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"Red" by Vanessa Olson

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I ​ ​was ​ ​born ​ ​in ​ ​a ​ ​tiny ​ ​hospital ​ ​in ​ ​a ​ ​nothing-town, ​ ​one ​ ​that ​ ​barely ​ ​got ​ ​phone ​ ​signal. ​ ​It ​ ​had ​ ​a hospital, ​ ​a ​ ​grocery ​ ​store, ​ ​a ​ ​gas ​ ​station, ​ ​and ​ ​a ​ ​bustling ​ ​drug ​ ​market. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​either ​ ​late ​ ​at ​ ​night ​ ​or early ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​morning, ​ ​depending ​ ​on​ ​who ​ ​you​ ​asked. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​a ​ ​Saturday, ​ ​one ​ ​that ​ ​my ​ ​mother ​ ​had been ​ ​audibly ​ ​dreading ​ ​for ​ ​the ​ ​last ​ ​nine ​ ​months. ​ ​I ​ ​don’t ​ ​remember ​ ​it, ​ ​of ​ ​course. ​ ​My ​ ​mother smoked ​ ​a ​ ​cheap ​ ​drugstore ​ ​cigarette ​ ​to ​ ​calm ​ ​her ​ ​nerves ​ ​while ​ ​the ​ ​nurse ​ ​wrapped ​ ​me ​ ​in ​ ​a ​ ​generic cotton ​ ​blanket. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

My ​ ​first ​ ​day ​ ​of ​ ​second ​ ​grade. ​ ​My ​ ​dad ​ ​had ​ ​driven ​ ​me ​ ​to ​ ​school, ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​nervous. ​ ​I ​ ​had my ​ ​second-hand ​ ​backpack ​ ​and ​ ​my ​ ​Goodwill ​ ​shoes ​ ​and ​ ​a ​ ​brown-bag ​ ​lunch. ​ ​The ​ ​only ​ ​brand-new thing ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​was ​ ​a ​ ​little ​ ​red ​ ​dress ​ ​with ​ ​a ​ ​ribbon ​ ​that ​ ​tied ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​back, ​ ​one ​ ​which ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​currently wearing. ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​proud ​ ​of ​ ​it, ​ ​so ​ ​I ​ ​took ​ ​a ​ ​deep ​ ​breath ​ ​and ​ ​stepped ​ ​out ​ ​of ​ ​the ​ ​car. ​ ​I ​ ​marched ​ ​up​ ​to ​ ​the building ​ ​that ​ ​seemed ​ ​to ​ ​loom ​ ​into ​ ​the ​ ​sky ​ ​and ​ ​stepped ​ ​inside. ​ ​I ​ ​made ​ ​it ​ ​through ​ ​most ​ ​of ​ ​the ​ ​day, until ​ ​recess. ​ ​And ​ ​then, ​ ​walking ​ ​out ​ ​onto ​ ​the ​ ​pavement, ​ ​a ​ ​malicious ​ ​foot ​ ​attacked ​ ​me ​ ​out ​ ​of ​ ​the crowd, ​ ​sending ​ ​me ​ ​sprawling ​ ​onto ​ ​the ​ ​pavement. ​ ​I ​ ​pulled ​ ​my ​ ​palms ​ ​away ​ ​from ​ ​the ​ ​cold, ​ ​hard cement. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

It ​ ​was ​ ​my ​ ​ninth ​ ​birthday. ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​been ​ ​outside, ​ ​swinging ​ ​on ​ ​the ​ ​wooden ​ ​swing ​ ​that ​ ​my ​ ​dad had ​ ​hung ​ ​from ​ ​the ​ ​tree ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​tiny ​ ​space ​ ​next ​ ​to ​ ​the ​ ​parking ​ ​lot. ​ ​Yelling ​ ​began ​ ​to ​ ​crescendo, ​ ​and ​ ​I thought ​ ​nothing ​ ​of ​ ​it ​ ​at ​ ​first. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​something ​ ​that ​ ​occurred ​ ​often, ​ ​and ​ ​always ​ ​ended ​ ​in ​ ​an ​ ​ice cream ​ ​apology. ​ ​A ​ ​door ​ ​slammed. ​ ​Glass ​ ​broke. ​ ​I ​ ​heard ​ ​the ​ ​front ​ ​door ​ ​slam ​ ​open ​ ​and ​ ​my ​ ​dad stormed ​ ​out ​ ​and ​ ​into ​ ​his ​ ​car ​ ​with ​ ​a ​ ​hastily ​ ​thrown ​ ​together ​ ​duffel. ​ ​He ​ ​hops ​ ​in ​ ​his ​ ​car, ​ ​and ​ ​I​ ​hurry towards ​ ​it. ​ ​This ​ ​hadn’t ​ ​happened ​ ​before. ​ ​He ​ ​screeches ​ ​out ​ ​of ​ ​the ​ ​driveway, ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​began ​ ​to ​ ​run. His ​ ​truck ​ ​rumbled ​ ​down ​ ​the ​ ​road ​ ​and ​ ​I’m ​ ​left, ​ ​barefooted ​ ​and ​ ​confused, ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​middle ​ ​of ​ ​the ​ ​road staring ​ ​at ​ ​his ​ ​tailgate. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

Art ​ ​class ​ ​became ​ ​my ​ ​escape. ​ ​I ​ ​loved ​ ​art ​ ​with ​ ​everything ​ ​inside ​ ​me. ​ ​I ​ ​loved ​ ​the ​ ​feeling ​ ​of my ​ ​tools ​ ​between ​ ​my ​ ​fingers. ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​addicted ​ ​to ​ ​the ​ ​feeling ​ ​of ​ ​paper ​ ​on​ ​my ​ ​fingertips. ​ ​And ​ ​the scent. ​ ​The ​ ​heavenly ​ ​scent ​ ​of ​ ​clay ​ ​and ​ ​acrylics. ​ ​And ​ ​no​ ​one ​ ​ever ​ ​bothered ​ ​me, ​ ​except ​ ​for ​ ​one person. ​ ​His ​ ​name ​ ​was ​ ​Calder, ​ ​and ​ ​he ​ ​sat ​ ​directly ​ ​on​ ​my ​ ​right. ​ ​He ​ ​didn’t ​ ​speak ​ ​to ​ ​me ​ ​for ​ ​a ​ ​long time, ​ ​until ​ ​one ​ ​day ​ ​he ​ ​turned ​ ​to ​ ​me ​ ​and ​ ​asked ​ ​if ​ ​he ​ ​could ​ ​borrow ​ ​the ​ ​pot ​ ​of ​ ​paint ​ ​on​ ​my ​ ​left. ​ ​It was ​ ​red.

Middle ​ ​school ​ ​rolled ​ ​around. ​ ​Calder ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​grown ​ ​into ​ ​best ​ ​friends, ​ ​despite ​ ​the ​ ​fact that ​ ​he ​ ​wasn’t ​ ​allowed ​ ​into ​ ​my ​ ​house. ​ ​My ​ ​mother, ​ ​on​ ​the ​ ​other ​ ​hand, ​ ​grew ​ ​drunk ​ ​and ​ ​high. ​ ​I​ ​did my ​ ​best ​ ​to ​ ​avoid ​ ​her. ​ ​She ​ ​would ​ ​get ​ ​drunk ​ ​and ​ ​sit ​ ​in ​ ​front ​ ​of ​ ​the ​ ​television, ​ ​too ​ ​high ​ ​on​ ​the ​ ​fumes circulating ​ ​our ​ ​home ​ ​to ​ ​realize ​ ​it ​ ​wasn’t ​ ​even ​ ​on. ​ ​She ​ ​never ​ ​signed ​ ​my ​ ​permission ​ ​slips ​ ​for ​ ​field trips, ​ ​she ​ ​never ​ ​went ​ ​to ​ ​parent-teacher ​ ​conferences. ​ ​But ​ ​Calder ​ ​didn’t ​ ​mind. ​ ​He ​ ​didn’t ​ ​mind ​ ​that I ​ ​talked ​ ​too ​ ​much, ​ ​as ​ ​my ​ ​mother ​ ​said ​ ​one ​ ​drunk ​ ​evening. ​ ​She ​ ​got ​ ​so ​ ​upset ​ ​at ​ ​me ​ ​for ​ ​my stumbling ​ ​tongue ​ ​and ​ ​murmured ​ ​responses ​ ​that ​ ​her ​ ​hand ​ ​snapped ​ ​across ​ ​my ​ ​face ​ ​like ​ ​a thunder-clap. ​ ​I ​ ​staggered ​ ​to ​ ​the ​ ​bathroom ​ ​and ​ ​peered ​ ​at ​ ​my ​ ​cheek ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​cloudy ​ ​mirror ​ ​in ​ ​shock. It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

High ​ ​school ​ ​rolled ​ ​around, ​ ​but ​ ​I ​ ​barely ​ ​noticed ​ ​its ​ ​arrival ​ ​or ​ ​change. ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​too ​ ​busy staring ​ ​aimlessly ​ ​from ​ ​behind ​ ​a ​ ​curtain ​ ​of ​ ​hair. ​ ​Marrie, ​ ​my ​ ​best ​ ​and ​ ​only ​ ​friend, ​ ​attempted ​ ​to break ​ ​through ​ ​the ​ ​wall ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​managed ​ ​to ​ ​construct ​ ​around ​ ​myself. ​ ​I ​ ​hardly ​ ​noticed ​ ​the ​ ​stares ​ ​or whispers, ​ ​rumours ​ ​that ​ ​were ​ ​untrue, ​ ​so ​ ​I ​ ​decided ​ ​to ​ ​pay ​ ​no​ ​mind ​ ​when ​ ​the ​ ​words ​ ​“obsessive”, “crazy”, ​ ​“depressed” ​ ​circled ​ ​my ​ ​head ​ ​like ​ ​demonic ​ ​vultures. ​ ​Calder ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​dated ​ ​and ​ ​were ​ ​happy for ​ ​a ​ ​few ​ ​months, ​ ​until ​ ​he ​ ​grew ​ ​possessive ​ ​and ​ ​protective ​ ​and ​ ​angry. ​ ​Then, ​ ​we ​ ​split ​ ​up.​ ​But ​ ​he was ​ ​still ​ ​angry, ​ ​always ​ ​angry. ​ ​He ​ ​called ​ ​me ​ ​often, ​ ​and ​ ​when ​ ​I ​ ​answered, ​ ​he ​ ​yelled. ​ ​One ​ ​morning, I ​ ​found ​ ​a ​ ​bear ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​bought ​ ​him ​ ​for ​ ​some ​ ​holiday ​ ​or ​ ​another ​ ​dismembered ​ ​and ​ ​gutted ​ ​on​ ​the porch. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

Sophomore ​ ​year ​ ​snuck ​ ​up​ ​on​ ​me ​ ​and ​ ​whacked ​ ​me ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​back ​ ​of ​ ​the ​ ​head. ​ ​I ​ ​began ​ ​to ​ ​get better. ​ ​I ​ ​spoke ​ ​in ​ ​class, ​ ​I ​ ​talked ​ ​to ​ ​Marrie. ​ ​She ​ ​was ​ ​so ​ ​happy ​ ​that ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​talking ​ ​again. ​ ​So ​ ​I ​ ​talked, just ​ ​for ​ ​her. ​ ​She ​ ​listened ​ ​to ​ ​me ​ ​talk, ​ ​even ​ ​about ​ ​things ​ ​that ​ ​didn’t ​ ​matter. ​ ​She ​ ​always ​ ​smiled ​ ​and encouraged ​ ​me ​ ​when ​ ​I ​ ​stuttered. ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​better ​ ​for ​ ​about ​ ​six ​ ​months. ​ ​Then, ​ ​Calder ​ ​grew ​ ​angry ​ ​at my ​ ​continued ​ ​closeness ​ ​with ​ ​Marrie. ​ ​I ​ ​came ​ ​to ​ ​school ​ ​one ​ ​day ​ ​to ​ ​Marrie ​ ​scrubbing ​ ​furiously ​ ​at my ​ ​locker ​ ​at ​ ​a ​ ​sharpied ​ ​word ​ ​on​ ​my ​ ​green ​ ​locker. ​ ​Faggot. ​ ​She ​ ​tried ​ ​to ​ ​explain ​ ​or ​ ​joke ​ ​it ​ ​away, but ​ ​I ​ ​couldn’t ​ ​tear ​ ​my ​ ​eyes ​ ​away ​ ​from ​ ​my ​ ​locker. ​ ​Even ​ ​though ​ ​she ​ ​was ​ ​almost ​ ​one-fourth ​ ​of ​ ​the way ​ ​through, ​ ​I ​ ​could ​ ​still ​ ​read ​ ​the ​ ​word. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

Junior ​ ​year, ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​worse. ​ ​Marrie ​ ​was ​ ​almost ​ ​completely ​ ​gone ​ ​from ​ ​my ​ ​life. ​ ​My mother ​ ​had ​ ​gotten ​ ​worse, ​ ​sallow ​ ​and ​ ​angry, ​ ​pale, ​ ​clumps ​ ​of ​ ​her ​ ​once ​ ​luscious ​ ​blond ​ ​hair ​ ​ending up​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​sink. ​ ​I ​ ​no​ ​longer ​ ​even ​ ​flinched ​ ​when ​ ​her ​ ​hands ​ ​clapped ​ ​like ​ ​thunder ​ ​on​ ​my ​ ​skin. ​ ​I hardly ​ ​noticed. ​ ​I ​ ​didn’t ​ ​draw ​ ​anymore, ​ ​either. ​ ​Instead, ​ ​I ​ ​sat ​ ​on​ ​my ​ ​bed ​ ​and ​ ​stared ​ ​at ​ ​a ​ ​blank ​ ​page. The ​ ​same ​ ​blank ​ ​page ​ ​every ​ ​day. ​ ​It ​ ​haunted ​ ​my ​ ​thoughts, ​ ​my ​ ​dreams. ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​blank, ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​grey, ​ ​I couldn’t ​ ​escape ​ ​it. ​ ​One ​ ​day, ​ ​I ​ ​lost ​ ​it. ​ ​I ​ ​found ​ ​a ​ ​knife ​ ​with ​ ​a ​ ​smooth ​ ​wooden ​ ​handle ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​kitchen while ​ ​my ​ ​mom ​ ​was ​ ​in ​ ​a ​ ​drugged ​ ​haze ​ ​and ​ ​locked ​ ​myself ​ ​in ​ ​my ​ ​room. ​ ​I ​ ​held ​ ​the ​ ​point ​ ​of ​ ​the knife, ​ ​hovering ​ ​over ​ ​the ​ ​paper, ​ ​for ​ ​longer ​ ​than ​ ​I ​ ​could ​ ​count. ​ ​Hours, ​ ​maybe. ​ ​I, ​ ​at ​ ​last, ​ ​turned ​ ​the knife. ​ ​It ​ ​kissed ​ ​my ​ ​skin, ​ ​leaving ​ ​red ​ ​where ​ ​it ​ ​went ​ ​and ​ ​red ​ ​on​ ​the ​ ​paper ​ ​below ​ ​my ​ ​arm. ​ ​Three lines, ​ ​sharp ​ ​and ​ ​thin ​ ​as ​ ​fishing ​ ​line. ​ ​I ​ ​put ​ ​the ​ ​knife ​ ​down ​ ​and ​ ​stared ​ ​at ​ ​the ​ ​page ​ ​before ​ ​closing ​ ​the book​ ​slowly, ​ ​satisfied ​ ​that ​ ​it ​ ​was ​ ​no​ ​longer ​ ​blank. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

High ​ ​school ​ ​was ​ ​over. ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​no​ ​idea ​ ​what ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​going ​ ​to ​ ​do ​ ​with ​ ​my ​ ​life. ​ ​I ​ ​went ​ ​over ​ ​to Marrie’s ​ ​for ​ ​hours ​ ​at ​ ​a ​ ​time, ​ ​and ​ ​she ​ ​would ​ ​just ​ ​talk. ​ ​I ​ ​think ​ ​she ​ ​could ​ ​tell ​ ​that ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​broken something, ​ ​but ​ ​she ​ ​didn’t ​ ​ask ​ ​what. ​ ​She ​ ​just ​ ​spoke, ​ ​lilting ​ ​voice ​ ​tracing ​ ​stories ​ ​of ​ ​what ​ ​she ​ ​was going ​ ​to ​ ​do, ​ ​who ​ ​she ​ ​wanted ​ ​to ​ ​be. ​ ​She ​ ​would ​ ​tell ​ ​funny ​ ​stories ​ ​of ​ ​the ​ ​things ​ ​that ​ ​had ​ ​happened to ​ ​her ​ ​and ​ ​her ​ ​sisters, ​ ​and ​ ​about ​ ​her ​ ​parents ​ ​before ​ ​she ​ ​was ​ ​born. ​ ​I ​ ​would ​ ​listen. ​ ​Sometimes, ​ ​I would ​ ​open ​ ​my ​ ​sketchbook ​ ​to ​ ​a ​ ​blank ​ ​page, ​ ​but ​ ​I ​ ​no​ ​longer ​ ​felt ​ ​the ​ ​need ​ ​to ​ ​fill ​ ​them. ​ ​The ​ ​lines on​ ​my ​ ​wrist ​ ​were ​ ​healing. ​ ​Life ​ ​was ​ ​looking ​ ​up.​ ​Except ​ ​for ​ ​my ​ ​mother. ​ ​My ​ ​mother, ​ ​who ​ ​had started ​ ​bringing ​ ​strange ​ ​men ​ ​into ​ ​our ​ ​home ​ ​again ​ ​and ​ ​suggesting ​ ​that ​ ​I ​ ​do​ ​the ​ ​same. ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​to ​ ​pay for ​ ​college ​ ​somehow, ​ ​in ​ ​her ​ ​words. ​ ​But ​ ​Marrie ​ ​didn’t ​ ​ask. ​ ​She ​ ​didn’t ​ ​ask ​ ​when ​ ​I ​ ​showed ​ ​up​ ​at four ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​morning, ​ ​or ​ ​eleven ​ ​at ​ ​night. ​ ​Instead, ​ ​she ​ ​would ​ ​pull ​ ​out ​ ​the ​ ​couch ​ ​for ​ ​me ​ ​and ​ ​sleep ​ ​on the ​ ​floor ​ ​with ​ ​a ​ ​blanket ​ ​wrapped ​ ​around ​ ​her ​ ​like ​ ​a ​ ​cocoon. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

The ​ ​search ​ ​for ​ ​a ​ ​college ​ ​began. ​ ​Marrie ​ ​told ​ ​me ​ ​she ​ ​was ​ ​going ​ ​to ​ ​apply ​ ​to ​ ​Boston ​ ​for ​ ​art, so ​ ​I ​ ​figured ​ ​I ​ ​might ​ ​as ​ ​well ​ ​apply ​ ​there ​ ​as ​ ​well. ​ ​I ​ ​knew ​ ​that ​ ​even ​ ​if ​ ​I ​ ​got ​ ​accepted, ​ ​I ​ ​couldn’t afford ​ ​it. ​ ​I ​ ​knew ​ ​that ​ ​even ​ ​as ​ ​Marrie ​ ​chirruped ​ ​about ​ ​rooms ​ ​and ​ ​rent ​ ​and ​ ​classes ​ ​that ​ ​we ​ ​wouldn’t end ​ ​up ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​same ​ ​college. ​ ​I ​ ​would ​ ​end ​ ​up​ ​in ​ ​a ​ ​local ​ ​community ​ ​college, ​ ​my ​ ​mother’s ​ ​rank breath ​ ​down ​ ​my ​ ​neck ​ ​the ​ ​entire ​ ​time. ​ ​I ​ ​knew ​ ​it ​ ​was ​ ​too ​ ​good​ ​a ​ ​dream, ​ ​one ​ ​that ​ ​soon ​ ​would ​ ​pop on​ ​the ​ ​thorns ​ ​of ​ ​reality. ​ ​That’s ​ ​why, ​ ​when ​ ​we ​ ​received ​ ​our ​ ​letters, ​ ​I ​ ​insisted ​ ​on​ ​opening ​ ​mine last. ​ ​Marrie ​ ​got ​ ​in, ​ ​of ​ ​course, ​ ​with ​ ​her ​ ​wonderful ​ ​canvases. ​ ​I ​ ​opened ​ ​my ​ ​letter ​ ​slower, ​ ​already picturing ​ ​the ​ ​words ​ ​of ​ ​rejection ​ ​in ​ ​my ​ ​mind. ​ ​I ​ ​read ​ ​through ​ ​the ​ ​letter ​ ​once, ​ ​and ​ ​then ​ ​twice, ​ ​before Marrie ​ ​snatched ​ ​it ​ ​out ​ ​of ​ ​my ​ ​hands ​ ​and ​ ​read ​ ​it ​ ​herself. ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​gotten ​ ​in. ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​slipped ​ ​through ​ ​the system, ​ ​or ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​fooled ​ ​them ​ ​somehow, ​ ​but ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​in. ​ ​I ​ ​read ​ ​all ​ ​the ​ ​way ​ ​to ​ ​the ​ ​end, ​ ​Marrie shouting ​ ​in ​ ​my ​ ​ear ​ ​the ​ ​whole ​ ​time, ​ ​with ​ ​the ​ ​fancy ​ ​seal ​ ​on​ ​the ​ ​bottom. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

A ​ ​few ​ ​weeks ​ ​after ​ ​I ​ ​got ​ ​accepted, ​ ​I ​ ​gathered ​ ​the ​ ​courage ​ ​to ​ ​tell ​ ​my ​ ​mother. ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​thought she ​ ​would ​ ​be ​ ​proud. ​ ​I ​ ​thought ​ ​she ​ ​would ​ ​be ​ ​glad ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​going ​ ​to ​ ​a ​ ​good​ ​college. ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​wrong. ​ ​Her hand ​ ​cracked ​ ​across ​ ​my ​ ​cheek, ​ ​just ​ ​as ​ ​it ​ ​had ​ ​when ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​a ​ ​child. ​ ​Nothing ​ ​was ​ ​different. ​ ​She began ​ ​to ​ ​yell, ​ ​her ​ ​voice ​ ​old, ​ ​her ​ ​skin ​ ​yellow ​ ​like ​ ​papyrus. ​ ​I ​ ​flinched ​ ​from ​ ​her ​ ​stench, ​ ​like ​ ​sweat and ​ ​scotch. ​ ​She ​ ​yelled ​ ​horrible ​ ​things; ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​a ​ ​bad ​ ​child. ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​run ​ ​my ​ ​father ​ ​off. ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​a ​ ​horrible daughter ​ ​for ​ ​abandoning ​ ​her ​ ​sick ​ ​mother. ​ ​Her ​ ​eyes ​ ​began ​ ​to ​ ​bug​ ​out ​ ​of ​ ​her ​ ​head ​ ​and ​ ​she ​ ​turned to ​ ​the ​ ​sink, ​ ​coughing ​ ​and ​ ​hacking ​ ​as ​ ​if ​ ​one ​ ​of ​ ​her ​ ​lungs ​ ​was ​ ​attempting ​ ​to ​ ​crawl ​ ​up​ ​her ​ ​throat. ​ ​I managed ​ ​to ​ ​capture ​ ​a ​ ​look ​ ​at ​ ​the ​ ​old ​ ​metal ​ ​sink ​ ​over ​ ​her ​ ​shoulder. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

College ​ ​was ​ ​long ​ ​and ​ ​hard. ​ ​I ​ ​no​ ​longer ​ ​spoke ​ ​to ​ ​my ​ ​mother, ​ ​even ​ ​on​ ​the ​ ​holidays. ​ ​Marrie graduated ​ ​with ​ ​flying ​ ​colors, ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​managed ​ ​to ​ ​squeak ​ ​past ​ ​with ​ ​Bs ​ ​and ​ ​Cs. ​ ​No ​ ​one ​ ​came ​ ​to support ​ ​me ​ ​at ​ ​graduation, ​ ​but ​ ​Marrie’s ​ ​younger ​ ​sisters ​ ​showed ​ ​up. ​ ​They ​ ​were ​ ​almost ​ ​as ​ ​pretty ​ ​as Marrie ​ ​herself, ​ ​same ​ ​strawberry ​ ​blond ​ ​hair, ​ ​and ​ ​one ​ ​had ​ ​blue ​ ​eyes ​ ​to ​ ​match ​ ​Marrie’s, ​ ​but ​ ​the other ​ ​had ​ ​green. ​ ​I ​ ​knew, ​ ​from ​ ​the ​ ​one ​ ​picture ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​seen ​ ​of ​ ​Marrie’s ​ ​blue-eyed ​ ​parents, ​ ​exactly what ​ ​that ​ ​meant. ​ ​They ​ ​were ​ ​rosy ​ ​and ​ ​graceful, ​ ​but ​ ​shorter ​ ​than ​ ​Marrie. ​ ​She ​ ​embraced ​ ​her ​ ​sisters, and ​ ​they ​ ​cried ​ ​while ​ ​she ​ ​laughed ​ ​up​ ​at ​ ​the ​ ​sky. ​ ​Marrie’s ​ ​youngest ​ ​sister, ​ ​Charlotte, ​ ​noticed ​ ​me standing ​ ​awkwardly ​ ​behind ​ ​them. ​ ​She ​ ​held ​ ​out ​ ​a ​ ​hand ​ ​without ​ ​releasing ​ ​her ​ ​sisters, ​ ​green ​ ​eyes sparkling. ​ ​She ​ ​introduced ​ ​herself ​ ​as ​ ​Lottie. ​ ​​Come ​ ​celebrate ​ ​with ​ ​us. ​ ​She ​ ​said. ​ ​She ​ ​smiled ​ ​at ​ ​me, as ​ ​I ​ ​reached ​ ​out ​ ​to ​ ​take ​ ​her ​ ​hand, ​ ​the ​ ​nail ​ ​polish ​ ​glimmering ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​sun. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

A ​ ​few ​ ​years ​ ​later, ​ ​Marrie ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​were ​ ​in ​ ​Paris ​ ​for ​ ​an ​ ​art ​ ​exhibition. ​ ​Hers, ​ ​of ​ ​course, ​ ​not mine. ​ ​I ​ ​still ​ ​hadn’t ​ ​found ​ ​anything ​ ​steady ​ ​aside ​ ​from ​ ​her. ​ ​A ​ ​job, ​ ​a ​ ​house, ​ ​a ​ ​boyfriend. ​ ​I ​ ​got ​ ​a ​ ​call one ​ ​day, ​ ​from ​ ​a ​ ​number ​ ​I ​ ​didn’t ​ ​recognize. ​ ​So ​ ​I ​ ​answered. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​a ​ ​strange ​ ​man, ​ ​a ​ ​voice ​ ​I’d never ​ ​heard. ​ ​He ​ ​told ​ ​me ​ ​my ​ ​mother ​ ​was ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​hospital. ​ ​She ​ ​had ​ ​collapsed ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​store. ​ ​She ​ ​had lung ​ ​cancer, ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​needed ​ ​immediately. ​ ​I ​ ​calmly ​ ​wrote ​ ​down ​ ​the ​ ​address, ​ ​said ​ ​thank ​ ​you, and ​ ​hung ​ ​up. ​ ​I ​ ​contemplated ​ ​calling ​ ​Marrie ​ ​as ​ ​I ​ ​stared ​ ​down ​ ​at ​ ​the ​ ​shaky ​ ​handwriting, ​ ​traced ​ ​the ink ​ ​with ​ ​my ​ ​eyes. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red. My ​ ​mother ​ ​didn’t ​ ​want ​ ​to ​ ​talk ​ ​to ​ ​me, ​ ​of ​ ​course. ​ ​She ​ ​threw ​ ​a ​ ​hissy ​ ​fit, ​ ​told ​ ​me ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​a horrible ​ ​daughter, ​ ​that ​ ​she ​ ​was ​ ​sick ​ ​because ​ ​of ​ ​me, ​ ​that ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​driven ​ ​off ​ ​my ​ ​father ​ ​and ​ ​forced ​ ​us into ​ ​debt ​ ​and ​ ​poverty. ​ ​The ​ ​nurses ​ ​listened ​ ​outside ​ ​for ​ ​a ​ ​while, ​ ​but ​ ​once ​ ​she ​ ​got ​ ​really ​ ​animated, spittle ​ ​flying ​ ​and ​ ​her ​ ​eyes ​ ​bugging ​ ​out, ​ ​they ​ ​came ​ ​in. ​ ​They ​ ​tried ​ ​to ​ ​calm ​ ​her ​ ​down, ​ ​to ​ ​make ​ ​her listen, ​ ​but ​ ​she ​ ​wouldn’t ​ ​stop ​ ​yelling ​ ​until ​ ​I ​ ​left. ​ ​Marrie ​ ​was ​ ​waiting ​ ​outside, ​ ​pale ​ ​faced ​ ​with ​ ​her hands ​ ​clenched ​ ​at ​ ​her ​ ​sides. ​ ​She ​ ​looked ​ ​at ​ ​me, ​ ​and ​ ​seemed ​ ​surprised ​ ​that ​ ​there ​ ​weren’t ​ ​tears waiting ​ ​there. ​ ​She ​ ​asked ​ ​me ​ ​if ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​all ​ ​right. ​ ​I ​ ​shrugged. ​ ​But ​ ​now, ​ ​she ​ ​was ​ ​better ​ ​at ​ ​reading ​ ​me. She ​ ​hugged ​ ​me ​ ​tight, ​ ​and ​ ​something ​ ​made ​ ​me ​ ​think ​ ​it ​ ​was ​ ​more ​ ​for ​ ​her ​ ​than ​ ​for ​ ​me. ​ ​So ​ ​I ​ ​let ​ ​her, and ​ ​even ​ ​hugged ​ ​her ​ ​back. ​ ​And ​ ​she ​ ​kissed ​ ​me, ​ ​and ​ ​it ​ ​tasted ​ ​like ​ ​her ​ ​lipstick ​ ​and ​ ​the ​ ​tears ​ ​I ​ ​didn’t know ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​crying. ​ ​She ​ ​pulled ​ ​away, ​ ​smiled, ​ ​and ​ ​watched ​ ​as ​ ​I ​ ​touched ​ ​my ​ ​lips ​ ​and ​ ​pulled ​ ​away my ​ ​finger. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

Years ​ ​passed, ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​stopped ​ ​thinking ​ ​about ​ ​the ​ ​things ​ ​my ​ ​mother ​ ​had ​ ​told ​ ​me. ​ ​Marrie made ​ ​me ​ ​forget, ​ ​helped ​ ​ease ​ ​it. ​ ​I ​ ​still ​ ​sometimes ​ ​hurt, ​ ​the ​ ​pain ​ ​of ​ ​the ​ ​words ​ ​digging ​ ​into ​ ​my ​ ​soul like ​ ​nails, ​ ​nailing ​ ​me ​ ​down ​ ​to ​ ​the ​ ​ground. ​ ​But ​ ​during ​ ​those ​ ​times, ​ ​she ​ ​would ​ ​hug​ ​me ​ ​and ​ ​tell ​ ​me that ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​okay, ​ ​and ​ ​dissuade ​ ​all ​ ​my ​ ​fears. ​ ​Slowly, ​ ​I ​ ​got ​ ​better. ​ ​Better ​ ​and ​ ​better ​ ​until ​ ​the ​ ​point when ​ ​I ​ ​felt ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​whole ​ ​again. ​ ​Except, ​ ​one ​ ​thing ​ ​was ​ ​missing. ​ ​I ​ ​asked ​ ​Marrie ​ ​about ​ ​it ​ ​one ​ ​day, too ​ ​casual ​ ​to ​ ​be ​ ​casual. ​ ​She ​ ​looked ​ ​up​ ​at ​ ​me ​ ​in ​ ​surprise ​ ​and ​ ​then ​ ​grinned ​ ​with ​ ​tears ​ ​in ​ ​her ​ ​eyes and ​ ​replied. ​ ​Yes, ​ ​I ​ ​would ​ ​very ​ ​much ​ ​like ​ ​a ​ ​child. ​ ​She ​ ​took ​ ​another ​ ​sip ​ ​from ​ ​her ​ ​mug. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

Our ​ ​daughter, ​ ​Olive, ​ ​turned ​ ​four. ​ ​She ​ ​was ​ ​a ​ ​sweet ​ ​girl, ​ ​with ​ ​honey ​ ​brown ​ ​skin ​ ​and ​ ​curly cocoa ​ ​hair. ​ ​Her ​ ​eyes ​ ​were ​ ​big ​ ​and ​ ​green, ​ ​filled ​ ​with ​ ​too ​ ​much ​ ​wisdom ​ ​for ​ ​her ​ ​age. ​ ​Sometimes ​ ​I got ​ ​scared ​ ​of ​ ​ruining ​ ​her ​ ​like ​ ​my ​ ​mother ​ ​had ​ ​ruined ​ ​me, ​ ​and ​ ​Marrie ​ ​would ​ ​sit ​ ​on​ ​our ​ ​bed ​ ​and ​ ​hug me ​ ​and ​ ​coo ​ ​sweet ​ ​things ​ ​until ​ ​I ​ ​felt ​ ​better. ​ ​Once, ​ ​out ​ ​of ​ ​the ​ ​blue, ​ ​Olive ​ ​crawled ​ ​into ​ ​my ​ ​lap during ​ ​one ​ ​of ​ ​these ​ ​times. ​ ​I ​ ​love ​ ​you,​ ​mama. ​ ​She ​ ​told ​ ​me ​ ​assuredly ​ ​and ​ ​handed ​ ​me ​ ​a ​ ​flower ​ ​from the ​ ​yard. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

One ​ ​day, ​ ​when ​ ​she ​ ​was ​ ​six, ​ ​Olive ​ ​asked ​ ​me ​ ​about ​ ​the ​ ​scars ​ ​on​ ​my ​ ​wrist. ​ ​I ​ ​told ​ ​her ​ ​that ​ ​I had ​ ​gotten ​ ​them ​ ​learning ​ ​to ​ ​be ​ ​brave, ​ ​and ​ ​they ​ ​hurt ​ ​very ​ ​much. ​ ​She ​ ​patted ​ ​my ​ ​arm, ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​swiped at ​ ​my ​ ​eyes. ​ ​She ​ ​hopped ​ ​up ​ ​and ​ ​scurried ​ ​away ​ ​on​ ​her ​ ​little ​ ​kid ​ ​liege ​ ​before ​ ​hurrying ​ ​back. ​ ​She wraps ​ ​a ​ ​scarf ​ ​around ​ ​my ​ ​arm. ​ ​All ​ ​better, ​ ​mama. ​ ​She ​ ​cooed. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red. Marrie ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​grew ​ ​older, ​ ​but ​ ​never ​ ​apart. ​ ​Olive ​ ​grew ​ ​into ​ ​a ​ ​beautiful ​ ​teen ​ ​girl, ​ ​sweet ​ ​and kind ​ ​even ​ ​through ​ ​her ​ ​rebellious ​ ​phase. ​ ​Marrie ​ ​liked ​ ​to ​ ​tell ​ ​her ​ ​that ​ ​she ​ ​was ​ ​as ​ ​strong ​ ​and resilient ​ ​as ​ ​the ​ ​tree ​ ​she ​ ​was ​ ​named ​ ​for, ​ ​which ​ ​always ​ ​made ​ ​Olive ​ ​laugh, ​ ​but ​ ​Marrie ​ ​and ​ ​I believed ​ ​it ​ ​with ​ ​all ​ ​our ​ ​hearts. ​ ​She ​ ​watched ​ ​over ​ ​us, ​ ​forgetful ​ ​as ​ ​we ​ ​were. ​ ​She ​ ​would ​ ​often ​ ​hand me ​ ​my ​ ​coffee ​ ​as ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​halfway ​ ​out ​ ​the ​ ​door ​ ​on​ ​my ​ ​way ​ ​to ​ ​the ​ ​office. ​ ​She ​ ​would ​ ​put ​ ​Marrie’s paintbrushes ​ ​away ​ ​in ​ ​size ​ ​order, ​ ​keep ​ ​track ​ ​of ​ ​all ​ ​the ​ ​things ​ ​we ​ ​lost. ​ ​She ​ ​was ​ ​our ​ ​rock, ​ ​keeping us ​ ​rooted ​ ​and ​ ​safe. ​ ​And ​ ​Marrie ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​loved ​ ​her, ​ ​​ ​and ​ ​we ​ ​were ​ ​a ​ ​family. ​ ​We ​ ​took ​ ​care ​ ​of ​ ​each other. ​ ​On ​ ​her ​ ​fourteenth ​ ​birthday, ​ ​I ​ ​gave ​ ​her ​ ​a ​ ​beautiful ​ ​watch ​ ​I ​ ​had ​ ​saved ​ ​a ​ ​month’s ​ ​salary ​ ​for. It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

One ​ ​day, ​ ​after ​ ​Olive ​ ​had ​ ​gone ​ ​to ​ ​college, ​ ​I ​ ​got ​ ​a ​ ​call. ​ ​A ​ ​voice ​ ​I ​ ​didn’t ​ ​remember ​ ​was ​ ​on the ​ ​other ​ ​end, ​ ​solemn ​ ​and ​ ​distant. ​ ​He ​ ​told ​ ​me ​ ​my ​ ​mother ​ ​had ​ ​passed ​ ​away, ​ ​and ​ ​that ​ ​the ​ ​funeral would ​ ​be ​ ​held ​ ​in ​ ​three ​ ​days. ​ ​I ​ ​hung​ ​up​ ​without ​ ​saying ​ ​thank ​ ​you.​ ​Marrie ​ ​was ​ ​cooking ​ ​in ​ ​the other ​ ​room, ​ ​and ​ ​looked ​ ​up ​ ​in ​ ​concern ​ ​when ​ ​I ​ ​entered ​ ​silently. ​ ​I ​ ​told ​ ​her ​ ​that ​ ​my ​ ​mother ​ ​had ​ ​died. She ​ ​looked ​ ​sad. ​ ​I ​ ​told ​ ​her ​ ​I ​ ​didn’t ​ ​want ​ ​to ​ ​go​ ​to ​ ​the ​ ​funeral. ​ ​She ​ ​looked ​ ​sadder, ​ ​but ​ ​she ​ ​didn’t complain ​ ​or ​ ​argue. ​ ​Instead, ​ ​she ​ ​sat ​ ​me ​ ​down ​ ​on​ ​the ​ ​couch ​ ​next ​ ​to ​ ​her ​ ​and ​ ​wrapped ​ ​a ​ ​blanket around ​ ​me. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

Olive ​ ​graduated ​ ​college ​ ​and ​ ​had ​ ​a ​ ​wonderful ​ ​husband, ​ ​two ​ ​little ​ ​boys, ​ ​and ​ ​a ​ ​job ​ ​as ​ ​a kindergarten ​ ​teacher. ​ ​Marrie ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​were ​ ​both ​ ​grey ​ ​to ​ ​our ​ ​roots, ​ ​wrinkles ​ ​starting ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​corners ​ ​of our ​ ​eyes. ​ ​Marrie’s ​ ​hands ​ ​could ​ ​no​ ​longer ​ ​manage ​ ​to ​ ​handle ​ ​a ​ ​pencil ​ ​as ​ ​well ​ ​as ​ ​she ​ ​used ​ ​to, ​ ​and instead ​ ​switched ​ ​to ​ ​oil ​ ​paints ​ ​for ​ ​her ​ ​own ​ ​enjoyment. ​ ​She ​ ​no​ ​longer ​ ​had ​ ​to ​ ​go​ ​on​ ​long ​ ​trips ​ ​to galleries, ​ ​instead ​ ​staying ​ ​home ​ ​and ​ ​painting ​ ​while ​ ​I ​ ​went ​ ​to ​ ​work. ​ ​At ​ ​least, ​ ​until ​ ​I ​ ​retired. ​ ​Marrie knew ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​sad ​ ​about ​ ​leaving ​ ​my ​ ​social ​ ​worker’s ​ ​job, ​ ​so ​ ​when ​ ​I ​ ​got ​ ​home ​ ​there ​ ​was ​ ​a ​ ​rose waiting ​ ​on ​ ​the ​ ​table. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red.

Marrie ​ ​grew ​ ​sick. ​ ​She ​ ​had ​ ​to ​ ​stay ​ ​in ​ ​the ​ ​hospital, ​ ​and ​ ​I ​ ​visited ​ ​her ​ ​every ​ ​day. ​ ​We ​ ​both avoided ​ ​talking ​ ​about ​ ​it, ​ ​but ​ ​we ​ ​knew ​ ​it ​ ​was ​ ​coming ​ ​when ​ ​she ​ ​grew ​ ​paler ​ ​and ​ ​thinner ​ ​and weaker. ​ ​Instead, ​ ​we ​ ​reminisced ​ ​and ​ ​laughed ​ ​while ​ ​I ​ ​held ​ ​her ​ ​frail ​ ​hand. ​ ​About ​ ​high ​ ​school, ​ ​about college, ​ ​about ​ ​us ​ ​and ​ ​Olive ​ ​and ​ ​the ​ ​stars. ​ ​Finally, ​ ​one ​ ​day, ​ ​​ ​we ​ ​breached ​ ​the ​ ​subject. ​ ​She ​ ​told ​ ​me that ​ ​she ​ ​would ​ ​die ​ ​soon, ​ ​that ​ ​she ​ ​left ​ ​everything ​ ​to ​ ​Olive ​ ​and ​ ​I, ​ ​she ​ ​loved ​ ​us ​ ​both, ​ ​and ​ ​last, ​ ​but not ​ ​least, ​ ​she ​ ​gave ​ ​me ​ ​a ​ ​pendant ​ ​on​ ​a ​ ​silver ​ ​chain. ​ ​It ​ ​was ​ ​red. I ​ ​grew ​ ​ill ​ ​soon ​ ​after ​ ​Marrie ​ ​passed ​ ​away. ​ ​Olive ​ ​and ​ ​her ​ ​husband ​ ​Charlie ​ ​came ​ ​to ​ ​visit ​ ​me every ​ ​day, ​ ​and ​ ​they ​ ​brought ​ ​their ​ ​kids ​ ​Mark ​ ​and ​ ​Louis ​ ​with ​ ​them. ​ ​I ​ ​knew, ​ ​just ​ ​like ​ ​Marrie ​ ​knew, that ​ ​I ​ ​was ​ ​dying. ​ ​I ​ ​wrapped ​ ​one ​ ​hand ​ ​around ​ ​Olive’s ​ ​hand ​ ​and ​ ​one ​ ​around ​ ​Marrie’s ​ ​pendant ​ ​and allowed ​ ​memories, ​ ​these ​ ​memories, ​ ​to ​ ​flash ​ ​through ​ ​my ​ ​mind. ​ ​I picture all of us holding hands one last time, my baby and my Marrie and I. Hot tears slip down my face. And then, happiness like I haven’t felt since I was a kid drifts through me. Peace, and no more worrying. And you know what? It was red.

About the author

My name is Vanessa Olson, and I’m 15 years old. I’m a sophomore at Jenison High School. I started writing a couple of years ago because I had all these stories floating around in my head and figured that I might as well do something with them. I decided to write Red the way I did because I wanted to share a story that maybe has more challenges than an average life, and I wanted to show that just because you struggle and suffer it doesn’t mean that things won’t go your way. My inspiration for this story was all the people out there that make difficult choices and live through terrible things, yet still manage to find their little piece of the universe.

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