Pearl's back scratched against the red brick, as her arms wrapped around her bony shins, searching for warmth that simply wasn't there. What looked to be a pair of snowflakes drifting to the pavement appeared a few feet in front of her, and in an act of acknowledgement and fear, her head bumped against the rusting trashcan at her right. Another winter in Second Chance, the optimistic, albeit misleading name of the town across the lake from Carlsville, built under the guise of a place for the poor to go and find cheap housing so that they could get back on their feet. Unfortunately, the cheap housing is where the help stopped. It wasn't cheap housing they needed, it was help understanding how to change a lifestyle that had been in their family for generations, a void that the liquor stores and street hustlers were more than happy to fill. So it was that in these slums they got stuck, and when they couldn't pay for their kids to eat anymore, their kids ended up shivering in the long alleys that separated one dilapidated apartment development from the next, and separated Second Chance from the rest of the world.
The previous winter was Pearl's first in the alleys of Second Chance. She didn't know if she could live through one more. She knew where the good spots were, the doorways and bridge hollows that kept out most of the wind, but she also knew that she wasn't strong enough to fight off the others who would already have them claimed, or who would attack her to get her out of them. So, once again she would be left huddling next to garbage cans, wrapped in newspaper, and trying to ignore the double-edged invitations from middle aged men in windows, with cheap wine in their left hands and come-on-over beckons with their right. She, luckily, hadn't succumbed to the temptation of four walls and a roof the last year, mostly because she saw the vacant expressions of the girls who had too often, but didn't know how lucky she'd be this year.
She lifted her head and banged it against the garbage as her eyes filled with tears and her chin fought to keep still. Pearl opened her eyes and looked across Lake Jackson at the lights of Carlsville. It was only a lake away, but might as well have been an ocean. It was no secret around Second Chance how the people in Carlsville lived. They ate everyday, had work, had fun and even threw parties when their kids got to be a year older. Pearl fixated on that last one until her parents threw her out, she thought of the first more often now. Sometimes she'd allow herself a daydream, of what it might be like to live in Carlsville, but at the end of it she often felt worse, so she kept those daydreams in reserve for when she couldn't feel worse.
Pearl was on the verge of allowing herself just such a daydream when she heard a noise coming from the street. Peeking her head around the metal box, she saw a bit of newspaper, carried on the breeze toward her. The alleys of Second Chance were significant in length, so it took the flying parchment a good deal of time to make it to her, but as it passed her face, she saw that one of the edges had been singed. Confused, she watched it for a bit longer, then whipped her face back toward the street when she heard the soft patter of someone running her way.
I had the idea for this story several years ago, but just haven't been able to find a beginning to it that I liked. The first scene has always been in my mind, but whenever I go to write it, I can never get the exact effect that I want. This is probably the closest I've come. I'll finish the other half of the scene tomorrow... or the next day. Let me know if you have a preference, either in the comments or on facebook.