Kickoff written by Joanna Michal Hoyt

Sylvia: Memories and Dreams

The Gift and the Price

Who Is Sylvia?

She showed up at the farmer's market four years ago, the first Friday of autumn, and set up her banner (which said Sylvia: Memories and Dreams) and her table (not much bigger that a stool) not far from my produce stand. I would have gone to welcome her if I'd been less busy unpacking my vegetables and goat cheese. Once the market opened I couldn't leave my spot—people came to my table to talk as much as to buy. In the pauses between customers I watched her: a tall dark slender woman swaying slightly in time to a different music than the hopeful noise the high school band was making. The kind of woman
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I'd learned to contemplate with more pleasure then envy, knowing I'd never look like them, content with looking at them. Her table held only a porcelain bowl and a heavy clay teapot.

People stopped by Sylvia’s table, smiled, spoke. She answered briefly, as much with her gestures as her voice. I couldn't hear what she said. Most of the people she answered either laughed nervously or backed away slowly with blank expressions. But Timothy Lawrence, a polite boy handicapped by a large crop of pimples, a disproportionate intelligence and the usual misery of being sixteen, nodded, put his hands on the edge of her table
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and leaned hard on it. She poured something steaming from the teapot into the bowl. He breathed the steam in, straightened, looked at her. She put her left hand on his right shoulder, then reached it under the table; she set her right hand on the top of his head; then she stepped back. He walked away from the market, straighter-backed than usual; all through high school he'd walked with his shoulders hunched up against a cold wind no one else could feel.

Just before the market closed Becky Bell, whose enthusiastic assertions of the total power of positive thinking (as demonstrated by her own beautiful house, charming
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husband and brilliant children) drove me to malice and migraines, stopped by Sylvia’s table. I saw her leaning forward, smiling, reaching her hand out to shake. I saw her put that hand to her mouth and step back. Then a customer came for mushrooms and stood between me and Becky. A few minutes later Becky walked past me and out of the market, quiet for once in her life. She doesn't look frightened any more, I thought, and then, But I never thought that she looked frightened before. For some reason this frightened me, and I thought perhaps I wouldn’t stop by Sylvia’s table after all.
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