Excerpts

At the Arts Fest (continued)

Her stand was right beside the chocolates, and everybody seemed to be in a state of hypnosis from the scent of the delicious cocoa and caramel and truffle. While the line for Lake Champlain Chocolates looked to be a mile long in the exaggerative eyes of a kid, I didn’t see anybody walking away holding little golden frames. Sure, in between debating which box of chocolates to buy a patron might have caught a glimpse of pressed azalea leaves and mountain laurel, but the cash in hand went toward the scent that had them so transfixed: chocolate.

Mom had just finished picking out her English Toffee; me, a milk chocolate bar. That was when I tugged at the bottom of her silk cranberry blouse.

“Can we see?” I asked, using the hand that wasn’t holding my beloved chocolate bar to point at the artist. She saw me and smiled softly.

“Don’t point, Monica,” Mom said in that tone all children knew too well. Every kid had been told not to point at least once in life. I brought my outstretched hand toward my lip and bit my nail, as if trying to pass off the act, while Mom paid for our treats.

“I like her flowers,” I said. It was as simple as that. Once the chocolates were rightfully ours, we strolled over to check out the pressed florals.

She had rose petals, heather, golden leaves (more flowers than a kid could name, for sure) all flat and pressed into tiny frames like photographs. Living creatures only meant to exist for small periods of time in one particular season, frozen permanently between glass and cardboard. Sheets of white paper—it almost looked like tissue paper, because it sparkled in the sun—sat between the flower petals and their respective pieces of cardboard, so that all the eye saw was a brilliant display of intricate gold bordering all things floral against a twinkling backdrop.

It was probably the first time I’d truly been mesmerized. And yet I overheard the woman say to Mom: “You’d think whoever organized this would have known not to put the flowers next to the chocolate.”

“I’m sorry?” Mom blew a particularly wild curl out from in front of her face. It must have been a family trait.

The artist laughed gently. “I knew the moment I saw where they put me it would be a true test… People sure do love chocolate.”

Mom instinctively shuffled her arms, as if ashamed of giving in to the temptation herself.

“And there isn’t anything wrong with that!” The woman added. “It’s just good my flowers are pressed. If I were selling bouquets, I’d have no chance. Those are all about the scent.”

“Do you do arts fests often?” Mom asked.

The woman shook her head. “This is my first one. To be honest, it was mostly a beta test to see if I could do it. To see if I wanted to do it.”

“And?”

“Well, it’s fun when I see that one of my pieces has caught the wandering eye of a passerby, or seeing peoples’ faces light up when they pick one up. It’s exhilarating.” For a moment, I thought I saw in her eye what only the mind of a child could accurately describe as greed. But it wasn’t greed for money; it was greed for attention. Not for her, but for her art. “But it’s harder than you think, you know, to watch that same person put it down.”

Although there was an air of sadness in the words the woman had just spoken, the soft smile still sat on her lips. Part of me had been listening to the woman. Another part of me had become transfixed by a new source of hypnosis: several strands of magnificent violet lavender fanned out from a tight collection of thin stems. The paper behind it seemed to twinkle brighter than any of the others. I picked up the little frame and held it in my hands, my chocolate bar nearly sliding out from between my arm and my coat. Very quickly, I knew that this little golden frame was meant to be mine. 

That’s how I remembered most things being as a kid. The most random, ordinary coincidences felt like fate. Maybe it was silly. Or maybe it was the magic that adults someday discovered they lacked, that kept them from finding brilliance in the mundane.

I walked back over to Mom and tugged again at the silky fabric of her shirt.

“What did you find, Mon?” This time, her tone was the other one every kid knew, the one that had love for the finder but wasn’t sure what they were about to keep.

I held up the frame to her.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. I could tell she meant it, and I could see the artist’s smile grow.

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