Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Notebook: Scarlet Was Her Hair

I wrote this short story two years ago and submitted it to my high school's literary magazine. I believe it got published there too. It's also been on my Scribophile page for the longest time, and since I'm taking it down from that site, I thought it could find a home here. Please, if you haven't read it yet, enjoy! If you have read it already, read it and enjoy it all over again!

Scarlet Was Her Hair
By Blake Gabriel

A soft, delicate hand traced across the small of my back and a gentle voice whispered in my ear.

“Bobby, shh… shh… it’s okay, baby,” Amy cooed. “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

Muffling my sobs, I rolled over to face her, drinking in the beauty of her pale skin. She was radiant in the moonlight shining through the crack in the curtain. I smiled weakly, brushing a strand of dark brown hair from her almond eyes. Her gaze seemed to beckon to me, urging me to lose myself in its depths.

Amy wiped the tears from my cheek with the intimacy only lovers could share. We’d been together for eleven months now; there was little we didn’t share.

“What’s wrong, baby?” she asked again in a whisper, her cool breath tickling my ear.

“I was just remembering someone,” I said through long, shaking breaths. “Someone close.”

“Who was she?” Amy said, still caressing my face.
“How did you know she was a she?” I asked in surprise. I was a little abashed that she could read me so well.

“I know you, Bobby,” she answered in a simple, admonishing tone as if she thought I should know better than to ask. “You wouldn’t cry about a guy.”

Despite my melancholy mood, I had to chuckle at that. Amy was right, as always, and she had proven yet again no one knew me better than her.

“She was my older sister. Her name was Ella,” I said after a long pause of patient silence. “Twelve years ago, she died.”

Amy was deathly quiet. I had never told her, or anyone for that matter, this before. It had always been my family’s dark secret; it was the reason my dad always came home as drunk as an Irishman and why my mom could do nothing but stare with a dazed look on her face at the TV when I was growing up. Ella’s death had ruined our family.

"What was she like?” Amy asked tentatively.

I didn’t answer right away. My eyes were drawn to the necklace of fine silver links around Amy’s neck. I bought that for her on our seventh date. We had gone out for dinner at Leary’s, a fancy restaurant in the richer part of town. We’d passed the jewelry store and by the way Amy’s eyes had gleamed I knew how badly she'd wanted it. So, I bought it for her. It set me back a couple hundred dollars but the look of surprise and overwhelming gratitude on her face was beyond the price tag’s worth.

Now that I think about it, Ella had a necklace sort of like that one. Our dad had bought it for her when she was 12, her first real piece of jewelry. I remember how much she treasured that little thing, wearing it wherever she went, whatever she wore no matter how it looked. Ella loved that necklace.

I always found a way to get my hands on it though. It was shiny and being a six years old, I was obsessed with anything that sparkled. Ella caught me once, waving the necklace over my head like a lasso and shrieking like a madman. I was pretending to be an Indian cowboy, I think. I can’t really remember. I do remember Ella tackling me from nowhere and her palms repeatedly slapping my face. My parents were furious; she was grounded for weeks. And I would always taunt her, my cheeks still burned with the memory of the ferocity of her slaps, as I went outside to play with my friends each day.

Amy’s touch brought me back to the present as she nudged my shoulder. I realized tears were sliding down my cheeks again.

“Ella was beautiful,” I said finally. “Even as her kid brother, I knew that she attracted the looks of every guy her age plus my own friends. She was their favorite subject to talk about and I always had to smack them around a bit. But it was more than physical beauty.”

“She was pretty, but she was also compassionate, tender, and she always thought of others before herself,” I continued. “It wasn’t that she didn’t have any faults; everyone does. Her flaw was the guys she brought home.”

“Your parents didn’t like them?” Amy asked.

“Oh, no, they were fine with them. They were usually either the team captain of the basketball team or the quarterback or something. My parents loved that. I hated them though,” I ranted. “Take her prom date, senior year, for example. This guy, Ryan, was the biggest douche bag you’d ever met.”
“Why?” Amy said, sitting up and hugging a pillow.

“He beat me up,” I explained, shrugging. “I spilled my Coke all over his letterman jacket.”

“But it was an accident,” Amy protested.

“Nah, I did it on purpose. I told you I didn’t like him,” I said.

Amy laughed; her sweet voice was like tinkling bells in the late night gloom of our room. When we first met, she said she loved my voice. I told her I loved her laugh.

“What did Ella do?” she asked in curiosity. “If my brother did that, I’d tell him he had it coming.”

“Well, I’d never beat up your brother. He’s a funny little kid, even if he is a jerk. Every guy is at his age,” I said matter-of-factly.

“When Ella found out what happened, she broke up with him right away,” I continued. “After that I kept finding Hershey’s kisses on my pillow every morning for the next month. I guess it was her way of saying sorry.”

“It sounds like you guys were close,” Amy commented

“We were,” I said, nodding. “She’d always take me to the mall with her. I didn’t have many friends so she would always introduce me to hers. Yeah, hanging out with my sister’s girlfriends; I guess that’s where I picked up my impeccable sense of fashion.”

Amy giggled and punched me lightly on the arm. She hated how I knew as much about outfits as she did. We never mentioned it around the guys though; that would just draw a lot of unnecessary flak about my masculinity.

“So – How, um, how did she die?” she asked in a cautious tone.

I didn’t say. My heart still bridled at the injustice of it all whenever I thought about Ella’s death. Ella was so full of life, so bright, so cheerful. And then like a candle she was blown out, gone in an instant. I was only 13 when she died. She was 19. I guess that’s why I try not to think about it much.

“She got sick,” I said softly. “First it was just headaches, but they got worse. Then she'd black out while we were at school or throw up. When we took her to the hospital, the doctor told us she had a brain tumor. It was malignant. She got treatment, but the doctor told us it was unlikely she would recover.”

I could still recall the image of her in the hospital bed, sitting up and still smiling, albeit weakly. She assured me she wasn’t afraid of dying. But I knew she was just saying that because she didn’t want to alarm me. The young are always afraid of death. I’m still afraid of death.

I remember pleading with her, begging to know why she had to die. I cried beside her until I fell asleep, exhausted from my inconsolable grief. When I woke up, she had already gone on.

“I never got to say good-bye,” I said, my voice cracking. “I haven’t even been to her grave since the funeral.”

My fa├žade of strength collapsed like a house of cards. I cried like I had never cried before, my whole body shaking with sobs. Amy drew me into her arms, becoming my only place of solace. She cooed comforting words into my ear as I mourned, for the first time since Ella had died, mourned the passing of my beloved sister.

“Did – did I ever tell you – her – Ella’s hair was scarlet – scarlet like fire,” I managed to say in between heaving breaths. “I – I had almost – forgotten.”

We both took the day off work the next day. Instead, Amy and I packed the Taurus with lunch in a picnic basket and drove upstate. We pulled into the quiet grounds of Parker Cemetery in my hometown and reverently made our way to Ella’s grave.

I had only been there once but my feet seemed to move of their own accord, guided by my own longing to pay respects to my departed sister.

The tombstone was small and unadorned, save for the engraving of an angel, her arms upraised. Beneath it were the words: ELLA JENNIFER FITZ, BELOVED DAUGHTER, DEAR SISTER, and LOVING FRIEND. 1977-1996. A bouquet of scarlet roses rested at the base of the tombstone, still fresh and bright.

It was a cool spring afternoon, but Amy helped me set up our picnic blanket and we had lunch with Ella. I introduced Ella to Amy and told my dear sister all about the wonderful woman I had met. Amy only smiled her warm smile, so full of love and joy. She was happy I had done this. I was glad too.

It had been too long since Ella and I had talked.

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