Paul’s Smiley Face

Girl Kneeling
Ariadne Khalim and Paul’s Smiley Face

It wasn’t the right place to strike a pose like that, but kneeling in the dark and staying low seemed like the smart thing to do. Ariadne needed to stay safe from the odd sounds she heard grumbling through the Mammoth Gardens Assayers warehouse.

She should have known sneaking around in the old warehouse down on the docks would be terrifying, but already it seemed unnerving. She’d broken in through the old garage door. She needed to find a relic from her past she hoped would still be in its hiding place. And now, in the cavernous old building filled with ancient machinery, bugs and boxes, and enough chemicals to incinerate a small country, she began to question the need to reclaim her memories.

She worked in this place years ago. Back when she still felt her idealism. When she didn’t fear love.

Back then she knew poor Paul. He was a silly boy who told awful jokes and wore all the wrong clothing. He wasn’t salvageable to her back then. Still, he doted on her, proffered her inexpensive gifts, and made sure he always had something yummy to share in his brown sack lunches.

The summer she worked at the warehouse doing repetitive tasks for a faceless corporation a thousand miles away mostly faded from her mind. But she remembered Paul and their thirty minute lunch breaks. She remembered the summer breezes blowing into the overhead garage doors where the semi-trucks unloaded their cargo.

And when she moved back in with her mother a few weeks back, she learned the news Paul had died in a car accident.

Now, after all the exciting boyfriends, failed romances, disappointed dreams, a missed opportunities, Paul seemed like someone she should have been able to count on … but he was gone.

So tonight she returned to the warehouse and planned to retrieve the only item she could remember from Paul’s past. A tiny smiley-face charm he’d found in a gum ball machine and given to her “as a joke.” They’d glued it onto the back side of a post in the upper storage shelves and she hoped it might still be there.

The noises and creaks of the old building at night always terrified her, but now that she had no legitimate reason to be there, the fear of the dark and the fear of being arrested for trespassing gripped her heart.

What if they’ve installed a security system, she wondered, trying to talk herself out of her plan.

But then, as if Paul whispered into her ear, she murmured, “Go get it.”

She stood up, ran on her toes through the central receiving area, down the hallway to the storage room, up the first flight of metal stairs, and the second. The place looked exactly as it had years earlier.

She pushed her way past the dusty objects stored in the highest perches and found their pole. They’d eaten so many lunches up in this loft because of the perfect view of the city through the ventilation grate. Their little make-shift lunchroom was filled with cardboard boxes now, but she knew where she hoped to find the smiley-face charm.

She reached behind the pole, felt the bump, dug her fingernails behind it and yanked.

It popped off with almost no effort, the old hard glue barely serving its purpose. In the dark, with the tiny flashlight on her key ring, she could see the tiny yellow face smiling at her just as Paul’s used to do.

She smiled back.

Another groaning startled her from the sighing building.

“C’mon Paul, let’s get out of here,” she said. “I have so much to tell you.”