She had a certain smile I was sure she reserved for me.

It was a smile that extended far past her face, and caused a thing to stir deep within me. Nobody had ever looked at me in this way; it was like I was being seen for the first time.

Before it started, the smiles were a shade more modest; I would pass her in the hall on the way to my apartment and we would exchange quiet glances, broken chit-chat. Even then, her brown eyes glittered knowingly. I could never hope to hide from her. I felt as though the deepest reaches of my being were wide open for her, alone, to see.

Our encounters became the thing I looked forward to. As time went on, through the succession of blundering first dates and declarations of intent and trips to the cape, the flush of prickly euphoria ‘that smile’ produced in me never diminished.

She liked to listen to jazz in the car during the long journeys up the coast, and she would relish picking out the smallest, innocuous details of the humdrum landmarks that we passed on the highways, describing them like she was painting a picture. I drove, she narrated.

Etta always carried sadness in her soul, but during those journeys, as we rattled along in my rusty car with its broken heater and chewed seats, it felt like we both reclaimed a certain childlike rapture, existing in our bubble, content.

It’s these memories which I reserve, like Etta’s smile, for moments when I need them the most; cosy rooms to hide in, to escape to, even if only fleetingly.

Story by Jade O’Halloran

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