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It was a night to celebrate the full bloom of Spring.

I came home enlivened, sweat matting my root-wild hair,
greasepaint staining green my earth-dull skin.
I had been a Pannish Puck on that mid-summer's night, triumphant,
reveling in hard-won adolescence on a whimsy-pocked stage.
An actor at one with his role.

When my parents met me at the door and reminded me
of another kind of script,
I knew before any words could form.
But I let them say it, all the same.

Except, they couldn't put it into words.
Only into the silence.

"Your sister…"
has died. And all the greasepaint is rendered ridiculous in the stark light.
And all the green drains away.

There was nothing to say,
so we exchanged the nothingness of clichés.
And we hugged like so many clichés might.
And I went up stairs to my room, still stage struck and stammering.

A photograph lay on my desk. A slice of a once living thing
so thin and fragile. Caught between dimensions.
Frozen in time, yet tactile, unlike the wispy essence of real life.
Something to hold on to.
All that was left.

I tried to cry
like I had when she had nearly died so many times during the winter.
I tried to cry
like I had when praying for a miracle…

But I was dry, suddenly withered and weary.
Thirsting for spring.

Then, in the gloss of the wrinkled photograph,
the smudged make-up and garlanded hair of my former character
reflected like a ghost around the edges of the quiet image.
And I smiled
and the image on the photo smiled
and we laughed through our tears, the one and all of us.
Tears, warm and gentle as rain.

Springtide © 1998 by Tobin James Mueller
"Ash" published by ArtsForge Press.
All rights reserved.