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New Year's Wishes

by Alex Dally MacFarlane

Wishes fluttered around us with the snow. I held out my hands, cup-curved, and tried to catch one. Throughout the square, men, women and children did the same--hoping they would catch their own, which was the best luck of all, or that theirs would fall into the hands of someone who would understand, someone who would say Yes and grant it.

I had little to wish for this year. My son grew strong, my husband’s back had recovered and when the ground thawed he would return to our spice fields. War had not come to our province in five years. Perhaps I should have wished for my sister to fall pregnant again with a baby that would not die only days out of the womb; but no, that was her wish to make.

War would come and go regardless of wishes. We all knew that.

Looking down at my snow-flecked and spice-stained hands--red and orange and yellow between the grooves in my palms, and the colours would not fade no matter how hard I scrubbed--I saw a wish. Black letters in the curves and dots of our script covered the paper-scrap.

A final kiss, before I depart for Aratavi.

My hand shook, a little.

I imagined the person who might have stood in line earlier in the day, waiting to write his or her wish so that it could be scattered by our town’s priest. Knowing that soon the journey to Aratavi must be begun--a journey to search for the remains of a loved one. People went to Aratavi during peace-time for no other reason. And in the marshes and pools, rife with the stream-women and algae-men who had killed so many of us, many found only their own grave.

Yes, I thought.

I rubbed paprika on my lips.

One by one, I kissed every person in the square. I left red marks in my wake. That way, I knew who I had yet to step up to, smiling kindly before I pressed my lips against their cheek, their brow.

An hour after the priest scattered our wishes, the bell tolled again, signifying that the previous year had transitioned into the current. I had kissed every man, woman and child.

I would never know whose wish landed in my hands. There was the man who touched my hair, briefly, before I moved on; the woman who whispered Thank you when I kissed the fist-shaped bruise on her chin; the man who wept silently through the hour. Perhaps it was one of them, but perhaps not. It doesn’t matter. I granted the wish.

And my own wish, also: Happiness, in whatever dose possible.


This is beautiful.

Posted by: CM | September 7, 2008 5:24 AM

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