by Paula Eglevsky
Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith.
Moya Tetushka’s house had a parlor that was always cold. The curtains rustled and the shadows in the room changed from dark to darker throughout the day. There were odds and ends in it; mismatched furniture, peacock feathers, and plastic ferns that seemed alive. The family used the parlor for special occasions like birthdays, when they stood around cakes made of carrots, or holidays, when napkins were folded into tulips. Fanny remembered being at her aunt’s house during Easter. She didn’t mind the curtains moving on their own, or how the rug had tea stains. Auntie Moya kept caramels in the parlor and Fanny ate them, kneeling on a sofa that looked like a chair mushed into a bed.
“That’s an antique.” Moya Tetushka leaned on her cane. “It’s special.”
“You do?” Auntie Moya asked.
“He told me,” the girl said.
The back of the sofa curved like the old woman’s spine; it was a divan of thick wood and velvet cushions, and tucked into the corner by a window. The cushions were made of grape and gold patches. The patterns changed, depending on how the girl’s hands moved over them. She played with the fabric like bubbles in a bath, swirling her palm one way and then the other, making the squares bright or the velvet dull. Fanny saw Auntie Moya watching her with sharp eyes.
“Did you open up the window?” she asked.
Fanny shook her head, wiping her mouth with the sleeve of her smock.
“I see you found the caramels.”
Fanny looked outside, pretending the wrappers weren’t pocking the face of the floor. She was a guest and knew she shouldn’t be rude to her aunt, but couldn’t help it. The family had gone to her house after mass. He was sitting on the divan and rose when Fanny walked into the room.
“Was he a ghost?” Fanny asked.
“Did he say he was?” Auntie Moya replied.
“He looked like one.”
Moya Tetushka tapped her cane, waiting for Fanny to pick up the wrappers.
“Caramels are the same color as camels,” Fanny said.
“You’re a perceptive girl.”
Fanny snatched the candy wrappers off the floor and handed them to her aunt, leaning back on the sofa as quick as a flick to an ear.
Moya Tetushka crushed the wrappers in her hand before putting them into her pocket. “He wasn’t a ghost. He was kindness.”
“Truly. My aunt was throwing out the divan. It was in front of her house and I saw him near it,” she explained. “He asked if he could sit down and I told him, yes. He could, because it looked like he needed to rest. Do you know what kindness means?”
“It means to be nice. People see it in actions, but I saw it as a person.”
The wind blew, pushing the window open a little more, and taking her aunt’s voice with it. No one Fanny’s age liked to talk to Auntie Moya because she spoke funny and her face squished when she smiled, showing teeth like bananas baked in bread.
After a moment Moya Tetushka said, “He was helping two men repair a window. I saw them: one had a tattoo and the other wore a locket. The man said it was a tawiz and it contained a proverb.” Moya wobbled and sat down in a chair. “My aunt let me keep the divan and I’d find the man sitting on it. Or, if I missed his visit, I’d know he’d been there because he left an indent in the fabric.”
Fanny’s hands moved over the patches on the couch. “But he wasn’t real.”
“Did I say he wasn’t?”
Auntie Moya’s skin was as crinkly as the candies’ wrappers and Fanny didn’t know how to talk to a person with so many wrinkles. “He left like a ghost.”
“He evaporated like a cloud,” the old woman said.
The girl looked down, listening to forks clink on plates in distant rooms. Children were supposed to be respectful, but it was hard for Fanny. The man said the young didn’t like to be in the company of the old, or was it the other way around: the old didn’t like to be in the company of the young.
“Kindness became a man. Isn’t that glorious?” Moya Tetushka asked, trying to get up from the chair with her cane. “Being around people transformed him, like water in the sky when it becomes a cloud for us to see. He needed to rest before going back into the world. The divan will be yours one day,” she said, pointing the cane at the girl. “You’re probably wondering what else you will get and I will tell you: a story.”
“Tha’s it?” Fanny would rather the candy dish with caramels in it.
“Help me up.” Moya Tetushka held out her hand to the girl, who didn’t move on the divan. “Life is made up of stories. Don’t you like mine?”
Fanny wasn’t sure, but she knew he was kind and Auntie Moya was being kind. She believed she had to be kind, too, and she tried very hard. She took her aunt’s hand and helped her up from the chair. Then the old woman nudged her with the cane, which poked the back of her legs and Fanny jumped. “Ouch!”
“Remember this,” Auntie Moya said.
Eventually Fanny inherited the divan, but she never saw the man. Occasionally, she noticed the sofa’s fabric change, as if someone had been sitting there a moment before. Sometimes the velvet felt stiff, if she was in a certain mood; she didn’t like to sit on the furniture then because it prickled her skin. She waited until her temper cooled, and when it did, the fabric felt soft like melted caramels and the seat welcomed her again. Fanny forgot about Moya Tetushka’s story, until one Easter when her niece asked about the nice man sitting on the couch.
Paula Eglevsky lives in New York, where she runs, writes, and wishes she was better at playing the cello. Her book of poetry, Ladder of Starlight, explores nature, relationships, and the language arts. She earned her MFA degree from Southampton College, Long Island University.