how does the ending work?
thank you for reading.
I really can’t escape it. It’s everywhere I go.
It started at his company party--you know the type, the kind spouses get dragged to every year, with a piano player in the corner wearing a blue bow tie and playing mostly for tips. The kind with those eensy ears of corn, actually, absolutely nothing that can be consumed without using your fingers--shrimp cocktail, cheeseball and crackers, you know the lineup--which makes the “hello, you’re my husband’s boss? Good to meet you!” handshake even more awkward. The kind you wear your best beige blazer and skirt to. And yes, oh yes, the open bar. There’s always an open bar at these sorts of things.
It was at one of these things, four years ago, when I first saw her. Bloody Mary in hand, sucking on the celery stalk like it was a popsicle. “Popsicle” was a rather naïve thing for me to think at that point, but I was unsuspicious then. Unsuspicious of her perfectly-straight hair, of the way it shone raven-black in the shitty track lighting. Unsuspicious of the way she draped French-manicured nails on my husband’s arm. The way she tilted her chin up towards me, challengingly. I saw her for the very first time at that party, swish-clicking around in silver high heels and a
How can you do anything but smolder when your dress is the color of glittering ripe apples, a mouthwatering hue? She dripped with lava, but made it perfectly clear that hot coals are not necessarily untouchable.
Fireburn red. It was the first time I’d seen her, but not the last. She would be spotted again and again, at dinners at our friends houses. Clicking around in high heels at the grocery store. Swishing about, short skirts brushing the tops of her thighs, all over my city. Everywhere I went, I saw her--sometimes in the corner of my eye, sometimes she’d stop and say hello--always wearing that shade of red. Always leaving a burnt-out hole in my memory.
I mentioned the sightings of her to my husband every once in a while. His reply would always be the same, “Oh, that new girl at my company? Nah, I never see her outside of work. Must be following you, eh? No, no, I only see her at the office.”
It was true, they never set eyes on each other outside of the office, save the social gatherings we were all invited to. It was all true, true, true. I was unsuspicious.
Three years ago. My husband, working late with a team to finish an important project. He always worked late. I was unsuspicious. Somebody knocked on my door as I sat patiently waiting. I looked through the peephole and saw nothing but red. That very shade. That very woman.
She click-clicked through my door and settled onto my off-white couch with the beige trim. A coal on a spread of dull white paper. Glowed. For a second I was worried she’d leave a charred hole on my furniture, then laughed as I shook the thought away.
She wasn’t a part of the particular team that was working late tonight, she explained. She always worked late and didn’t know what to do with herself when she didn’t. She’d stopped in at our mutual friends’ home, but they were home early too and had plans to get to. They’d suggested me. They knew I was home alone nightly. They knew my clothes and furniture were tans and creams, and a little color would be more than welcome.
I made her tea. I let her stay. I was happy for her company. I was unsuspicious. She drank the tea. We spoke of her work. We spoke of my house. She washed her own teacup. I put it away. Her hands on my waist. Her breasts in my hands. Her tongue in my mouth. Click click of shoes on the staircase. Bedroom door creak. Buttons. Buttons. Red buttons like cherry candies between my teeth. I spread the room with her reds, a ring of fire surrounding us. Even without the red, she smoldered.
And then it was over. She smiled and kissed me, wrapped herself in red once again, and left me lying in a pile of ashes.
My husband returned to find me naked, bewildered, soaking in cold water. He was unsuspicious. It had been an abnormally hot night.
After that night I strained my eyes, I spun around at every hint of color, but she was no more to be found in my daily activities. Absent from the grocery store, from gray city sidewalks, she instead streaked crimson through my dreams. I drenched myself every morning in water, but could not be extinguished. I wanted to mention her to my husband, to see if she still worked at his company, to see if she had ever even existed, but her name hurt my tongue and I could not manage to bring her up.
Until. Two months later, end of the summer. Late night for my husband, as usual. I--you know what I am. I am sitting, patiently waiting, going through magazines to pass the time. Page 36--red is IN. I flip, but on every page the color leaps out and scorches my eyes. She enters my mind, swift, silent, taking out everything else in her path. I close the magazine and enter the kitchen. Apples, brought home by my husband yesterday, sit sweet and ripe in a beige bowl. Red. Neighbors’ roses catch my eye through the window. Red.
I make a decision. I hastily put together a sandwich dinner for him, tossing one of the apples along into the bag. I will go and look for her name. If I see it, I will leave a note for her. If I do not, then I enjoy a surprise visit with my husband and put her out of my mind for good.
Janitor lets me in when he hears my husband’s name. I have put on high heels for the occasion. I click click to the elevator and up to his floor. I weave my way through brown desks and white computers, peering down at each of them, looking for a nameplate, a photo, a spot of that shade of red. I have found nothing when I find myself at his office door. Disappointed, I turn the knob and walk in.
You are all expecting the scene that I did not expect. You all knew from the second paragraph that I would walk in and find her and my husband, in a familiar ring of fire on the floor of his office. You all were prepared to find the two bodies that I had once touched entwined and writhing into each other. You all were picturing this scene from the beginning. I’ll add another detail to your mental picture: the walls, the newly-painted walls of his office screamed down at me, a bloody, fiery red. The color exploded all around me and choked me like smoke.
They saw me after I saw them. A gasp, a jump, and I ran. In the car the apple rolled out of the bag and bumped around my feet. I threw it out of the window. I was better off without the knowledge.
That was two and a half years ago. He did not come home that night, so I had plenty of time to gather my things and find a hotel room. Plenty of time to leave all my red garments--all two of them--in a charred lump in the backyard.
Want. They ask me all the time, wherever I go, what it is I want. Pound of apples? What kind? Pair of socks? What kind? Shade of lipstick? What kind? I always reply, it doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s not red.