If you want to learn how to be happy,
you have to know what is sadness first.
― ETGAR KERET
Ever since Happiness heard your name, he has been running through the streets trying to find you.* He saw you on a sunny morning, striding down Mount Pleasant, slowing only to avoid the spongy tarmac where a burst pipe was sending water to the surface. You were moving fast, your head held high, taking in the view over Christchurch to the mountains beyond. The air was clear with the occasional waft of sweet lemon from the autumn-flowering shrubs. Happiness almost caught up with you, but you gave him the slip at the bottom of the hill, stepping neatly over the bricks where the path had unzipped. He was left standing at the side of the road, waiting for a gap in the traffic.
The roadworks on the bridge were causing chaos and no one was giving way, and when he finally managed to get across the road, you were almost at the bus-stop. You frowned as you walked past the vast empty space that used to be the Countdown supermarket. It was full of light, its remaining concrete pillars making a frame for the sky, but you were looking at the rubble. You looked so sad as you got on the bus to Sumner that you made Happiness sigh. He kept his distance.
But Happiness is the eternal optimist, so he followed you to Sumner that day, taking the next bus and enjoying the view out over the ocean. Listless lenticular clouds were moving slowly along the horizon. Their elongated forms were tinged with shades of green and blue, reflecting off the lagoon. When he got to the town, you had bought yourself an iced coffee and were drinking it as you walked along the seafront. But then you had to make a detour round the tall protective fencing near Cave Rock and he lost sight of you again. The next thing he knew you were taking a short cut past one of those large rusty shipping containers that line the road beside the cliffs. When he looked, all he could see back there were damp shadows and the chance of a rock fall. He didn’t feel comfortable at all. So he called it a day.
The next time he saw you, you were window-shopping in Cashel Street. The temporary shops in converted containers looked trendy and bright. They sparkled in the sunlight, offering up their shelves of colorful, if overpriced, trinkets. There were a lot of people around and Happiness had to thread his way through a gaggle of tourists who were being very slow and photographing everything. He was carrying a big bunch of flowers (yellow roses, your favorite), so couldn’t have been more conspicuous, yet you were oblivious. But the tourists were delighted with him and insisted on a group photo, smiling and pleading amicably. He obliged and by the time he’d finished you had moved off and were well on your way to the park.
Now Happiness is no quitter. He broke into a run, catching you at the entrance gate. He was quite out of puff when he handed you the flowers, but still managed a winning smile. That was when you said, after reading the note attached: ‘You must be mistaken, they can’t be for me. Who would give me flowers? It’s not my birthday or anything.’ And you wouldn’t take them. Refused point blank. You had a look in your eye that said you thought he was a nutcase, could be dangerous, and so he backed off. He gave the flowers to a little old lady who was sitting on a bench feeding sparrows. It made her day. ‘Yellow is for friendship,’ she said.
Happiness was perplexed. You were a tough nut to crack. But he wouldn’t give up; it was his job, after all. He had heard your name, knew you by heart, and he had faith that he would find you again. He remained vigilant and ready. A few days later he spotted you at the Book Exchange Fridge that stands on the concrete foundations of what was once a house. He could see you standing in the mellow autumn light, your face serene. After all this chasing, he did not want to frighten you off, so he held back for a moment. You were pulling out books from the converted fridge, leafing through them and putting them back. But before he could approach, there came a roar as a 4.9 aftershock rumbled through. He watched the pavement hump up and down in one smooth movement as the tremor passed by. ‘Amazing!’ he thought, but in that moment of distraction he lost you. When he looked up you were no longer there.
It was clear that Happiness would have to try something different. He became crafty. He would use your friends to get to you. It was an old trick that had worked before. He whispered to Suzie to put a note on Facebook – ‘Join me at the Dance-o-mat’.
The Dance-o-mat was one of Happiness’s favorite places in Christchurch. It was situated in the cleared ground of a clothes store. Someone had put down a dance floor and converted a commercial washing machine so that people could put a gold coin in the slot and play music through loud speakers. Happiness liked the crowds that turned up there; and since he had broad tastes in music he could happily, excuse the pun, spend hours there. This time he didn’t follow you; he waited for you to arrive. And you did, with a group of your friends.
You look beautiful, he thought, when you smile. In his experience, most people do.
He watched as you put your money in the slot, hooked up your iPod and started clowning about to the music. More people turned up, some of them in fancy dress and Happiness felt right at home. After a while he managed to talk to you, sharing a joke. You said you had a funny feeling that you’d met him before.
And you danced with him for ages.
*First line courtesy of the Iranian poet Hafiz c1320.
"You Look Beautiful When You Smile" was first published in
Sweet As: Contemporary Short Stories by New Zealanders, edited by Blair Polly and Wendy Moore and published by the Sweet As Short Story Project, Wellington, 2014.
Celia Coyne is a freelance editor and writer living in Christchurch. She is a graduate of the Hagley Writers’ Institute, where she focused on developing her short-story writing. Her stories have appeared in the literary journals Takahe, Penduline Press, Flash Frontier, Atlas, The Thing Itself, Flash: The International Short Short Story Magazine and several anthologies, including Sweet As: Contemporary Short Stories by New Zealanders. Celia grew up in the UK and many of her stories are set there. When she came to New Zealand, she fell in love with the sky and began taking photos of it. Pictures and stories can be found on www.mybeautifulsky.com.