Thursday, May 13, 2010

So I Found this Depressing Short Story ...

I was cleaning out my hard drive and found this short story. It's very depressing, but at the same time I kind of like it. Let me know what you think :-)

"Fading Bouquets"

The stage was wooden and splintery.

Once, when Autumn had been rehearsing for a show, a girl in the “special class” at school named Marisa had cut her foot fairly badly after removing her thick white athletic socks and orthopedic shoes. Marisa had gazed with envy at the shoeless feet flitting everywhere she looked before taking matters into her own hands, her teeth gritted in determination.

It seemed to Autumn that naturally someone would get hurt on that stage at some point and that naturally it would be poor Marisa. The girl had continued to dance in her jerky, marionette way that everyone snickered at and secretly imitated behind her back, apparently unaware of the blood dripping from the bottom of her bare soles and freckling the peeling wood with red droplets.

The stereotypical teenage drama scene ensued, Autumn remembered now, characterized mostly by girls screaming and boys laughing. Funny how her memory categorized the genders so neatly, especially when she remembered herself giggling madly with her friends, all of them dressed in matching loose shorts over black spandex, their t-shirts all from the same store and differing only in color. Then there was the way Brian MacLeod’s skin had gone the color of milk, hectic roses of color high on his cheekbones all that remained of his ruddy complexion.

Autumn wondered, just before the lights went down, if there were still remnants of Marisa’s blood up there on the very platform her daughter would momentarily be the center of. She knew of course that this was impossible, that Marisa’s shed and forgotten (except for those late night slumber parties where the girls laughed … and laughed … and laughed) blood was as much a ghost as an Autumn that was comfortable getting up in front of people, of singing and dancing under brightly colored lights, of letting her voice be heard.

Still, part of Autumn’s mind went to those crime scene shows. She pictured herself dressed in a no-nonsense black crime scene vest, perhaps set off by a buttercup-yellow shirt underneath, crawling around on that stage swabbing samples with Q-Tips then dripping over them the liquid that caused color to bloom if blood was present. She would wear pants—not jeans, no, that would be unprofessional, but sturdy corduroys, maybe—to keep her knees from catching on the splinters of wood she knew lurked; after all, there are rocks in even the most beautiful garden.

Sage was brilliant. She always was, and Autumn listened with mixed pride and indignation as those sitting around her raved about Sage’s talent even as they muttered out the other sides of their mouths about how nice it would be if someone else got the lead for a change. It bothered Autumn a bit that, as she sat alone in her seat on the aisle of the auditorium, a bit hunched over as was her wont because to hold her head high might mean looking in someone’s eyes, nobody seemed to realize that she was Sage’s mother. The hands holding a bouquet of simple spring flowers from the local grocery store were the same hands that had held Sage to her breast seconds after she was born, their owner a scared but determined young mother who had crooned through a year’s worth of colic the songs that had given Sage such a vast and eclectic repertoire of music, had introduced her to the concept of harmony through Simon and Garfunkel (“Lame!” Sage pronounced these days) and lyrical introspection—there were few songs about which Autumn didn’t know a story or two. “Hey, Sagey, you know what the day the music died was?” “No, Mommy, what?” “Well, there was this terrible plane crash that killed three musicians, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens (you know, he sang ‘La Bamba’), and The Big Bopper.”

Autumn’s eyes didn’t leave Sage from the first act until the curtain call, when the audience gave her daughter a standing ovation and Sage’s eyes burned with a deep passion for what she had done. Her smile—a smile paid for by Autumn’s second job since orthodontia was a priority for a child with a smile like Sage’s, not to mention the talent that had barely been tapped into—of joy, of pride, was bestowed upon the musical director, on her peers. Sage beamed as she, along with her cast mates, gestured to the lighting crew, the stage crew, and the pit orchestra, giving credit where it was due, sharing the glory even as she basked in it.

Autumn noticed that her sweaty hands had creased the floral wrap into a wrinkled, sweaty mess. The flowers, bright pinks and purples, were crushed and shabby-looking. On a depressing whim, Autumn surreptitiously slid the ruined bouquet under her auditorium seat. Nobody noticed.

In the lobby after the show, Autumn stood alone against the far wall waiting for Sage. Every time the door swung open, an April breeze wafted in, smelling of lilac and newness.

Sage appeared out of nowhere, and Autumn’s lips curved into a tentative smile. “You were great, sweetheart.”

Sage nodded, and Autumn knew without being told that she had been hearing the same words throughout her trek to the lobby, that the words had ceased to hold meaning of any sort for her daughter. “Do you have any money, Mom? Everybody’s going out for ice cream.”

“Um, sure, I guess. Are you sure you don’t want to come home? You must be tired.”

Sage turned to the coterie of girls that had followed her and rolled her eyes in Autumn’s general direction. Autumn noticed with despair that five of the six were holding bouquets of flowers, tokens of appreciation for a job well done. She thought of Sage’s bouquet, crumpled and alone in the now-empty auditorium, and wanted to cry. Instead, she rummaged in her purse until she found a ten-dollar bill she hadn’t been positive was there.

“Thanks, Mom,” Sage called. “I’ll let you know if I need a ride home.”

Before Autumn could answer, her daughter had disappeared into the crowd of people and was gone.

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