young girl playing, stacking cards. She stacked them with
great care, flipping each one over and then placing it directly atop the
pile. Sometimes she would gaze into the face of the card for several moments
before reaching for another card. When she ran out of cards, she would start
again, without shuffling, going through the exact same sequence and motions.
I watched her for three hours, until I got bored and decided to leave. She
hardly glanced at me as I stood up and walked away. I could see her in the
mirror just before I closed the door and left the room. She was still
stacking cards. She had outlasted me, and I entered the outside world deeply
disturbed by her.
All around me there were people in motion. Everyone seemed to be doing
something different. One woman was diving into the river, fully clothed. A
child was tossing a shoe into a tree. A group of men were doing somersaults
on the grass near the temple. I thought about the young girl in the room,
and I couldn't understand why she wasn't outside, participating in this
great wide world of activity. How could she sit there for hours and hours,
doing the same thing over and over again? I climbed the rocks that were
piled against the side of my house and hoisted myself up to the rooftop, and
I looked out over the land, trying to find an answer in the sky, in the
clouds and trees, in the life so evident all around me. I watched the
doorway, expecting the girl to emerge.
After a while, after some time had passed and she hadn't emerged, I decided
to climb back down to the ground and to reenter the room. As I was reaching
for the door, a man came running up to me. He grabbed my hand and started
gesturing with his other hand. I couldn't understand what he was trying to
communicate to me, so I yelled at him. I shouted for him to just speak, to
just tell me what it was he was trying to say. But he just continued to
gesture wildly, and then he released my hand and ran off into the distance.
He vanished behind a tree, and I shrugged and entered the room again.
The girl was still there, still stacking cards. Nothing at all had changed.
Still frustrated from my strange experience with the gesturing man, I ran up
to the girl and kicked the cards aside. I lifted her up and shouted in her
face, telling her to stop wasting her time. She looked at me with a blank
expression, so I held her under my arm and ran outside with her.
But as soon as I stepped out of the door, I was stunned to see that
everything had changed. The woman diving into the river was gone. The child
by the tree was gone. No one was doing somersaults by the temple. In fact,
no one at all was about. All the people had gone. Everything was quiet. The
world itself had changed. The river had been vibrant, so full of life, and
now it was stagnant. The pile of rocks I had climbed had collapsed. The
trees had lost their leaves. The sky and the clouds were brighter, and the
air was hot and filled with choking dust. The sun itself seemed to have
expanded. It had a blue tinge to it. It was oppressive, a great eye peering
into the shadows, exposing everything that once was hidden and secure.
The young girl was struggling in my grasp, and I set her down on the ground.
My attention was consumed by what I saw around me; I had no more time to
think about the girl. I forgot her existence for a moment, and when I
remembered her, she was nowhere to be found. She had vanished.
I crouched on the ground, holding my arms up to block the sunlight from my
eyes. I felt my eyes fill with tears. I crawled towards the door of the
room, my heart broken. Everything had been destroyed. My beautiful world was
lost. I reached up to grasp the handle of the door, and this time there was
no gesturing man to stop me. If only I had heeded him. If only I had taken
the time to understand his gestures.
I entered the room. It was the same, except that the young girl was gone. I
crawled across the floor and collected the cards I had earlier scattered
about with my feet. It seemed so long ago. I collected the cards into a pile
and turned them over one by one. I found myself absorbed by the numbers and
the symbols. The jacks and queens seemed to speak to me. I could gaze at
them for hours. I turned them over one by one. When I reached the end, I
felt a great sadness. I turned them over and started again. After so much
disappointment, I once again felt fulfilled.
I stacked the cards. I keep stacking the cards.
Scott J. Ecksel lives in Washington, D.C., where he writes fiction and
poetry and spends his spare time watching the Sloth Bears at the National
Zoo. Currently, he is working on a novel for young adults.
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story copyright by author 2002 all rights reserved