Wind crashed through the tall thin streets of Perpignan. The cobblestones creaked in agony and the wooden and brick buildings swayed dangerously as the sun tried in vain to peek through the choking iron clouds. The ocean burst and broke, sobbing, against the buildings in the small town and the people avoided each other’s eyes as they went about their business.
Ravens cawed and soared through and above the winding alleys. Somewhere within the town a woman was screaming. No one paid attention.
But in the fields of Guernèmot, Eggletina was trying to learn how to smile.
She sat alone on the red field, blinking away the mist that swarmed around her, hands under her chin, fingers around her teeth, to learn how to smile.
Eggletina was blind and saw only flashing red dots as her vision, in an awful taunting replica of the lights that blinded her on that terrible night years ago. Though she could see nothing around her, Eggletina could hear from the foghorn in Perpignan to the blink of the ladybug in the red field in which she sat.
She could hear her heartbeat thundering through her ears and the call of the sparrows a thousand feet above her. Eggletina could hear all the things she could not see.
Again she took a breath and pulled at her lips to make a smile.
She did not know what a smile should look like.
Eggletina sighed, knowing that she had failed. She pulled herself up and crunched across the red earth field back toward Perpignan with a ladybug in her hair and crickets in her hand.
The red fields of Guernèmot had seen too many young men die and too many young mothers weep. And now it held Eggletina in the palm of its hand, holding its breath, trying to protect her from any harm, as much as it could.
She had a trail of flowers accidentally through her tangled gold-tinted hair and the chill flushed her cheeks and drew her breath and she was a blushing, glowing pretty, as she hiked up the hill toward Perpignan, staff in hand.
Left, right, three steps, twenty, then left, take the circle, three steps forward and knock. It was her house, the Thistle House. She shared it with her sister Mneme, who was tall and darkly beautiful and had never learned how to love a blind sister.
Eggletina loved Mneme with fearless and bittersweet love, and tried to reconcile Mneme’s hate and hurt as best she could.
Perhaps if I were not blind…
She knocked. She could smell the Purple Heart thistles from the blooming window box in her bedroom above her. The gunpowder, still leftover from the Great War, stung her nostrils and she took a small breath.
Mneme opened the door and said, “In.”
“I told you not to go outside today, Egg.”
There was silence. Eggletina sat down at the worn wooden table and took a boiled egg from the copper bowl in the center. She started to peel it away, crunching the shell with her fingernails. She could hear music coming from somewhere in the house.
She took a deep breath. “I want to learn how to smile.”
Mneme scoffed. “Sure.”
“No, really. I don’t know how, I’ve never seen anyone do it.”
Perhaps if I were not blind…
She heard her sister turn away and begin to walk upstairs. The thin house echoed with the heavy painful steps. The house heard Mneme’s beating, hurting, aching heart. It held the two sisters to its breast and wept great tears over them, and they did not know it.
The house had loved the girls’ family since they had come, early before the Great War. The house loved them now and mourned the dead souls of the father and mother and the two brothers who had died—along with Eggletina’s sight—in the War.
Their house was tall and thin, with three floors and few windows. The rushing of the sea could be heard outside of their kitchen window and the floors were cold at nights and there was a phonograph in the attic.
Jars upon jars of broken eggshells, boiled, peeled, and crushed, lined all of the rooms and filled the shelves. Glass jars, filled and sealed and inscribed with a date, were there instead of flowers or pretty glass lights or lamps or any sort of decoration. Colorless jars filled with white and brown eggshells.
Usually, their house was a place of tombstone stillness.
Mneme called down the echoing steps. “You will never learn how to smile.”
Eggletina said nothing, but her cold fingers stilled and she slowly slumped from her posture at the table. Quietly she took a jar from the cupboard beside the table and poured the eggshell into it. She screwed the lid on and left the kitchen.
Eggletina went down to the seashore, a few steps from the house. She sat on the sand, her skirt wrapped around as much of her as was possible, thin arms hugging her thin body.
She closed her eyes and leaned against the rough exterior of the house. She sat there, listening to the crashing sea and the grey sky, until she felt the first spray of the incoming tide and grew too cold to stay any longer.
The cold was descending, and with it, the night.
Eggletina sighed and wished that she could see the sunset. It must be golden, she thought, perhaps with rays of red and fiery pink. Perhaps if I were not blind I would look at it so hard it would turn blue and purple…
Perhaps if I were not blind my sister would not hate me…
Perhaps if I were not blind I could paint the walls to look like a forest instead of filling jars with eggshells…
Perhaps if I were not blind I might look up into the sky and see the raindrops…
Perhaps if I were not blind I would know what my sister looks like when she laughs…
Perhaps if I were not blind my sister would smile…
Perhaps if I were not blind I would smile…
Perhaps if I were not blind…
The tangle-haired girl who could not see and who spent her days peeling boiled eggs and sealing glass jars with crushed eggshell sat by the ocean and listened to her heartbeat. She listened to the ocean and the gulls weeping and the thistles waltzing in the breeze.
Eggletina tried not to cry and she tried to smile.
But she could not.