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Rouge, Orange, Et Noir
I’m in the inner city, but few cars are bustling outside the window of the restaurant. The fountain in the center of the room is the focal point, and the plants surrounding adorn it like an earthy haven. I pick at my food, a dry waffle, waiting for the business opportunity to arrive. I check my watch, 9:30 am. She was supposed to be here at 8:30. Leaning back in my chair, I look out the window and see the empty trees, icy streets, and cold hands; and a woman with a voluminous red scarf. Standing on the corner, she is drowning in it. Her cold hands out at her sides, pale and bare.
I blink, she disappears. A black bus passed by and she was gone. I shove the last bite of what I can handle of the waffle into my mouth, leave a twenty on the table, and head out of the dining area. Into the lounge, I brush past a couple arguing over their share of college debt, then a waitress who seems she hasn't slept in a month. My sweaty palms finally grab the door handle, and release a blizzard of cold in. All visitors share a barely noticeable shiver as they continue meaningless conversing.
Now on the sidewalk, I realize how truly barren the city is in December. Only a few pedestrians are walking alone by the storefronts whose owners only wish they could be home in front of the fire. While walking quickly, I glance over the railing, down at the docks and the ocean which are shrouded by the usual morning mist. I witness a massive barge stacked with wood from the decrepit forestland outside of the city. The deck hands sliding all across the iron floor, manning cranes, and hooking logs to the ends of chains. How many people die a day down there?
My apartment, not far away, is calling for me. Though I am nearly out of money to for the rent. The radiator that works only occasionally, and the painting of my mother and father are the only things that kept me company in the lonely box, along with the dangerously small amount of food and my clothes. My demise is soon, as promised by those who are better than I.
I reach the door to the pale blue building and walk into the lobby that faintly smells of a male locker room with an ancient floral-scented candle lit inside. There are red folding chairs on either side, leading you to the lobby desk, made to look like dark oak, but is empty most of the time. On the left side of me sits a woman, a woman who I have never seen in the building before. A woman drowning in a massive red scarf stared at me, not saying anything. I do not speak either, for she reminds me of someone. Of course she is the same woman who was staring from across the street, but she reminds me of someone else as well.
My mother. My beautiful mother who would take us to the farm where we could pet the lambs and the sheep. My sweet mother whose heart was undeniably pure. My honest mother who, in truth, kept too many secrets. My mother who was a heavy smoker, and kept it from my father. Mother. Who contracted throat cancer at 30 and died a year later in the middle of the night from drowning because of her refusal to see a doctor. Drowning in her own blood. My father cried that next morning, for the first time I had seen in my short life.
I turn around before walking up the stairs to my room with tears churning in my eyes, the woman is gone.
I enter my studio apartment and there is a brown paper bag sitting on the stained kitchen counter under the flickering fluorescent light. It’s addressed to me. I ignore it as I walk past my unmade bed on the floor and to the window where light is leaking in through the blinds. The sky is also a layer of clouds when I pull the blinds up, but there in the distance, there is a break where light is shining through. I go back to the counter and decide to sit on the high wooden stool. The crinkling of the paper breaks the stiff silence in the room. The smell gave me a beforehand guess of what was inside. Oranges, six oranges.
On top of the oranges is a note.
Dear Mr. Rutter, it
has come to our attention that you have
failed to pay rent for the past three(3) months.
This letter is to notify you of a nearing eviction.
If you fail to pay this month, and the last three
month’s rent fees within the next seven days. We would
hate to see you go.
P.S. Oranges from my mother’s tree.
I read it, then again. I then fold the letter up and place it in my breast pocket. I most definitely do not have the money, nor a way to get the money, and what I had left was from the previous job which I did not deserve anyway. I pick the bag up and pour the oranges onto the counter. One rolls off slowly and hits the floor, which in my mind, is now becoming grass.
I am 7 now, and standing underneath one of the many orange trees in the large backyard of mine. The day is sunny, and my father, as one of his last efforts to bring joy back to his sons, had climbed on top of the old shed to grab the ripest fruit, and the first, at the top of the tree. An orange falls, then another, making soft thumps on the ground as father shakes the branch. Grandma sits on a stump reading a book with a large sunhat, only looking up when Nick grabs her leg and begs her to play. I begin frantically picking up the fruit, holding them in my small arms. I hear father laughing when one hits me in the back. I whine. More fall, for the next five minutes, then they stop. The sun is hot, and hard to look at when I hear a thump, louder than an orange.
I look up, my father is on the ground. I suddenly hear Nick crying and pointing, grandma runs to father. She yells at me to go inside, and take Nick, I do. I’m crying too now. There's a white truck with flashing lights in the driveway, and grandma comes in and tells us to get in the car, we follow the ambulance to the hospital. I continuously attempt to comfort my brother by speaking softly to him, but clouds move into the sky, and the rain begins to wash away safety.
That was the afternoon my father died of a broken spine. Severe nerve damage and cut off of circulation. My grandmother passed soon after that, I assumed because of pure grief.
I pick up the orange, and place it back on the counter. It had now collected dust from the carpet. The simple fruit, now covered in dirt, baggage to carry with it, and possibly, in the future, would bruise from such the heavy impact. A bruise that would never disappear until it is eaten or thrown away.
I look at the painting beside the door of my parents. They had it done in Venice when they were young, and my dad had gotten a large sum of money from his job. They truly did seem so innocent, smiling and holding each other with the city behind them. Is it time to let go of it? No. Of course no one else needs it, and it is the only thing that made it through all these years with me. Though soon, it seemed all would be over, all hope would be lost. I stand up and take the small portrait of two off the wall, and place it face down beside the oranges.
The rest of the day goes by with nothing particular happening, and I get in bed at eight o’clock. Was the woman real? Perhaps she lives in the apartment nextdoor. Perhaps she heard the orange fall, or me opening the blinds. Perhaps she hears my every move, my every mumble meant only for myself.
The morning comes, but the moon doesn’t set. I hate when that happens, it seems like night never actually went away, like I’m constantly stuck in between. I go to the empty park across from the apartment complex and sit on the green iron bench. Under the leafless oak trees, there are pigeons eating crumbs left by a sweaty jogger who ran by while eating a donut. The trees have no leaves, but one has a crow sitting in it.
On the highest branch it sits, a stark contrast to the white sky, I am now in the cold, dark room lined with small beds. Nick had just been taken to the nurse wing of the orphanage, I am 11 now, he is 8. A massive headache had been plaguing him for weeks, and he had just passed out while speaking to me about what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said a pilot, so he could finally see what London looks like. From the sky of course. I watched the nurses pick him up after they walked in. They looked extremely concerned, and so was I. They whispered to each other so I could not hear, so I stayed in the room as they left. All the other boys had gone, out playing, eating, or studying.
I waited for hours as others came and went, until night, when a lady I had never seen before came and got me while the other boys were asleep. “He did not make it,” the lady told me, acting sorry for me, even though it’s one less child to care for. “I’m sorry.” After that, I cried, everyday. Boys made fun of me, but I didn’t care anymore. Every night, all I could hear was the crows cawing through the blackness. It was the first time I heard them.
Following my burden on foster families, I was finally free. Free from feeling like I was trapped with people I did not know and who did not truly care for me, for I was not their own, but now I do wish I still had someone.
I look away from the blackbird and across the park, to the other bench, where there is now a person. A woman, peeling an orange. A woman with an enormous red scarf, tossing the peels into the grass in front of her. Suddenly the bird crows and flies into the field, picking up the largest chunk of peel with its slick beak.
Death takes a man for taking what he was not entitled to.
The crow then flies towards the woman, with such large wings, it seems to grow. It’s beak abruptly opens, and the trees rattle with its displacement of air. The crow consumes the woman. The red scarf falls slowly from the mouth of the great bird until it touches the ground. The bird, with a swoop, continues into the sky until it is merely a speck, then nothing at all.
Death takes a woman for lying to another.
I blink, eyes watering for too many reasons. A single tear drops into my lap. I blink again. The scarf has now disappeared as well, my hands are shaking. My life has not been at all what my mother promised, what my father said he could supply, or what my brother provided.
Death takes a child for no reason.
So why am I still here?
Suddenly I feel a hand on my shoulder. “I read your story Noah... and I was heading to the restaurant, but I saw you here, so…” the voice trailed off. I was completely perplexed when I turned around to see a woman with quite Bohemian attire on, until I realized who it was.
“Sus… Susanne?” the words fall out of my mouth and into a pile on the ground, I stand up, “I thought our appointment was yesterday..?”
“Oh, no honey. It’s today, and now I’m sure glad I saw you sitting here, I was about to keep driving to the restaurant, but you looked so forlorn.” She stated. The business opportunity has found me it seems.
“Anyway, your story, I would love to see it published, and I really don’t have much time left, so in conclusion, we would like to sign you on, we can discuss more next week if you would like to.” She continued.
“Of course, but how much would it make?” I ask.
“Hun, it all depends on the audience, but I would say enough, especially if you continue writing.” She says. “Now i’ve gotta go, I’ll send some cover sketches over monday, how ‘bout that.” She announces.
“Oh, yes, sure!” I retort excitedly, “ and thank you so much for this.”
She winks and walks away slowly, getting in her car. My mind is racing with thoughts of getting a loan to pay rent until it is published. Possible new housing, better clothes, a coffee pot even.
I go back to my apartment. The oranges are gone, though there never were any to begin with, just the letter. I pick up the painting and walk across my small studio. I open the whole window now, and a breeze picks up papers strewn across the room and sends them to new locations. I remove the canvas from the frame, not noticing a small piece of paper slip out and onto the floor. I drop the frame on the floor as well and lean out the windowsill holding the art. Below are a few houses and buildings along small roads and ledges jutting out from the cliff, but below that is the ocean with the docks slicing through it. The mist has cleared from atop the water, but it is still in the sky.
I reach my arm out as far as I can and throw the painting into the ocean far, far below. I hear a crow caw in pure pain and angst, but I am not sorry. I am not sorry for who I am anymore, I am not sorry for feeling like a burden. For feeling alone or sad.
My joy is overflowing one could say, but I finally notice the pink paper lying on the floor next to my bed that had fallen from the frame.
Nicholas and Noah, my precious boys.
I love you with a love that is more than love,
but know that death is not the greatest loss,
the greatest loss is what dies inside us
when we live.
I am sorry.
I have lost you.