2022 Short Story Competition

A Balcony in Paris

The postcard was half a decade old

and smelled of pomegranates.

A breathing scene, with every tilt and turn,

pulsed in tandem with the curtains.

You could tip your head back

to the ceiling of the sky.

You could spell forgiveness

in a dozen make-believe languages.

The mirror is adorned with thumbprints and they hold

the paper edges for you, like a solemn kind of promise.

You said,

“The neighbours are made of linen and charcoal,”

and they laughed as if life was just a miniature

in the absurd.

In the streets, the neighbours sing, “Salut,”

while they are looking through the looking glass,

looking for the balcony and you.

We might all have been crimped corners on a harlequin evening,

of cattails chasing one another from the corner of your eye,

but the paper wrinkles and when the pages wilt between your fingers,

these days are easier to remember in the Polaroids

that never came about.

Hold on.

If only all railings were lines. The blocked-in rouge is bittersweet

with fabricated time, silvered at the tips

where the arrondissement meets Temple Street

and a misplaced hand scored the horizon. It was

a meaningless feathery scar, a token wound, but

that tufted bit still smarted your touch.

I think we just liked collapsible things.

We liked microscope slides and everything

in between.

In some stretch of space out of reach,

a lightbulb whined, the curtains

quickened their beat and the cattails

whispered pleasantries. They

mimicked handshakes like they mimicked leaves

in the rustle of a greeting, in an infinitesimal meeting.

They, too, aged, like a keepsake piece,

unlike a balcony in Paris.


This poem by Michelle Wong is posted in submission for the ESA’s 2022 Short Story Competition. Image by Mathias P.R. Reding via Pexels.

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