The Melody of Paradise


May 11, 2008 (7459)


Chapter I.  Saturday


            Sophia lay in her bed, awakened by the sound of morning birds chippering away through the window she had forgotten to shut last night.  It was more than a bit chilly, especially since she had the unshakable habit of kicking all the blankets into a dense heap at the foot of the bed.  And all this meant that Sophia really had to use the restroom.

            Nevertheless, she just lay there, only twitching infrequently.  It was Saturday, after all, and that meant returning to the natural way of things: replacing the digital alarm clock with the sun, tucking away the FDA-unapproved energy bars in favor of scrambled eggs and toast, and leaving the minivan in the garage,  instead donning a pair of worn walking sneakers, too ragged to wear to school but just perfect for wandering about town.

            Sophia was seventeen, but she smiled enough that you would think she was either four or going on eighty-five.  She strolled through life on many levels and gleaned the unique flavor of joy from each one – you could rarely tell just what she was thinking from behind that smile, but you would have that instinctive trust that she was contemplating something beautiful, or nothing at all.  Indeed, Sophia thought big and Sophia thought small; the delay in relieving herself was like waiting for the weekend, or waiting for her birthday, or waiting to find a boyfriend.  That last one was causing the greatest bit of impatience, admittedly, but enough love trickled through her life to keep her occupied and amused and whole through the years of her adolescence.  Her mother and father loved her; her baby sister Chrysaline loved her; her friends from the high school building club loved her; and most immediate to her Saturday routine, the shopowners downtown loved her, too.

            Probably thirty minutes had passed since daybreak when Sophia decided that it was time to get going.  She wanted to be back from her errands before Chrysaline woke up, but certainly not so early that the shopkeepers had not yet flipped over the “closed” signs.  After fixing herself up in a minimalist fashion and changing out of her PJs, she headed out the front door, lifting the canvas shopping bag off its hook and slipping on her grass-stained shoes.

            The walk to Main Street consisted only of traveling down the neighborhood’s common driveway, over Deer-antler Creek and past the future pumpkin patches, so Sophia was downtown in no time.

            “Sophia, over here!” came a youthful shout, and she turned around to see Nicholas, the florist’s son.  He was carrying a bunch of blush-colored lilies.  “Do you want a flower for your hair?”

            “A lily?” asked Sophia, passing under the striped awning decorated with crawling ivies and hanging spider plants.

            “Oh, no no, these are so fragrant you would surrounded by bugs!”

            “Wouldn’t that be attractive!” joked Sophia.

            “Here,” said Nicholas, holding out a blossom in his free palm.  “This hibiscus – it just fell from its stem in the wind so we can’t sell it, but it’s to beautiful to go to waste.”

            He placed the carmine flower behind Sophia’s ear.

            “Is it pretty?” she asked him, tilting her head slightly.

            “Yes, ma’am!” he shouted gleefully.

            Sophia laughed and pinched his cheeks.  “I’m not old enough to be ‘ma’am’ ed yet, young sir!”

            “You look plenty old to me,” Nicholas said with a mischievous grin.

            “Hey!” retorted Sophia quickly, and without hesitation, the boy took off sprinting with the teenager closely in tow.  Sophia held the flower to her head with her left hand while reaching out with her right, trying to nab his shirt collar; the two circled round and round in front of the flower shop as if square-dancing in fast-forward mode, until finally his father came out and with his gruffy mustache-filtered voice, reminded the boy about the consequences of rambunctious horseplay around fragile vases and pots.

            “But Dad!  She started it!” he cried, pointing at Sophia, who despite being twice his height, had on a sheepish expression that made her seem twice the smaller.

            “I promise it won’t ever happen again,” said Sophia with a goofy, overacted gesture.

            “Even if I remind you that you’ve been gaining weight lately?” asked Nicholas.

            “Why, you!” shouted Sophia, and the two took off into the distance.

            The flowerkeeper just shook his head and returned to pruning the mums and roses.


            Nicholas finally stopped to catch his breath a few blocks down, and Sophia arrived a few seconds later, having had to stop and retrieve the hibiscus when it finally slipped out from beneath her fingers.

            “Hey, Nick.  Are you hungry?” she inquired when he made eye contact.

            “Hungry?  Naw ..,” he replied.

            “Are you sure?”

            “Yeah,” he said.

            “What if I took you to a bakery and bought you whatever you wanted?”

            “Which bakery are you going to?”

            Sophia ran through the options in her head.  “Hmm, I’m not sure.  Whichever one we get to first, I suppose.  Depends how hungry you are.  Like, a wee bit hungry, more hungry, or thiiiiiiis hungry!” she said, spreading her arms wide as if trying to hug a panda.

            “Well.  But I just said I wasn’t hungry.”

            “Just because you said you aren’t, doesn’t me you’re not,” said Sophia smugly.

            “Just because you said you’re taking me to a bakery, doesn’t mean you will,” replied the boy.

            “Oh, so this is how our dear friendship ends?  Mistrust?  Broken promises?” asked the girl.

            “Friendship?  Since when were we friends?  I can’t be friends with a girl!  Eww!”

            “Girls have cooties?” asked Sophia.

            “No, even worse,” said Nicholas with ominous intonation.

            “What’s that now?”

            Nicholas paused to enunciate clearly.  “They’re taller than me.”

            “Oh dear, when did this happen?”

            “Last year.  Sneaky ones, those girls.”

            “Well, do you know the story of the tortoise and the hare?” asked Sophia.

            “Sure, I do,” said Nicholas.

            “Well, girls are the hares and boys are the tortoises.  One day, you’ll catch up and be taller!”

            “Than you, too?” asked Nicholas, stretching up on his tippie toes, trying to gauge how far behind he was in the race.

            “Than me, too … probably.  Although I’m pretty tall for a girl,” Sophia said, qualifying her assumptions.  The florist and his wife were both more pudgy and less tall, although if Nicholas kept up his vigor and took up track and basketball, he might have a shot at it.  Sort of.

            Okay, I guess we can be friends then,” said Nicholas.  “The future me is taller than you.”

            “That’s right.  But only if you eat good whole grains and not junk foods.  Which is why we should go to the bakery now.

            “Yeah, I guess we can go to a bakery.”

            Sophia looked around and noticed a new storefront just an intersectin over.  It had a gray-and-violet hand-painted sign, somewhat sub-par and only reading “BAKERY” in all capital letters.  Despite an eye for details like makeshift store decals, Sophia always had a strong streak of curiosity that lured her in.  Living in this small town her whole life, Sophia appreciated a change in pace.

            “Let’s go to that store over there,” said Sophia.

            “It looks weird, though.  Possibly evil.”

            “Now now, don’t make such assumptions about a place.  Evilness is earned, not assumed.”

            “But look, the window is broken.  That seems mighty evil to me.”

            “Give the place a chance!  They probably just bought the place and didn’t have time to renovate yet.  But if we buy stuff from them, maybe they’ll have enough money to fix the window.  How would they fix the window when they just spent all the money on the shop?”

            “But they could have just bought three-fourths of the house and then used the leftover money to buy a new window,” replied Nicholas.

            “My dear Nicholas.  You can’t buy three-fourths of a room.  That’s like buying the front half of a horse or a laptop without the screen.  It just doesn’t work that way!” explained Sophia, but Nicholas was unconvinced.

            Sophia gave up on reasoning with the boy, who was incorrigibly addicted to refutation, and simply led him by the hand to the shop, where the aroma of exotic spices overwhelmed them both.  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but no picture has yet conveyed the pleasures of taking a deep breath in front of a bakery.

            The interior was mostly wooden, with stained tiles covering the floor.

            “Welcome!” greeted the shopowner, with a heavy accent.  He had long, wavy black hair tied back in a ponytail to avoid dabbling into the dough.

            “Did you just move into town?” asked Sophia.

            “Yes, two weeks.  Business is tough, being a foreigner and so little money.”

            “Well, show me your best stuff, and I’ll tell my friends to swing by,” said Sophia.  “What’s good here?”

            “Oh, everything is good,” said the shopkeeper without pomposity.  The scents of anise and cumin and apricot wafted to the counter from the small warming-rack of breads, pies, and pastries.