There was a girl. She sat at a white desk in a white room with her hands folded neatly in her lap.
Peter stood before her with his pockets turned out.
“I don’t have anything to give you,” he said. He spoke very quietly. Shame does that.
She didn’t move, but he thought she shook her head.
“I don’t need anything like that,” she told him. “I do not desire your buttons or baubles, although I am sure that they are quite lovely.”
He thought she smiled, but she did not actually do that, either.
“I don’t understand,” he confessed. He shifted from foot to foot. She really did smile then, but only in her eyes. He bit his lip and continued. “I thought…that you wanted something from me. In exchange for your help.”
“Oh, but I do.” Her skin was white, and her hair even whiter, but only just. When she smiled—if she smiled—her lips were disconcertingly red. The rest of the time they were only the palest of pink. He had the impression that something parasitic sucked the breath from those lips while she slept, but what could he do about it?
“Please tell me what you desire.”
“I want to be happy.”
“Then I will help you.”
She pulled a ceramic jar out of nowhere. It was the color of sky and looked cool to the touch. He flexed his fingers.
“This is the Container of Sorrows, Peter. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” He didn’t.
Her lips barely twitched but it was as if the snow melted and he tasted spring.
“This is how you will be happy. Tell me one of your sorrows. I will keep it here for you, and the burden from that particular sorrow will be no more.”
He felt stupid and stared at his shoes. They had holes in the toes.
“Do you…not wish happiness?”
Her voice was strangely brittle, as if she were trying not to cry. He was hurting her somehow, he decided, but that didn’t make any sense. He took a deep breath.
“I miss my mother,” he said, and the words fell from his mouth like vapor. The girl opened the jar, and the mist zipped inside. She closed the lid with a satisfying click.
“There,” she said, and her smile was real this time, genuine. “Don’t you feel better?”
He thought about his mother. Her warm brown hair, the apron that she used when she baked cupcakes. He thought about her more aggressively. The police telling his father that they had discovered a broken body. The funeral in a town without rain.
“I don’t feel sad,” he said in wonder, and the girl looked pleased. She kissed him, and he woke up.
Peter’s lips burned where she had touched him, and he kept his fingers pressed there for most of the day. When the boys razzed him about his poorly trimmed hair, he didn’t mind so much. When they taunted him about his mother being a whore who got what was coming to her, he was surprised to find that he didn’t care at all. He ate dinner silently and changed into his worn pajamas without being asked. He brushed his teeth and climbed into bed with an eagerness that would have been pitifully endearing if anyone had seen it.
Sleep came instantly, and there she was. She was wearing white flowers in her hair.
“Did you have those flowers yesterday?” he asked her.
Her cheeks flushed delicately. “No.”
Peter didn’t know what to say. “I had a better day at school than usual. Thank you.”
The girl again produced the smooth blue container out of thin air. “Tell me another sorrow, Peter. Tomorrow will be even better.”
“I’m tired of being called poor.”
The mist of words spiraled into the Container of Sorrows. He nodded his head once, and she nodded back in a very serious manner.
And thus it went. His sorrows disappeared. “I hate seeing dead birds. I wish that I had a friend. My father doesn’t notice me.”
The jar devoured his sorrows with an agreeable hunger. The pale girl’s lips turned up all of the time and her eyes began to sparkle. Peter grew more confident at school. He stood up straight. He looked people in the eye. He made friends.
He was almost happy.
On the last night that he went to her, something in the air had shifted. The atmosphere was holding its breath, and it was undeniable.
“Hey,” Peter said, leaning casually on the white desk. “There’s only one sorrow that I have left.”
“Only one?” asked the girl with something that sounded exquisitely close to hope. Her eyes shone. Her white hair and pink lips were glossed with fragile expectation. She produced the Container of Sorrows and carefully removed its lid. Peter’s sorrows ghosted around inside, smelling of lavender and brokenness.
“Natalia Bench never looks at me at school.”
The vaporous sorrow swirled from his lips and settled into the jar. The girl’s white fingers didn’t move, so Peter put the lid back on for her.
He smiled. “Now I’ll be brave enough to talk to her tomorrow. Thank you very much, Girl of Sorrows. I am happy.”
The girl held the jar very close, and she looked up at Peter. Her lips were pale, strawberries buried under layers of ice. He was reminded of that feeling that he had once, long ago, where he thought that something supped from her lips at night. How frightened she must be. How alone.
“Goodbye,” he said, and kissed her cheek. Had her touch once burned? She was ice under his skin. She was a corpse. Peter turned and walked away without looking back.
There was a girl. She sat at a white desk in a white room where she wept, clutching a container full of somebody else’s sorrows.
~ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright 2017 Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.