Smile Though Your Heart is Breaking

Charlie wakes up on a bed in an LA department store. His rumpled black jacket is wrapped around him; his derby hat rests on the night table: and his black shoes with the holes and spaghetti laces lay neatly underneath. The store is empty, the lights dim. He rubs the sleep from his eyes by turning his little fists over his weary eyelids. He hears movement nearby, turns, and lurches as if he’d seen a ghost. What? Who?

He only sees the back of her head with the long auburn hair. Funny, that in this black and white world, the only thing with color is her flowing hair and hazel eyes. Her dress is pulled low over her raised shoulder exposing her smooth white skin. Oh my. Now I remember.

She turns to face him and blinks to life, followed by a wide grin, then bolts upright, stunned. Are we? Did we? Her face asks.

Charlie jumps from the bed, remembering. He’s the night watchman and he’s missed his check-ins. He can’t afford to lose another job after getting fired from the factory. Oh, but that is a whole other crazy story. Not this one.

He dons his roller skates and proceeds to swoop and swirl. He tilts his head and holds his steepled hands to his cheek. Blinking and peering at Paulette.

Then he’s off making wide circles, gliding on one foot, and punching the various clocks on each floor. What a strange night. But where do we go from here? What whimsy will follow?

So What Comes Next?

Paulette is a gamin, a waif. Her dress is frayed, her face is smudged. She is lost. She is radiant. Charlie is smitten. But what kind of life could they have together with no money, no place of their own, hardly a scrap to eat?

They dream together of their neat little home. She opens the kitchen window. The aroma of honeysuckle glides in on a warm breeze. She reaches through the window and plucks a lemon from a branch of the tree within reach. A cow wanders by the screen door. She opens it and holds a glass underneath, and it magically fills with milk. Life is so grand.

Is this a true story or a movie or both? We’ll never know, yet we do know. We all know. The dream is not real. They have no home with a lemon tree and a cow, but they have each other.

As you’d expect, Charlie loses his job at the department store. The craziness of their time and their place whirls around them. They don’t seem to care.

We see their backs as they walk down the dirt road away into the sunset holding hands. Charlie walks with a comical waddle while twirling his cane. Paulette skips and dances as if today, this moment, is all that matters…Charlie and Paulette

The music plays in our heads with no words.

Only now years later do we hear them:

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you…. If you just smile.


Author’s Note and a quiz: this form of writing is called an ekphrasis. A written story or a poem based on a work of visual art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action,” the writer may amplify and expand its meaning.

In this story, I tried to write a dreamy, moving impression of my all-time favorite movie. Do you know the name of the movie and who Charlie and Paulette are? If so, please leave your answer in the Comments below. If not, subscribe to my newsletter for the answer and the story-behind-the-story in the next newsletter.

For extra credit: tell me where you think the “spaghetti laces” reference comes from. Hint: it comes from another movie with the same lead actor.

If you got this far, thanks for joining in the fun… Charlie

Catch up on my original fast-paced thriller NOT SO DEAD and the Sam Sunborn Series They are available on Amazon and
If you like short reads you can really finish, grab a copy of my short story collections: The Last Appointment: 30 Collected Short Stories
Or my new children’s adventure book: Nougo and His Basketball.

And read for FREE some of Charles Levin’s short stories:

I’m Processing
Books Unread
Nora Delivers the Package
The Permission Slip
10 Life Lessons I Learned from Playing Poker
Missing the Ghost in the Palace Theater
Moon Landing Memories
Word Drunk

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  1. Terry on May 3, 2023 at 2:41 pm

    Thank You

    • Charles Levin on May 3, 2023 at 7:49 pm

      Delighted you enjoyed it!

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