105. Runaway

HARRY SEES THEM ALMOST every day, sitting by the entrance to the train station, or hanging out in groups of two or three in the park near his apartment, or diving into the dumpsters behind his local supermarket in the early evening. He mentions it to his wife. Have you noticed how many homeless teens there are in the neighborhood? She hasn't. Harry leaves food for them, slipping bread into their hats, leaving fresh fruit on top of the dumpsters near his townhouse, buying two coffees at the café and leaving one of them beside what appears to be a boy who has taken to sleeping in the entranceway of a vacant storefront. He does this several times until, one morning, dropping off the boy's coffee, Mark discovers the coffee from the previous morning is still beside the boy's body, half drunk. He puts his hand to the boy's face but there is no breath. The body is cold. He studies the face - it's not a boy's face, but a girl's, no more than fourteen. Overcome by an inexplicable grief, he calls the police. A car arrives in minutes. In the following days and weeks Harry can't get the memory of the runaway out of his head. He calls the officer repeatedly for news of the girl's fate. He is told the autopsy doesn't indicate suspicious cause of death. Her identity is unknown and she is listed on no missing person's register. He asks what will happen to the body and is told that after thirty days the county will organise to cremate the runaway's body. Harry seeks permission to bury the girl at his own expense but, as he has no connection to the girl, it is denied, and her ashes remain the property of the county for twelve months in the event a relative or friend claims them. After twelve months, Harry submits a request to take possession of the ashes, which one again is denied. Instead, the girl's remains are disposed of in a county storage facility, according to county bylaw.