by Janet E Gardner

That Christmas, just before she went into the hospital, Joanie gave everyone kaleidoscopes. Pale, smooth wooden ones for her mother and sister; a sleek, pen-sized model in burnished steel for Helen; brightly-colored plastic ones for all the children she knew. And for Stefan—the most extravagant gift she had ever given—a four-hundred-dollar brass instrument from Switzerland, with precision optics and semi-precious stone fragments suspended in a thick liquid that held their refracted images in slow flux.

“We should have known,” Helen would say later. “The kaleidoscopes were a sign.”  A sign, she meant, of the troubled mind that would that would wake Joanie up one bright dawn and make her walk without hesitation out of the hospital and into the river, smiling and blinking at the scatterings of sunlight on the surface of the icy January water as it closed around her.

That afternoon, chastened by his own lack of surprise or grief, Stefan would take his kaleidoscope from its stand on the mantle. It would be the first time he had touched it since Christmas, and now he would gaze through it for most of an hour at a vivid, slow-moving, shattered world.

Janet E. Gardner teaches English literature and writing at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She grew up in northern California and now lives and writes on Cape Cod.