SPRING 2017 FIRST PLACE
When he looks into the walnut edged mirror, he is forever six years old, trying on his mother’s wedding veil, cherub lips smudged with coral pink. Those still childlike eyes now glassy and tired, hair sweat-soaked and flecked with grey, he does a little twirl, dry lips curling into just the beginning of a smile. Beneath the mirror, he opens the drawer that has always been full of silk scarves. He takes a pure white one, lifts it to his unwashed cheek to test the softness of it then wraps it gently around his neck, as if bandaging a wound. It smells of her, that unrepeatable concoction of lavender, cigarettes, and something powdery and vague with no origin but her. It is that same unknowable essence of home that he looks for in the folds of every little foil packet.
On the wall, a framed prayer. “Jesus loves you,” she writes in her letters. “But do you?” he wonders.
The living room seems angry at his presence. Dust particles in the afternoon light become boulders and he raises two trembling hands in defence. Laceless brogues resting on the coffee table, he fixes himself a little something, just to take the edge off. She’ll be home soon. He buries his face into the flower garden of her sofa, dreams of orchids with vendettas and bad tempers, Venus fly traps big enough to swallow a human head. Dreams within the dream that he wakes with her cool hand pressed to his forehead and her voice—the tone of it, not the words it says—a soft, fragrant balm.
The trill of her keys sounds a warning. He quicksilvers away, barely casting a shadow as he jumps through the open window, landing on his feet, catlike. The white silk scarf is caught by the breeze, uncoiling from around his neck as if she has tried to snatch it back.