Short Story Project:
A Child's Smile
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A Child's Smile
|Antonin was Jewish. This was how he defined himself: Antonin, the little Jew, the one with a "beautiful smile." Until it became a dangerous thing to be known as a Jew. Then it was just Antonin, the boy with the beatiful smile...and a secret inside that made everyone afraid, like a breath caught and held.
To everyone else, this change came gradually. But to Antonin, it happened all in one day, all in one moment. His Papa was torn from his Mama's hands and Antonin was knocked to the floor like a rag doll, no longer human. After that, the word "Jew" was never spoken within his hearing.
He still smiled, although not as often, and not quite as beautifully, but no one seemed to notice. He learned how to let his soul breath in little pants when no one watched.
He became better at this new way of secret breathing, but it was tiresome and required more attention than he possessed. Sometimes he would forget, and the breaths would escape. Whenever his Mother looked too sad and her face turn pale as dried grass and her shoulders dropped as if she had no more strength to lift him, then he would smile like he always had, and the air would shimmer. Then he could collapse into his Mamma's perfect embrace.
"Your smile could light the world," she would whisper, as if hiding in the darkness, wanting no one else to hear. "And soon you'll be too big to carry."
He wanted to say, "Never, Mama. I'll never be too big." But he could never say anything as comforting as his smile, so he just looked in her eyes and wiped her tears.
"That is why I've asked Marcineau to take you with him the next time his family comes through town," she continued. "The Black Shirts are gathering up the gypsies, too, and they are fleeing over the mountains. Think of it as a holiday. You will be safe once you are over the mountains."
After a long while, after the boy's smile faded and his eyes became round and clear, he asked, "You will be coming too, Mama? You haven't packed anything for yourself..."
"No", she replied, this time smiling for her son, smiling with a great tearing sadness. "I must wait for your father, here. If I leave, they may not release him. When he comes back, we will follow over the mountains and join you."
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All text edited by Tobin James Mueller.
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