Red

Before the rest of them died, after the tinted bathroom tiles, the girl dreamt of a woman in a rocking chair. She woke up before the sunrise and her bare feet found the slippers by the bedside, symmetrical on the fracture that ran through the lightest panel of wood. Her sheets were ruffled and pressed with the vague indentation of her body curled unto itself. The mother did not sleep with the girl anymore, did not hold her through the nightmare that repeated. She slept instead in her own bed under the wool jackets the girl’s father had left behind, or sometimes on the pullout of the living room couch, or sometimes even in the back seat of his car. She slept on the cold tiles of the bar downstairs, or sometimes: sometimes she would sleep in the bathtub, a tatty fleece blanket draped over her naked shoulders.

She wouldn’t now, not after the stain was gone.

The girl walked through the empty house in search of her mother but did not find her. She walked to her mother’s bedroom and pressed her nose into the made bedcovers, but the smell was fading, so she turned to the window. It gazed down upon the back railing of the deck, seventeen years old, rotten at its corners and nestled among bunched twigs lonely in their demise. The Minnesota winds had carved the falling snow into rounded dunes that hugged the branches and called to passerbys at the hillcrest -- the undisturbed plane demanded the interruption of children with rosy colored cheeks adept at handling the piercing of the wind and with outstretched hands learned in the art of angel-making.

Mom, the girl whispered. Come home.

She put her face against the fogged glass and stood still. Pine trees planted along the dirt road gave the yard a deserted look; the snow froze without mercy to their outstretched arms. Her eyes glided over the glinted snow until they found their way to the oak at the top of the hill. Scratching her hair back from her face -- unwashed for eight days now -- she let her eyes focus on the tree’s strongest limb. There, hanging from her father’s red climbing ropes, swung her mother.

Though she could feel the curtains suffocating her against the window, the girl blinked and refrained from collapsing. Across the yard, behind the oak, something moved. As it grew closer the girl saw that it was a red coat that moved with the body of a man. He continued to place his hands near his mouth, shouting. An ax swung from a sash over his shoulder. Maybe he’s looking for someone in a red coat, the girl thought. He stepped then beside the oak tree and stood unmoving for minutes before he swung the ax through the rope and the body dropped limply into the snow.

Mom, the girl whimpered. Come home.


Much later, after the girl had fallen asleep on the mother’s bed, after she had dreamt again of the woman in the rocking chair and had risen from the bed fifty years older, after the silence of the house greeted her with its unchanging pulse—after all that, the girl looked out the window and understood. She climbed down the stairwell, draped her red coat over her shoulders and pulled an orange from the basket in the kitchen, she pulled open the doors to the deck and walked to the rocking chair frozen to the deck and hidden beneath the snow. She sat down and leaned her head back to feel the first snowflakes melt into the dying blush of her cheeks. The orange peeled in her fingers with ease and she bit into the pieces, savoring the sour taste against her lips. Flakes fell onto the red coat and snow piled on the lap of the woman in the rocking chair, who rocked until the dunes gathered at her ankles and spread over the plane.





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