Dorinda pulled on her father’s arm and pointed up. “Who’s Tess?”
Vincent followed her finger and saw the graffiti. He remembered when he first saw the artwork, before the city officials put the chained link fence up (in the foolish hopes of keeping young swimmers from diving).
“Tess,” he signed, “was a kind soul.” It was, yet wasn’t the truth; it had to do.
Vincent rested his back against the post, waiting for the train to pass overhead. His back ached and the rumbling of the rails helped ease the pain. A shadow on the shore caught his eye.
He climbed the bank and hoped whoever was there wasn’t going to attempt to dive in.
The child wrapped her legs and an arm around the support beam of the bridge. How she got there, Vince didn’t know. He did know that he wasn’t going to cry out to the child and scare her or worse – cause her to fall the distance.
Face covered with a kerchief, she sprayed a series of capital letters before taking her time with a heart, no larger than her hand. Vince waited until she was safe on the ground before making his presence known.
The child’s toothy smile (minus two front teeth) greeted him before she put a finger to her lips. She led him to the base of the old apple tree. Curious still, he watched as she brushed aside the branches and leaves, as she slipped her small hands into a hole marked by a now visible root.
Her smile never wavered as she opened the cigar box to reveal many trinkets; including an item Vince threw in the river just the week before. He furrowed his brow.
He read her lips. “I treasure everyone’s secret souls,” she said.
Vince pulled the small notebook and pencil he kept in his pocket and wrote, “Your name is Tess?” She shrugged.
He sat down on the ground beside her, realizing that some of the stories he had heard about a family were possibly true, especially about the child no one ever saw.
Surreptitiously, he noted the bruises visible above the holey-shoes and the frayed sweater sleeves. Brave child indeed, he thought.
He wrote, “See you tomorrow? Same time?” That brought a hesitant smile back to her face. He rose to leave, giving her the privacy required to rebury the treasure she shared.
Later that evening, he returned to the place by the bridge and buried a heart-shaped locked wrapped in a new kerchief. Inside it, with his cleanest cursive on a slip of paper, the teen wrote, “I love Tess, too.”