Lew blinked her eyes, closed one, then swept over her eyelid and up past the crease to the space beneath her browbone. Resting her hand on the vanity, she leaned toward a little mirror and set the makeup brush aside. Then she squinted and smiled at her image, at her two closest friends prancing about their room behind it, and at the glint of sunset glare coming through the window. Lew turned to meet the light and received it harshly, directly, thus knocking the mirror from the table with her elbow.
Bridget and Bonnie hopped away from the broken glass.
“You oaf. Halfwit.”
“Ding-dong,” came the twins.
Rolling her eyes in jest, Lew reached to finger the tear above Bridget’s hemline. “Says one with a rip in her skirt.”
A sudden wind buffeted at the window. It did nothing to interrupt the warmth inside. Bridget opened her drawer for a needle and thread as Bonnie knelt to the ground alongside Lew to clear the mess. Light shifted in the room and made prisms of the broken glass. Soon the doorbell rang.
Bonnie looked up. Bridget finished her mending.
“It must be for us. Ready?”
The twins rose, donned their matching hats and mittens, and descended the stairs to answer the door. Lew hung back to toss the glass and watched it twinkle into the trash bin. Then she met the others downstairs before an empty doorway.
“Ding-dong ditch?” she asked the air. Pulling her coat from the rack, Lew stepped out as the twins surveyed the porch, shrugged in affirmation, and then set off to visit the town fair.
Light bled blue down the sky from a failing sun. The girls walked, in what light that remained, up the dirt road into town. Bridget whistled a tune, Bonnie kicked a rock through the leaves, and Lew pulled a pear from a passing tree. Through the brush that lined the road, fireflies pricked the darkness in an abundance that Lew had never seen. She smiled and slowed at the sight of the flickering, then waved to her friends to show them the light. They gathered behind her and watched from over her shoulders.
Their breath hung like fog in the air, and the sun set fully in surrender to the evening cold. The flies shone together, as though in perfect balance, pulsing their light in slow cadence to make one with the rhythm of the trees. The wind blew with the light’s undulation, and the girls breathed in step; as the yawning luminescence became shallow and slow, so too did the air fail forward into breathlessness. Without, all tended toward stillness, yet within, Lew felt a sudden and small unrest that grew as the brightness ran out. She sensed a twitching and heard a faint and feeble bleating through the leaves, but her friends, transfixed, didn’t notice. With breath toward holding, Lew stepped forward in the last of the light when came a violent shake in the brush, with a tearing sound, and a blinding surge in the glow that then dampened and diminished into nothing.
The twins leaped back, sniffling. “Small town. Big woods.”
“Big country,” said Lew, as she stared in the dark for a moment both instant and eternal. Then she turned toward a spectacle too sudden and big for her vision.
Running reds and blues. Horns, whistles, and blaring bells. An imposing aroma of burning leaves and meat aflame. Out of nowhere…came the fair. Children gasping in amusement at goats, rabbits, and horses. Adolescents proving their worth in silly games of chance, making raucous, holding hands, and older townsfolk resting and relating to one another in good spirit. There were drinks being shared, sights being seen, and contests being had. The attractions circled a handsome fire where Lew stood. She peeled off her gloves and put them in her pocket.
“Here, taste,” said Bonnie, handing Lew a lemon cake.
“Sugar, sugar,” said Bridget all squinty.
“And spice.” Bonnie stuck her tongue out and scooted toward a cider stand.
Rubbing her eyes as if in waking, Lew bit the sweet. Frosted, it sparkled like glass and tasted as a star should. She let a taste be enough. She gathered her wits.
The fair was less a circle than a horseshoe. Tracing the shape to the toe from the fair’s peripheries, Lew recognized every side stall and snack stand. Lew knew all the people. Yet as her vision converged upon the apex, she found an unfamiliar tent beyond the bonfire. Shabby, lopsided, unlit, and unattended. She struggled to read the curious script scrawled over the entry slit that wafted with the littlest wind. In its mirage, the fire bowed and bent the words, and in a modest updraft, it rose to obscure the line of Lew’s vision completely.
Lew lowered her eyes to the flames. You flicker…conspicuously, she thought, as she tilted her head and breathed in, threatening to take the fire’s air away. The flames shuddered and seemed to feel seen, then diminished obediently. The fairgoers standing nearby quivered in a moment of cold, and Lew saw—
“Mirrors, for tricksters like you,” came a voice smooth with age.
Lew turned and looked up into swallowing eyes, open and wet like water wells, or deep space. Like both eyes the same place. Like two that were one.
“Shoo, Wite,” said Bonnie, returning with three ciders spilling into and out of one another. “Don’t bother us.”
The man to whom she spoke, Mr. Wite, was a town fixture and curiosity most only knew from afar. When they were young, the girls had indeed made him the object of their tricks. They’d sneak through his yard, and he’d chase them from his garden.
“I should say the same to this one,” said Mr. Wite, with his lanky index extended toward Lew.
Lew moved out of the looming, loose-limbed shadow he cast upon her and observed him in the light. His hair was unkempt, his face was unshaven, and old stains of earth and green peppered his pants and sleeves. Yet there was elegance in his disarray. He was an honest and modest mess. He was shaking. Lew followed his finger to her chest.
“Strange hours you keep,” said Mr. Wite, finding his feet to square toward Lew. “Sneaking through my lawn. Though now you mind the garden. I see you—you know that I do—I see you from the windows.”
Bridget cut between them. “Hey, who’s bothering whom here? Lew, let’s—”
Lew waved her friend aside and spoke with persuasive calm. “I’m okay. I’d like to hear him.”
Mr. Wite wondered at the antagonism in her willingness to listen. His shadow shrank as if in shame.
“What do you want, just to bother me? Sneaking around and then ringing my doorbell to run? You in your red coat, with your hair up—running when I come to answer or try to speak.”
His speech failed him then, though he’d had more to say. Lew tried exchanging words without speaking them, but Wite couldn’t hear with his eyes. He backed away with bitter misunderstanding.
“Lew in a red coat?”
“With her hair up?”
“Stop ringing my doorbell,” he spat, and was gone.
Yet gone by no usual means. Without fear or surprise, Wite folded down and then into the ground as if swallowed by his sorry little shadow. Genuflection. His body creased with the compliance of a sheet, swelled in the wind like some diaphanous drapery, then crumpled to the dirt as water would. The spot he left was wet. The sound he left was ringing. Lew turned away, as though from something intimate.
by Diana K. Malek
... The locals called the pond The Oasis although / It didn’t live up to the name ...
by Mark Goodwin
... there among the blue / fragments of a planet’s shell // you saw a god ...