Sharp Nails

by Erika Byrne-Ludwig

Has it ever happened to you to have met someone and not recall who they are? You think of their eyes, hair, mouth, assemble them in a jigsaw to shape a recognisable image, add other pieces, build a place with familiar features, flip through moments in the past. There are subliminal signs, unclear, similar to a bright picture you saw once, now cloudy, unrevealing.

Standing some distance away at the back of the shop, the couple wave at you and smile. In a mechanical gesture you respond. Quickly your wave becomes hesitant, your hand remains suspended, your smile slowly dies as if caught greeting a stranger. Are they really strangers, you wonder. A whisper tells you no. Your eyes stretch far, but it's all a blur in the same way the roller skaters you watched the day before were featureless when they swept past you.

Something is happening now. In an angle of neon light you see the two walk away, turning one last time to look at you with a shrug you happen to perceive. This suddenly stirs you. You recall a tune you had had to put up with: discordant, irritating, lacking of melody and texture. Nick and Pam: your neighbours from long long ago. Perhaps they too had finally put a name to your aged face after going through a process of their own.

The image once cloudy now lets light through and as you recollect more details you begin regretting your smile, like you might question certain kind gesture you've made, or a donation you later found out was unworthy. Such incidents can upset you. The purplish mark on your chin itches again, irritates again: the past hurt apparently still silently oozing. Because you're superstitious you see the encounter as a presage. Their hostile shadows will stand between you and your book, you and your evening lamp.

The fence divider between your mutual properties had always struck you as being too low. Too flimsy and sharp. Let's build a high stone wall, you often said. You never did. Some nails tend to resist the undulations of time.