BACK ROADS • by Madeline Mora-Summonte

Yesterday, Dr. Katz told me not to drive anymore. He said my reflexes are dull, my strength is shot, and my sight’s fading fast. His bored tone echoed the room’s dispassionate chill. He looked up from my chart and blinked, as if surprised I was still there. His hands skimmed my body while his mind roamed. He pronounced me alive, then left me on the table — a scrawny old woman covered in tissue as thin as her skin.

He may be right, but when you’re alone in this world, you do what you have to do. I stick to back roads so unused my car alone is considered traffic. And today, sitting on an old phonebook, I can even see over the dashboard.

I spot the children on my way home from the farmer’s market. I pull over, then squint at their cardboard sign — “tomato’s 4 sale”. I creak my way across the scraggly grass. The boy is covered in freckles but his face is too serious for them. The girl’s dark blue eyes shine shyly beneath ratty brown bangs. Her right thumb slips between her chapped lips.

The boy bends toward her, nudging down her arm. His shoulder blades — fragile as moth wings — twitch under his t-shirt. I want to touch them, feel the bones knit beneath his skin. My own stick out just like his, yet I’m on my way out of this world and he’s on his way in.

“Morning, ma’am. Want to buy some tomatoes?”

These tomatoes are nothing like the ones I bought at the market. Four wrinkled ones sit in an old shoebox cut to look like the green plastic cartons they come in at the store. The rest of the tomatoes cover the table like benign tumors.

“They’re from our garden.” He points behind him with a dirt-caked finger at a trailer rooted by cement blocks.

“How’s business?”

“You’re our first customer.”

“I’m not surprised. No one comes this way.”

“You did.”

“You should at least move closer to the road.”

“My sister’s too little.”

The girl, thumb back in her mouth, nods at me.

I look at them — thin and measly like their produce. These children are too young to be relegated to the back roads already. I try again. “But no one can see you here.”

He shrugs. “You did.”

I sigh and dig in my bag, searching for something besides money with which to save these children. I scoop out the requisite old lady butterscotch candies and Dr. Katz’s business card. I dump the candies on the table but I finger the card.

I look at the table ripe with soft, mushy tomatoes. I see the big glass windows at Dr. Katz’s office. I see his shiny sports car.

“Dulled reflexes, my behind.” I sweep an arm over the tomatoes. “I’ll take them all.”

The little girl, now sucking on a candy instead of her thumb, nods at me again and smiles.

Madeline Mora-Summonte reads, writes and breathes fiction in all its forms. She blogs about books, reading, writing and… tortoises over at

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