak, doesn’t that make them bad boots?”
“Not exactly. They are still pretty. Don’t you think so?”
He nodded. They were pretty; the pink was worn off in places, but the dark purple polka dots and occasional swirl of lavender made for a nice change in color on such a dreary day.
“What’s your name?” she asked, now trying to pull a damp sock back on her pruned foot.
“James. What’s yours?”
“Serena,” she said with a large, toothy grin, “I was named after the tennis player.”
“Really? I met her sister once. Venus.”
He thought this would have some sort of impact, but she seemed largely unimpressed.
“I don’t like tennis. My mom does,” she said, distracted now by the other sock, “What are you listening to anyway?”
“Oh,” he was embarrassed, “I’m not actually listening to anything.”
The second sock finally slid into place, “What do you mean you’re not listening to anything? You have headphones on. Are your ears cold?”
He laughed – half because of what she said and half because of the troubled look on her face.
“No, my ears aren’t cold. I just don’t like talking to people. I prefer to sit here and think.”
“Oh,” she said, looking down at her feet, “well, what are you thinking about?”
He considered lying.
“The heat death of the universe.”
She looked at him like he had spoken in tongues.
“That doesn’t sound very nice. What is it?”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds really. Eventually everything in the universe will even out and it will all just sort of stop.”
“That doesn’t sound very exciting.”
“Important things generally aren’t.”
Down the street, the bus finally turned onto the street, sending a large, icy puddle flying into the air. She reached for her boots and pulled them on one at a time. We both stood as the bus grew closer, block by block.
“So what happens then?” she asked, pulling the backpack on once again.
“Nothing. With no differences to be adjusted for, life and chemistry will just cease to exist. Time and space won’t be relevant anymore. There will just be a big, deserted void. That’s it – the end of all things.”
“But what about God? Doesn’t he have to fight the devil or something first?”
“Maybe it’s just a much quieter fight than we all expected.”
“Well that stinks.”
“Tell me about it, kid.”
Again she was eyeing her boots, lifting each in turn and listening to them squish as she put them down again.
“So what’s the point of everything if it just balances out?”
Before he could answer, the bus arrived and a few tired passengers piled out. She stepped off the curb and took the steps on board two at a time, finding a seat before he even swiped his card. Looking down the bus, he saw with disappointment that she had found a seat near the middle next to a wrinkled old woman. The last row was empty. He pulled his headphones over his ears again and made his way down the aisle.
“They really are pretty,” he said as passed her seat, “even if they leak.”