Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

The Smile
L.C. Ricardo

Alice was translucent. Her mother planted the young Alice on the piano bench, commanding her to sit up straight; guided her pallid fingers to perch upon ivory keys. In the corner, snow-sheet curtains billowed.

At the age of sixteen, Alice left home.

She left the polished-wood music room, incensed with lemon Pledge. She moved into the city: a dirty, dazzling, confusing hub full of florescent signs, screeching tires, and greasy smells. They hired her at a piano bar to work night shifts under yellow-smoke lighting, where the blue collars stumbled in for beers and a reprieve. There, she touched the keys instinctively.

#

Alice wanted to go through the looking glass. She wanted to capture her reflection, maybe. Make it tell her its secrets.

#

One Saturday evening, Alice stepped out onto the sidewalk, stamping in the March air. She wore a retro-orange scarf that clashed with her pink complexion. Her milk-yellow hair, still cut straight-edged like when she was little, stopped abruptly below her shoulder blades.

A young woman leaned against the wall next to the door, smoking a slim cigarette. She wore a cropped leather jacket and several piercings: nose, ears, mouth, brow. She had clipped, spiked hair, her mouth the color of crushed blueberries.

Alice didn’t know she was staring, but when the young woman grinned at her—a wide, white grin—she thought it full of fine bone piano keys.

Alice jerked away into the grimy night.

She stalked home, leapt the stairs to her third storey apartment, all cracked lamps and yellowed walls. She leaned, panting, against the locked door for several minutes, before moving away to put on the tea.

Alice didn’t see her again for several days. But next Thursday, after switching shifts with the Indian exchange-student, she saw the grinning girl, glinting with cold, gunmetal jewelry. Alice tensed so that a drunk, pushing by, knocked her off balance. When Alice steadied and searched again, the woman had gone.

#

Alice asked her reflection to let her in. She wanted to know how that piece of her got trapped and how to get it out again.

#

Saturday, Alice finished a show tune; threw back a cool glass of water (no ice); waded through the hum of applause. She flexed her fingers over the piano keys. Her blue-cold gaze hovered over the room.

The grinning woman was there. This time Alice did not take her eyes from her.

Alice closed the piano lid. Stood and walked off the platform moping in the shadows.

The grinning woman beckoned. She trailed through jutting elbows and shelved shoulders. Walked out the door. Alice followed and found her, leaning on the smog-smudged building near the door as on the first night, lighting a cigarette.

The woman blew one long stream of smoke from between the keys of her smile.

“Who are you?”

“My name’s Kat.”

Alice watched her, glassy-eyed.

“And you?”

“I’m Alice.”

“You lost, Alice?”

“I don’t know. Yes. Maybe.”

Kat studied her cigarette. She passed it to Alice, who put her thumb and forefinger around it and held it level with her eyes. Handed it back.

“You should learn how to be invisible.”

“Teach me how to disappear,” Alice said.

Kat cackled. Pointed. “You think I blend well in a crowd?” Then shrugged and took a final drag. Dropped the butt onto cold-pricked pavement.

Applause ripped from inside. Mournful notes floated. A ballad.

Alice started and looked down at her fingers. Only to find that they did not graze over clicking keys.

Kat touched Alice’s pale, thin wrist. Her nails were short, clean, painted deep purple. “It’s not you. It doesn’t have to be you. It’s never been you. . . .”

Then she said, “I run into a lot of travelers here.”

“Point me in the right direction.”

“What do you like? I mean you, really, and nobody else?”

For a long time, Alice thought. “I like tea.”

Kat pushed off the wall and squared her shoulders. Alice thought she might find her way on a new-moon night by that smile.

“That’s a start.”


L.C. Ricardo is a mother and aspiring writer living in Florida. She has published poems and articles in The Sandhill Review, Mirror Dance, Bolts of Silk, Enchanted Conversation, and Poppy Road Review and is forthcoming in Goblin Fruit. She has received an honorable mention for the 2013 Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction Short Stories category for her short story “The Debt,” which has been published in digital format here, with hard copy publication soon to follow.