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ONE BRIGHT MOMENT • by Joel Willans

We were children, not lovers, but as we lay on the grass looking at stars, talking of angels, she took my hand and said that a moment can change everything. When I think of Sissy Zaleski, and I do now more often than ever, I always remember her that night. Splayed out on the earth as though floating just an inch above the ground, she told me in the strange quiet of the countryside, where silence is made up of infinite little sounds, that there would be signs, forever.

“I’m not tricking you, Tom. You know that, don’t you? I’m just telling you how it is and how it’s going to be. When we get older and we’re not friends like now, ’cause we’ve gone away or got a job or got married, I’m going to send you signs to remember us now, this very second. Do you believe me?”

“What sort of signs?”

She might have been about to answer when the lamplight came through the leaves, but I was already on my feet, tugging her up, dragging and scrambling with her hand tight in mine, keeping low to the ground as the lamplight swept to and fro, a hulking shadow stomping behind it.

“Sissy, you better not be out here with that boy! You hear me?”

Even now I can see her pa. A stomper, always a stomper, with dark eyes and a darker brow. And always dangerous, with tools in bulging pockets. That night he stomped the earth, and we rushed into the night. In the trees, near the stream, we stopped and sat on our haunches, breathing hard, breathing the woods. We stayed liked that, frozen in our fear, until I moved closer and whispered in her ear

“Why does he hate me so? I ain’t done nothing bad.”

She moved closer still. “He thinks if it weren’t for you, I’d stay indoors more with him. He’s got worse since mum left. He gets worse every day. Truly, he does.”

I looked into her eyes. Then, like idiots feeling safe and holding nothing back, we hugged together, so close I could feel her heart next to mine. I don’t know who kissed whom first. But once, thirty-three years later in a room in Blackpool, watching as my wife combed her hair, ochre red like Sissy’s, it came to me with force as crushing as gravity. If I’d kept Sissy closer, if I’d never let her go so easy, it could have been her combing herself in front of me then. I wonder now if that was the first signal, or if they’d been coming all those years after and I’d just blanked them out, pressed them down, scared of what they said.

I’ve had no worse parting than that night. I didn’t want her to go, but once we finished, and we realized what we’d done and how now I was more, much more than a forbidden friend, she was shaking so hard I thought she might die on me. With the taste of her on my lips, I sneaked us out of the trees. We scurried close to the ground, as fast as we could, and I took her back to the lair of her pa. I kissed her again then, in the shadows. It was the bravest thing I’d ever done. I wanted to show her that even though she was going back, I wouldn’t desert her. Not ever.

She didn’t come to school for a few days after that and then I found out it was  she who was leaving me. Going to back to Poland, that’s what my friend said, to the motherland of her ancestors, as far as the stars for me. I didn’t believe him at first, how could I? Since that night, she’d been in every one of my thoughts, colouring them like ink spilled in water. But then they announced it at school, last thing in assembly, after the morning prayers. And when everyone else filed out, I just sat there. Cross-legged and dazed.

I saw her once afterwards. She sneaked round my house, she couldn’t stay long, she said. She threw herself onto the sofa and started wrestling cushions, banging her fists and asking me that if there was a god, then what was he doing to make her pa so mad to leave. I wanted to say things to make her feel better but I couldn’t, because I knew that it was me that caused it. I wanted to kiss her again too, but my mum was lurking, so I just held her hand and said I’d write every day.

Look out for the signs, she said before she left. Little things, I’ll send them and you’ll remember me. I know it. And I did to start with. I looked out all the time, but as I grew up and as I changed from a boy to man, I stopped searching or maybe I just stopped seeing. Life does that to you, I suppose, clouds things over.

So why is it only now that my life is drowsy with dreams of her? And what does it mean that a smell, a word, the single sigh of an owl can make me think of Sissy? Nearly a whole life I’ve lived without her, got jobs, gone away and been married, but only now do I see that she was right. That one moment, one bright culmination of everything, can change you from children to lovers and that you can never, ever, go back again.


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, read by Adam Kerby. “One Bright Moment” was originally published in EDF on May 27, 2007, and is included in The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008.

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Joel Willans writes out of Helsinki, Finland.

GD Star Rating
ONE BRIGHT MOMENT • by Joel Willans, 4.0 out of 5 based on 485 ratings
Posted on May 27, 2008 in Romance, Stories
  • Rebecca Lloyd

    Hi Joel,
    It’s a fine and delightful story, I was ‘taken’ in reading it.

  • Bastian Weckburg

    You got a great way with words Joel. It’s a fantastic little story.

    Kiitos B!

  • Jasmin Virta

    A lovely, sensitive story beautifully written.

    I was very touched with this. Thank you so much for it.


  • JCD

    A great story, I wish it was longer!

  • http://toldonafriday.wordpress.com Virginia Diaz

    A perfect little slice of fantastical memory, colored sweetly with bitterness. Part of me wished for them to find each other again by the storie’s end, but another part knew that would spoil it- they could never be the same, not even if they did meet again.

  • Anne Crane

    A wonderful, sensitive story which I enjoyed reading so much especially as I knew you as a young boy,Joel. I could picture your face which helped bring the story to life for me. Well Done & Good Luck with all you do in the future.

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  • Lassi K

    Finally got around to commenting on this story. I’ve read this a few times (the author is my brother-in-law) and I’ve been very impressed every time. There’s something that makes me come back to this story.

    Cool interview too, Joel. Congrats on getting the recognition you deserve as an excellent writer!

  • Chez Pauff

    Just spotted this. Well done, Joel.

    I remember the story!


  • Leena Vaher

    This was so beautiful a tale. Thanks for publishing it.

  • pooja

    That was beautiful Joel.
    You know its like they say – times change, people change, circumstances change..friends go away, lovers go away, memories start to fade and years pass by..and you are left wondering what happened..and as you stare blankly into space someone asks you, what happened – and you say “nothing.”


    Good story, ciould make anyone with a stone heart feel emotion 5/5

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  • Margie


  • bc

    Completely beautiful. Very moving.
    I love the man. He is such deep water.
    I have been trying to remember about short short stories
    that are complete.
    This one is, for me, complete.
    Thank you.

  • http://theshinejournal.com Pamela Tyree Griffin

    Very beautiful and evocative story.

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  • http://www.Liquid-Imagination.com John “JAM” Arthur Miller

    That was a heart moving and wonderful story full of nostalgic longing which I believe is hard to pull off. Yet you accomplished that and more.


  • Kelly

    That was beautiful, loved it

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