Honorable Mention 2015
I pause by the spinning wheel. Three faces look back at me, three grins with only one tooth. Along with other things, they’re weaving my new suit, and though they have but one eye between them, I know my future’s in good hands. I take a moment to smile at the one who can see. She cackles and says, “See you soon.”
Outside the whole world waits.
Soon I meet a girl whose smile rivals the cherry blossoms in May. She carries a closed umbrella, dropping petals as she walks barefoot on the grass. Her dove-white dress flows behind her, swept by an unseen zephyr. As usual, rain’s falling from nowhere onto her, but she doesn’t seem to mind. The raindrops speckle her bare shoulders like gemstones. A monarch butterfly perches on her collarbone. I tip my hat as I proceed, and the corners of her mouth tip upward like a flower bud opening. But we don’t speak.
Several minutes later (or days or weeks or months), I pass a girl whose smile flashes like lightning. Her eyes gleam like August stars, and as way of greeting, she throws out her arms in a gesture of freedom. She wears a short sky-blue dress like an afterthought and a ring of sunlight for a halo. Hot desert squalls parch the air around her.
“Nice to see you,” I tell her, as I always do. She laughs, loud and daring.
“Come again,” she returns. Her voice is honeyed, but it drips with golden venom. A wasp circles round her ankles before flying off. With a cry she chases after it and is gone in a matter of seconds.
Subsequently there comes a young man whose smile is nonchalant as the drift of wind across browning grass. This year, his eyes are the color of dying autumn leaves. His cultured black suit jacket looks perpetually out of place over his orange T-shirt, while his gray scarf floats after him like campfire smoke. Beside him the leaves cling to branches, holding on so tight their fingers turn red. We nod to each other. Both of us have business with humans tonight.
Sometime afterward, an arctic gale betokens the presence of a girl whose smile is frozen in place. The alabaster slip she wears pools round her feet. She makes no sound as she glides over the snow-covered earth; her breath makes no clouds when she exhales. Behind her, ivy freezes starkly against the fence, its darkened hearts curling like dragon prints. Her irises are glacier blue, and they stare blankly ahead until I touch her shoulder to turn her toward me. Her smile melts just for me.
We walk for a while in silence, leaving no marks in the snow behind us. But then she wordlessly bids me goodbye and disappears into a storm. Many poets have wondered how long she’ll stay. Only time will tell.
On the sidewalk, a snowshoe hare peeks out of the bushes, but disappears when a black hound comes bounding up. Leaping to my side, the dog dances back and forth, trying to shake off the cold. Its thick coal-black fur is brushed with winter.
“Let’s go,” I say to it, and it licks my hand before racing off. I follow it to a dilapidated Victorian house on the corner of another street. Crackling leaves die under our feet as we cross the porch. The door swings open on creaking hinges and the dog dashes inside. The walls were once a bright jade green, but now they’re faded glaucous. Dust motes float through the air. Picture frames hang on the wall, housing curling photographs of people I’ve seen and will see again.
Upstairs means a narrow hallway with one bedroom at the end. The door’s paint flakes off at my touch. Meanwhile, the black dog has disappeared. He’ll come back if needed.
In the bed lies an old man. Sleeping. His face is carved with lines and painted with liver spots. A snow-white cloud of hair crowns the back of his head. The moth-eaten blanket covers him up to his chin, but when I enter it slides off as he sits up. His eyes fail to see who I am, and he blinks at me in infirm confusion.
“Come,” I say to him.
“Are you an angel?” he asks in an unsteady voice, and I shake my head no.
For a moment I see myself in him. And he sees it, too. Because he blinks for the second time, and his eyes focus like a Polaroid camera.
He rises painstakingly, taking my hand with the arm of a grandfather clock. His fingers are bony and cold, and I can tell he and Winter are close acquaintances. The light coming in through the window lights up his face like the sun warming the Earth, but unlike the flowers, he is slow to respond. I smile at him patiently and lead him out the door. I guide him down the stairs, step by step, pausing to let him examine the yellowed photos on the wall. If things go right, he will see them again, perhaps in a different way than expected. But I give this small pleasure to him for now.
The wind sweeps rounds as we move outside. The two of us go back the way I came, down the sidewalk and by bare branches, past the leaves and over jade grass. He takes it all in, surprised like a newborn babe. His heart might be pounding in excitement if it hadn’t stopped a hundred steps before.
As we continue down the path, we meet everyone again. Winter unlocks her smile for him. Autumn uncovers a deep, deep bow. Summer promises him the sun, with a mischievous light in her eyes. Finally, Spring gives him a kiss on the cheek.
At first, the old man smiles at them. And then he laughs, because he remembers. He remembers all of it, including me. Time has caught up with him at last