Red: A Short Story

Hello, lovelies!

I took a creative writing class last semester, and we had a project that we worked on over the entire semester. It was called a Passion Project, and you could essentially do whatever you wanted for it. From writing a musical, to making a poetry collection, to doing a short film. I ended up doing a trilogy of short stories, with each story entitled the same thing: "Red". I heavily used color symbolism in all three of them, and while they shared a title, the stories themselves were completely unrelated, which I love. Anywho, this story is probably my favorite of the three, and I hope you like it as well. As always, feel free to leave feedback in the comments.

(NOTE: I apologize if the formatting of the story is a bit off, and the paragraphs don't line up like they should. Blogger has a way of playing with indentations that I've yet to figure out how to combat.)

* * *

"Red"

She once thought that snow was ugly.

Swirling tendrils of white that strangled the earth, hiding all of the green that had once rested there. Cars blasted by on the street and turned it to the color of ash, the wonderment that had first come with it quickly fading into grumbling arguments as people debated over whose turn it was to shovel the driveway again.

So much work for so little pleasure.

Tucking her fingers into a pair of snug woolen gloves, she made her way through the streets of New York, a bright crimson scarf at her throat. Gold shot through the lengths of her hair, shining softly within the city that never sleeps. She was on her way to meet her little brother after work, making good on her promise to take him out to Central Park and see if there were any squirrels running about. Casting an anxious glance to the thick, ropey clouds above, she picked up her pace, blowing out soft puffs of air that mingled with the breath of countless other people making their way through the masses. Crowded sidewalks and angry taxi drivers were the worst parts about living in the middle of the Big Apple, but she found she didn’t mind since it had some of the best treatment options for children of her brother’s age.

Trotting up the steps to their apartment, she slid her key into the lock with a click and pushed open the green door. “Matthew, I’m home!” she called, settling her purse and gloves onto the granite countertop.

A small head appeared from around the corner, his toothy grin stretching all the way up to his ears. 

“Miri!”

She smiled and swept him up into a tight hug, concern worming its way across her forehead as she felt how slight his shoulders were beneath his favorite Ninja Turtles sweatshirt. “Were you good today?”

“Yes, Miri! I even remembered to feed Gus!” Matthew hopped up and down excitedly, pointing a slender finger at the slightly bloated goldfish that bobbed up and down sluggishly in its fishbowl. “Does that mean I get to see the squirrels today?”

Miriam nodded and tossed him a bag of peanuts out of the cupboard, reaching into her purse for something else. “I got you something from Dylan’s today. Can you guess what it is?”

His tiny brows knit together in concentration as he inspected the bag of peanuts in his hands like it held all the answers in the world. Suddenly, his big brown eyes lit up. “Ooh! I know! Lemon drops! Oh, Miri, are they lemon drops?” In response she handed him a small bag, tied with a green ribbon, and cocked her head as an invitation to open it. Little droplets of sunshine spilled out, and he caught one in his palm before popping it into his mouth. He closed his eyes blissfully, savoring the initially sugary taste that melted away to a smooth, lemony goodness. “I love you Miri,” he laughed, wrapping his arms around her her, a bag in each fist. She held him close, whispering that she loved him too against the top of his head where chestnut curls had once bounced happily. Now there was only soft skin, pale as the snow outside that blistered the hands of anyone unlucky enough to be caught without mittens.

“Are you ready to see the squirrels then?”

He answered by popping another lemon drop into his mouth and dancing in a circle, his feet tapping out an invisible melody as he giggled. She managed to wrangle him into his navy coat, the shape of it making him look so much like a marshmallow that she wanted to laugh aloud. Slipping her gloves back on and settling her bag into place, she checked again that he’d put on his hat, mittens, and scarf, even though he’d protested that he didn’t need them since he was a big boy now. “Even eight-year-olds need scarves,” was her firm reply. At twenty-three she hadn’t expected to be taking care of a child all on her own, but with their parents sitting in a drunken stupor somewhere, she’d taken swift measures to get him under her custody as soon as she could.

But she’d never expected her loving little brother to get sick. It had started in the very insides of his bones, cells multiplying with her worry. Soon it was hospital trips that replaced trips to the park to feed the squirrels. It was radiation for months on end instead of pure jubilation at going to Dylan’s candy shop to buy a lemon drop or two. It was a struggling little shell of a boy taking the place of vibrant, chestnut-haired Matthew.

Cancer.

What an ugly word.

Leukemia.

Even uglier.

“Miri!”

His voice dragged her out of her thoughts, his urgent tug on her sleeve pulling her away from the whirring traffic that blazed across the huge expanse of road. She blinked, open-mouthed, the blaring horns and flashing lights awakening her from whatever daze she’d been in, alarm bells ringing in her head as she realized she’d almost walked them to their death. “Oh, Matthew, I’m sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going.” He tugged her aside to let the hurrying masses pass by as the crosswalk lights winked. Reaching into his right pocket, he pulled out a lemon drop and pressed against her lips, his gaze steady and sure. She opened her mouth and let him poke it in, the candy swirling against her tongue and refocusing her with its sour sweetness.

“Don’t worry, Miri. I was watching.”

She took his hand and they continued on their way, pausing a few times to let him catch his breath. Every time she offered to carry him the rest of the way to the park, he refused, insisting that he wanted to reach the squirrels on his own today. Worry walked along her eyebrows, but she brushed it aside, trying to enjoy being out in the falling snow with her brother.

The park was packed with people as usual, couples whispering under the trees, families skating on the rink, the ice nestled in a place where you couldn’t miss the skyscrapers if only you took a few seconds to look up. They headed to their special outcropping of trees, sitting with their backs to a trunk where they’d carved their names years ago. She watched as he took the bag of peanuts from his navy coat pocket, shaking a few into his mittened palm.

And then they waited.

He was smiling, the corners of his mouth sitting crookedly on his face.

And then they waited some more.

He was still smiling, crinkles appearing by his eyes.

They were still waiting.

The sun was leaning towards the west now, twinkling snowflakes falling and catching fire as the light hit them just right. His smile was slipping.

Red.

A pang stabbed her heart, the familiar feeling walking across her brow again.

Come on, come on, she pleaded, coffee-colored eyes scanning the trees for any sign of life. She shook some peanuts into her palm, praying that two hands offering food would entice at least one squirrel out of hiding.

Red.

A trembling tear slid down his nose, hovering for a moment before falling to the ground and dissolving into the snow. He tugged his navy coat tighter around him, the cold suddenly more biting than before. The lemon drops rested heavily in his pocket, more sour than sweet now.

Red.

She cast an anxious gaze at his pale form, at the waterfalls that trickled down his cheeks. Scooting between his body and the tree, she wrapped her arms around him, tucking her chin on top of his shivering pale head topped off with a red plaid hat, complete with ear-flaps. She never wanted anything more in her life than for a stupid little rodent to appear out of a tree and make her brother stop crying.

Red.

Her heart began to beat wildly, stampeding horses aching to rescue a boy from the pain of disappointment. She hated the snow and the way it made him turn to fragile ice. She hated how the laughing families on the ice were so ignorant of another person’s plight, perfectly content to hiss across the rink on fancy skates that never had frayed laces. She even hated the sourness of the lemon drops that swept away the sugary facade after a few moments.

Red.

Come on.

Red.

There’s always been hundreds here before. Why should today be any different?

Red.

Please.

Red.

Red.

Redredredredred.

“Miri, look!”

Her head snapped up, eyes searching. “Where, Matthew? Where is it?”

He pointed.

A pair of squirrels were making their way down the trunk of a tree that stretched across the sidewalk from the tree with sacred initials carved in it. One was far bigger than the other, going first and leading the pair towards the statue-like woman and the shivering little boy sitting on the snow-covered ground. The larger squirrel paused a few feet away from them, her whiskers wiggling as her nose twitched. And then the smaller one bolted towards Matthew, all caution thrown out in pursuit of peanuts. His smile returned, stretching towards his ears and bringing sunshine back to his face.

“Miri!” he whispered excitedly, scattering the nuts across the ground. The little squirrel grabbed one with his tiny paws, nibbling on it and peering at the small boy with a navy coat and a floppy red hat. Miriam puffed out a sigh of relief, squeezing him even tighter, inhaling the scent of sharp medicine and sweet lemon that drifted upwards from his skin. Being able to witness the laughter that spilled from his lips make her feel warmer than she had all winter.

They stayed sitting together until the sun was setting, feeding the squirrels and seeing who could catch the most lemon drops in their mouth. Flicking her gaze up at the falling snow, she decided they better head home. He was shaking so hard she could hear his teeth chattering as she rested her chin on the top of his head. He kept insisting he was fine, pulling the ear-flaps of his hat even further down and staring in fascination at the two squirrels that hadn’t left their side since they’d appeared. But, eventually, she managed to haul him up by his skinny arms and brush the snow off of his rear end, chuckling at his disappointed pout. “We’ll come back tomorrow,” she promised, tucking her hand into his. He plodded behind her as she began to walk, casting a glance back at the furry friends he’d met that afternoon.

He waved. Or, at least, he tried to.

Doubling over, he began to cough, his breathing shallow and urgent.

“Miri,” he whispered.

She stopped and crouched hurriedly in front of him, steadying his bony shoulders with her sturdy grip. “Matthew. Matthew, are you okay? Is it---”

And then he began to vomit, his bird-like frame shaking.

Sunshine fell from his mouth as he retched.

The clouds were growing thicker overhead as he panted, lungs desperately trying to suck air in as he collapsed. She scooped him against her chest, reaching with her free hand for her phone. She smashed numbers into it, frantically spitting replies to the operator on the other end of the line. She’d seen him overcome with seizures before, but never combined with other symptoms like this. She scanned her memory, trying to remember if he’d taken his medicine this morning, if the little blue pill container had been missing the capsules in the Tuesday slot like it was supposed to. Snowflakes fell on her eyelashes, blurring her surroundings as tears mixed with the melting flakes, slipping down her cheeks and freezing there like jagged bumps of misshapen face paint.

Red.

Oh, thank God.

White.

Please, hurry.

Blue.

Just a little closer.

The flashing lights were a beacon of hope in the cold expanse of winter. Paramedics raced towards her with a gurney in hand, barking instructions at her and murmuring wordless comfort to her little brother, though she wasn’t sure he could even hear them anymore. She tried to explain that she needed to hold him, to be there for him, but they simply untangled him from her arms and rested him gently on the cloth.

“Miss, please, we can help him. You’re welcome to ride in the ambulance, if you wish.”

In answer she jogged after them and hopped in the back, her brother’s eyelids fluttering as his body spasmed. A deep ache spread across her chest, anxiety for him spreading, pooling into the pocket in her brain that was supposed to be reserved for other worries. Like money. She worked two jobs just to pay for his medical care, and her schedule was unpredictable enough that she couldn’t always bring him lemon drops like she wanted to. But she didn’t mind, as long as he stayed with her. But if he was gone…

Hospital rooms were mysterious things. They smelled of fear and radiated all sounds that bounced across the tiled floor, somehow managing to make him look even more frail in the bed. The white sheets mirrored the paleness of his face, his navy coat and red hat discarded for a hospital gown and translucent tubes. It was hard to believe that not long ago he was in Central Park eating lemon drops and shaking peanuts onto the sidewalk, laughing at fluffy-tailed squirrels. She’d tossed her coat and gloves aside onto the floor, the empty hands lying dejected and sad. As she stared into empty blankness, her eyes changed from coffee-colored to the same shade as the earth after it storms: dark, puffy, and bogged down with rain.

It took days for him to wake up.

Beeping machines and bustling doctors became her new companions, and she slept in the sagging green chair next to his bed, a crick worming its way into her neck while she dozed. It was always the smell that work her up, that extreme scent of fear lacing its way up her nostrils and into her throat, choking her and forcing her awake. She missed the way he laughed and the way his chestnut curls used to bounce in the breeze. If only he would wake up, then everything would be okay.

A teardrop pooled in the inner corner of her eye.

I promised to take him to see the squirrels again.

That was three days ago.

Red.

A small gasp caught her attention, her gold-streaked hair sweeping across her cheekbones. It was him; his chocolate eyes open and blinking, his tiny chest rising and falling steadily.

“Matthew?”

A trembling smile lifted his colorless cheeks, dimpling them on one side. 

“Hi, Miri.”

“Are you good?”

He inspected the tubes coming out of his wrist. “I think so. I don’t know what happened, though.”

She reached into her pocket and held out her fist to him. “Don’t worry, Matthew. I was watching.” Uncurling her fingers, she revealed a lemon drop, sticky from the heat of her palm. He took it and weakly popped it in his mouth, grinning her favorite toothy grin. He began to laugh softly, pointing at the hospital window.

“Look, Miri! Look!”

On the windowsill rested two squirrels.

One was larger than the other, but the smaller one held something.

Miriam leaned closer to the window, moving slowly so she wouldn’t spook them.

A single peanut was clutched between the little squirrel’s claws.

She smiled, the sunniness from the memory of a lemon drop warming her heart.

Perhaps winter isn’t quite so ugly after all.

* * *
Cheers,
Sea

Comments

  1. My gosh. This made me cry. It's beautifully written <3
    A close family member of mine was just diagnosed with cancer and this hit home. Thank you for sharing <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! I'm so glad that you liked it. Cancer is so scary (I know this from personal experience with a family member too), but I wanted to really showcase love and family in this story, putting a twist on normally sad stories of a similar nature.

      I'll keep your family in my prayers.

      Delete

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