And the World Was Crowded With Things That Meant Love

by Amber Sparks

They met only once, at a piano recital in her hometown. Both of them were there for other people’s children. He caught her yawning while a blonde in pigtails murdered The Blue Danube, and they exchanged grins. After drinks and dinner they were delighted to find they shared a hobby: both were sculptors of sorts, though she worked in clay and he worked in wood. Both had jobs that sent them round the world, and it was a way to kill the long, late hours that haunt the solitary traveler.

It was she who started the exchanges, the reminders they sent to one another as they aged in different cities, countries, hemispheres. But that would come later. At first it was the dinner, and the drinks, and the porch outside where her laughing relatives lingered. At first it was her childhood bedroom, the quilt flung to the floor, the way she moved like a dancer and the way she flung her arms about and the way he surprised them both by bursting into years. At first it was finding their faces fit perfectly, a jigsaw. A locket severed and the halves hung round the neck of the world they would cross many times over the years, always looking for one another.

The first piece was a bust, a child’s head and shoulders. The pigtailed pianist. A drawer at the nape of her neck, with a little heart inside. A paper heart, coin-sized and inked in scarlet. He kept it in his pocket until it fell to pieces.

His eventual response: a small wooden copy of den lille havfrue, Andersen’s little mermaid on her rock. But instead of the sea woman’s visage, it was her own features carved into the soft basswood. She wept when she saw how well he remembered her face.

Down the years they sent their strange missives. She sent maps made of clay, locks with no key, books with words cut out, fantastical animals and landscapes. He sent puzzle boxes, lacquered bangles engraved with kanji, bright yellow Dutch clogs. They sent maps of where they’d been and circled where they were going. And the world was crowded with things that meant love.

Once she received a plain cedar box with a wooden knife inside, and she was disappointed for a long time. Not by the dark sentiment, but by the literalism she thought was beneath him.

But then at the Paris Flea Market she found a beautifully carved antique music box. She brought it home and sculpted a little ballerina, lovely and lithe and wearing, of course, her smiling face. She snipped the plastic ballerina out of the box and put her own inside. She wouldn’t dance, but he would recognize a clumsy sort of forgiveness in her.

The gifts continued, from Brussels to Tokyo, from Lodz to Buenos Aires, from Ankara to Johannesburg. Wood and clay went by boat, by air, by train. Messages slower but more powerful than those carried in the digital noise of the world. They never spoke, never wrote, never exchanged a photograph, though they sculpted and carved each other many times. They could not help but notice each grew lovelier in memory, even as they grew old in life.

When he died, the hotel maid found next to his body a woman’s plaster arm with fingers curled as if around some object. Nothing else was found, however, so no one knew if the hand was giving or receiving, or if it was beckoning something or someone to finally come home.

Amber Sparks’s fiction has been featured in various publications, including New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Gargoyle, Smokelong Quarterly, and elimae. Her work has also appeared in Amazing Graces: Yet Another Collection of Fiction by by Washington Area Women. Her chapbook, “A Long Dark Sleep: Stories for the Next World,” is included in the anthology Shut Up/Look Pretty, published by Tiny Hardcore Press. She is also a contributor at lit blogs Big Other and Vouched, and lives in Washington, D.C. with a husband and two beasts.

What crowds your world? And what does ‘crowded’ have to do with writing compressed fiction (if anything)? Distractions crowd my world. Seriously. I’m perpetually being distracted by everything, which is really great for writing sometimes—crazy inspirations abound—and sometimes incredibly disastrous, when I actually need to buckle down and get something done. I’d say compressed writing, if anything, is the opposite of crowded. I’d say longer fiction is more likely to be crowded with all kind of extraneous stuff, whereas compressed fiction by its nature must be spare. Everything in it is essential. Everything is necessary and harmonious and exactly where it should be, if the piece is a good piece.

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