Of Smiles Happy, and Smiles Sad

Not so long ago, during the middle of Spring, there sat a white piece of paper on a desk by the window, in the mostly unused classroom of 3–4. One day, a passing second grader spotted it, and with her pencil drew a little boy and a little girl, attaching to the boy’s face a simple, happy smile. Alas, before she could finish drawing the same smile for the little girl — indeed, before she was able to even start her epic dinosaur-monster-phoenix picnic — she was called away by her friends to jump rope, play tag, and do whatever it is that second graders do during lunch time.

And so it was that the little girl, on that white piece of paper, ended up looking rather like she was unimpressed with the whole situation.

The little boy was a happy chap. He didn’t seem at all bothered to be a half-drawn, almost-loved picture on a lonely blank page — he ran aimlessly from corner to corner, delighting in the whiteness of the paper and the joy of movement. He leapt, he pranced, he danced, and he skipped — and all the while he found reasons to smile.

The little girl on the other hand — much as her face suggested — was more than a little disappointed. She longed for the once promised picnic in the park, where the dinosaurs roamed and the monsters brought big cakes, and the phoenix flew all wherever they wished. She sat, she sighed, and she groaned — this was not what she had signed up for.

After running a few laps, and staring into the white nothingness of the paper, and whispering ‘wow’ a number of times, the little boy asked the girl if she wanted to play a game. The little girl, however, simply shook her head.

“What can we play here?” she said. “What can we do?”

The little boy looked momentarily puzzled. He listened to the cogs of his brain turn, round and round, until he heard a comforting click. “Perhaps” he offered, “we could see which of us can hold our breath the longest?”

The little girl sighed, and slumped, and shook her head and turned away. The little boy seemed a touch hurt by the reaction — lost, somehow — but soon realized that his was a game he could play all by himself, so he sat, and he held his breath, and then he let it out, and he giggled and laughed, and eventually, he fell asleep.

It was in very much this way, and this rhythm, that the days rolled by — as the little boy sung songs of nonsense, and giggled, and held his breath, the little girl sat, and dreamed, and longed for the ever fading picture of a once-promised picnic. And then the sky went dark, and the two fell asleep.

The days rolled into weeks, and months, and the season changed from spring to summer, but the little boy and the little girl remained unchanged — one always trying to cheer up the other, and the other in turn simply sitting and sighing.

One day, as summer greens gave way to autumn reds, that second grader wandered into the unused classroom that was 3–4, and spotted that paper of the boy and the girl, and made up her mind to complete her masterpiece. But much time had passed, and the second grader was a fickle artist — prone to whimsy — and the dinosaurs and the monsters were no longer inspiration. She dreamed now of a park and a kite on a beautiful day, of reds and yellows and trees and skies, and a little girl having the time of her life.

Neither of them could have seen it coming. They’d simply assumed she needed more colored pencils — perhaps, they thought, it was the fancy ones the upper-graders used, with the deeper colors and the funny names. And indeed, it was these that she brought back to the classroom with her.

Together with a small, worn eraser.

With only a few intense scrubs, and a brush of the hand, and some blowing on the paper, the little boy had vanished completely — before he’d even had a chance to think. Indeed, before he’d even had a chance to thank the girl for her company, he’d become little more than minor scratches on fading white paper.

But the second grader was oblivious to it — her focus was the art. Within moments, great trees had sprouted from the paper — oaks and cedars and maples — in red, orange, and yellow, and from the girl’s hand grew a string, reaching to the sky and connecting to a simple blue kite, floating among the clouds.

Finally, a smile was drawn upon the little girl’s face, one of wonder and joy and discovery and adventure. And for a time, wandering her new color pencil environment, the little girl really did feel happy, basking in the blend of simple colors and new environments.

But as the days went by and the colors began to fade, the little girl became aware of a drifting silence, haunting her autumn wonderland. And when she ran a hand along the last lines of the little boy’s face — along those little scratches in the paper — she realized she was lonely; that she missed his banter, and his laugh, and his smile. And though now she wore the same smile he did, it felt somehow… lacking.

It felt somehow, sad.

When the second grader next returned, it was armed with paints and brushes, and fierce determination — the budding young artist had a heart for experimentation — and eyes for a very particular autumn day at the park.

Ever so carefully, and with the greatest of care, that second grader painted over the pencils, and brought to life the blue kite chasing the clouds amongst a forest of red. Indeed, it was more than anyone could have expected of a girl her age, and yet each stroke of the brush buried a little pencil, and filled in little scratches, until the very last traces of that little boy and his simple, happy smile, were lost under smatterings of well placed paint.

With flourish and grace, the second grader gave the little girl a beautiful green skirt, and a fine cream sweater, and brightened the girl’s face — forever trapping her loneliness behind a most charming, wondrous smile. It was behind this smile that the girl did weep, as the second grader pinned her masterpiece — which would eventually win a local art competition — on the wall amongst the colored hand prints, and the sketches of sports day, and the craftwork and watercolor paintings.

So it was that as autumn turned to winter, and the days grew cold, the little girl remained lost in a forest of orange, red, and yellow, flying her blue kite high among the clouds. And sometimes, when she longed for a certain smile, and a certain laugh, she would hold her breath, and wonder how long he held his, and realize that certain games are always, best played with two.