On the north-west side of the city of Albuquerque is a street where every building is cracked and all the people are too: they have hard lines on their faces, but they aren't laugh lines. The road itself is just as crumbled. It's riddled with potholes, so much so that the potholes are more frequent than the unbroken road. The sky is perpetually gray, but it never rains. Dust has worked itself into every crack, but dust wasn't the only thing that floated through the air.
On this particular street, the oldest tree in Albuquerque used to grow. It was a cottonwood tree, and its fairy-like seeds seemed like the only thing of beauty on this street... them, and the little girl with dark skin and a pink coat.
She often wandered outside: she had little else to go. The dirty concrete jungle was her jungle gym, and her dolls were things out of horror movies. Her unwavering optimism and bright smile sometimes provoked attacks from desperate people thinking she was a lost daughter of some wealthy stranger. They only let her go when they realized she was truly alone. The truth was, everything she owned was third-hand, through Goodwill. Everything that is, except the cottonwood seeds.
No one doubted they were hers. She'd spend hours picking them up and letting them float down again. She collected them in plastic shopping bags that floated by in the wind that promised a storm but never came through with that promise. She called the bags "city tumbleweeds." She would collect the seeds until the bag puffed out with all the fluff inside. Then the girl would climb up onto unused railway tracks, onto the bridge that hung over Interstate 40. All the cars and trucks zoomed beneath her, some going over 80 miles per hour. She would watch them for a while, counting every yellow one until her eyes ached from all the rushing.
They all had someplace to be. Why couldn't they just stay where they were? The girl had stayed where she was all her life. She could never understand where they were rushing off to, just that it would be far away. So she let the seeds fly.
Handful by handful, she emptied the bag, sending the seeds floating down to the road below. She imagined each one attaching to someplace on the car, like the tires or the windshield wipers. The seed would go wherever the car went. This one will go to the Rocky Mountains! This one will go to California! This one will make it all the way to Canada! She imagined a life for all the little cottonwood trees she had set free.
One day she stepped on a rusty screw.Her shoes were like the road-- more hole than shoe-- so the the metal bit right into her skin without any resistance. What a terrible way to go. She tried to fight against the muscle stiffness, the headaches, the fevers, but she didn't have the care she needed. Towards the end, her perpetual smile was still there, but now it was a strange-looking grin caused from the muscle spasms in her face.
One night, her last night, when she couldn't move her jaw even a little bit, she ran away. Whether in a bout of high fever or one of extreme clarity, we'll never know, but she stumbled her way to the old cotton-wood tree. Or she tried to. When she got to where it should have stood, there was a Waffle House in its place, already looking worn out.
The tree was gone. Something inside the girl broke, like the walls, or the road, or the people who lived there. She curled up on a desperate piece of grass and cried, not caring that beneath her head was a broken bottle.
The wind that pushed dust into everything-- even into lines on people's faces-- took pity on the girl in the little pink jacket. It blew cottonwood seeds from all the trees that had grown because of the little girl's game on the railroad tracks. It blew them all together to make a pillow to keep their girl's head off of the jagged glass.
But she could still feel the bottle cutting into her ear. Why?
Because there is no magic: the little girl knew that for herself. The seeds she dropped were either crushed by the cars' wheels, or ended up in stony soil, or were infertile themselves, or were mowed down before they could grow, or were beaten out by other plants, or rotted in the rain.
This little girl had learned long ago that there are no fairies at the hard end of Albuquerque, even if the cottonwood seeds look like them. She learned that if you expect fairies at the end of a story, you need to open your eyes, breathe in the dust, and earn the cracks on your face.