Saturday, February 26, 2011

Plastic Rainbow (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by the talented Catrina Bradley over @ her blog, Speak to the Mountain. Click here to read and share more fiction!

Author's Ramblings: This week's story almost didn't make it at all. Feel free to chalk it up to my crazy schedule and absent-minded funk this week. I also have no rambling notes to mention. *le gasp* Please enjoy the read and happy weekend. Leave comments and virtual brownies. I like both. ^_^ 

I stared at the beauty spread out before me in the shape of shimmering plastic baubles. It was almost too lovely to stare at. The giant plastic tray was entrusted to my skinny arms and I stood, holding it gingerly, still too shocked to fully accept it. 

There were beads of many kinds in dozens of little plastic square indents. It was a perfect toy for a perfect little girl. The pink plastic tray was beautiful, in a dozen different ways, each one of them on account of different shaped plastic treasures filling each square.

I’d never held something so pretty in my life.

It was perfect.

I didn’t know what to do with it.  

They were too pretty to touch and too special to leave alone. I still didn’t know what to do with them. So I stood there, holding the tray until I heard the laughter around me. Groups of relatives and friends of relatives that I didn’t really know that well were everywhere.

In the giant space of time where I stood smiling beside my mother, nodding at unfamiliar faces, there was a colorful block of nothingness. A block where a face I didn’t know gave me a gift I couldn’t understand.

Standing in my grubby overalls and uneven pigtails, I smiled at my own reflection on the plastic cover. It was kind of goofy and ridiculously un-girly. It wasn’t who I was. It wasn’t who I thought I was.

It wasn’t who I wanted to see staring back at me.

Someone tapped my shoulder. It was my father and his eyes were red and bloodshot. I looked to his left hand to see the wadded up kerchief clenched tight in his fist. He was blinking and trying to see straight.

I held up the tray of beads, wanting to show him and wanting to hide it in the same moment. He didn’t see them at all. “Jasmine?” His voice was rough, cracked and bruised. I didn’t dare smile up at him even though I wanted to. “Go play outside.” His hand was awkward on my shoulder, clumsily comforting as he turned away, mumbling. “No place for kids in here…”

Tucking the small rainbow treasure beneath one arm, I skirted the clumps of grownups and angled towards the outdoors. I was the calmest underneath the warm blue sky and solid brown earth.

Kicking my socks off at the backdoor, I slipped out through the screen door and slunk down the weathered wooden porch. I knew no one would miss me. I was kind of invisible that way—and sometimes it was fun.

The sky was warmer than yesterday and the ground was softer from the rain that had not faded away. My toes sank into the mud with a delicious squelch. I almost smiled. Turning to face the house, I inched backwards, keeping an eye on the scruffy trailer home.

It didn’t look much like home, surrounded by shiny new cars and crowded with people I am not sure if I should know.  It didn’t sound like home, filled with voices spilling out of every window, broken and open.

Words that jumbled into my head and memories that didn’t quite mesh with them. It was confusing. So I looked at the tray of beads in my hand and then I stared down at the mud squishing up between my toes.

Sometimes I wished there was real grass in our backyard, but on days like today, the mud was something I craved. It was twelve steps from the concrete blocks that served as steps from the wooden square deck to my dirt paradise.

I skipped to it in six.

Rolling up the legs of my denim overalls, I plopped on the ground squirming my toes into the brown, clingy mud. There was something distinctly soothing and comforting about the feel of it on my feet and the knowledge that it was dirt.

Plain, brown, dirt.

Pushing its way beneath my toenails, sticking to the crevices of my toes and smoothing out the wrinkles in my mind with every little wiggle. For the moments where I am sitting here under the sun, I can forget and I can remember.

I am forgetting and remembering all in the same moment.

The reflection of summer in her eyes is the most painful memory.

The scent of her special, secret brownie pancakes is the tastiest memory.

The sound of her earrings tinkling in sync with her head thrown back as she shook with laughter is the brightest memory.

The touch of her scarred fingers wrapped around my wrist, wrapped around my waist, wrapped around my neck. It is the sweetest memory I have of her.  

The taste of her tears splashing on my face as she cried tears I did not have the strength to summon—is forever the deepest memory I have of her.

Of all these memories, her imprint remains burned into my very soul.

I know I shall never forget her.

I would never wish to.

Sometimes I feel as if I would die if I should forget. I feel as if I should be punished if I forget something so precious. Sometimes it feels as if death would not be punishment enough.

Then it hurts.

My fingers are beginning to cramp before I realize how tightly I am clutching this plastic tray of rainbow beads. For once today, I feel like smiling. I know if she could see what I am holding in my hands, she might be smiling too.

She might be looking at me with the love in her eyes that I can’t feel right now. She might be standing to the left of my mudhole and laughing with her eyes while speaking with her mouth.

To hear the words that she would say. Something to clear my head and make this mess go away. It’s all so confusing right now. But I don’t know if I want it to go away or to stay away. The difference is hard to tell.

The pieces of rainbow I see in my hands feel like a strand of hope towards a fresh start. It is almost as if there is some sort of permission slip that comes with them. A whisper that I don’t have to be who I am now, I can be who I want to be.

But she would know what to do with these beautiful things that I do not deserve.

These pieces of rainbow are plastic, but plastic is more real than anything right now. It is real because I desperately want it to be.

Mud and plastic rainbows.

They are beads. Pretty, pretty, beads.

I like them.

I like them better than chocolate peanut butter cups.

So I take the plastic cover off and run my fingers over every little square of rainbow within. When I try to pick one up, it seems too small and my hands too clumsy.

But I have nothing to string them on.

So I run my hands through my hair and pull. The few pinpricks of pain are nothing when I can see the tiny strands of black hair wrapped around my fingers.

Now I have thread.

Somehow I thread the beads onto hair that is just as fragile as I feel right now. It is a strand of rainbow that I can wear ‘round my neck.

The sound of banging and slamming doors draws my attention to the house and I watch as some of the strange people leave the house and drive off in their fancy cars. There is something sad and haunting about it.

With careful fingers, I thread the rainbow strand over my head to rest in the hollow of my neck. As I dredge up more memories than I can handle, one finger hooks around the colorful string.

I feel the tension and the pressure as the finger tangles with the beads, pulling slowly then more insistently as everything simmers to a breaking point I am not ready to bear. When my mind blanks, the strand breaks.

The rainbow beads are scattered in the mudhole with me. The bead tray is toppled over in my effort to scrabble after them. Bits of plastic rainbow embed themselves in the mud as I push them, press them and then try to dig them out.

In the coolness of the dirt and the warmth of the sky, I realize that the wetness on my cheeks are tears I didn’t think I could cry.

Mother. I miss you so much. Why’d you have to die now?

© Sara Harricharan


Yvonne Blake said...

so sad...

so much imagery and symbolism

Catrina Bradley said...

Oh, Sara. Everything about this story is moving and meaningful. This is a keeper!! If it were a challenge entry, it would be an EC for sure. Beautiful work, my love. Thank you!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Sara.

J.H. said...

__What’s this, no constructive criticism? Harrie, your followers are too nice. This subject matter feels out of place for you, at least, so far as what I’ve read of your writing. It’s why I felt drawn to briefly respond to this piece. Your “ramblings” don’t mention that this was based off a true event so I hope you’ll pardon me as I shove caution.

? Question. Why did you opt for 1st person in dealing with death from the mind of a “little girl”? That disturbed me immediately and was received as a novice-like error. The introspection of Jasmine cracked the playful ‘Annie image’ you created in paragraph 2 “…a perfect toy for a perfect little girl”. Do little girls really think this way?: “It wasn’t who I was. It wasn’t who I thought I was.” [par.8]

- True, your subject matter is weighty and sad. Add to it a wealth of awkward sentences and it’s just tragic. Here are 5:

Paragraph 5: “I didn’t know what to do with it.”
Paragraph 6: “I still didn’t know what to do with them.”

I understand the emphasis you wanted with that repetition, but I say you could have achieved it, and with greater emphasis, without paragraph 5. Remove paragraph 5 and 4—way too cliché. Set the first sentence of paragraph 6 on its own as it’s essentially saying the same thing as “It was perfect.” Set “I still didn’t know what to do with them” as the new 5th paragraph. Now read it. Better?

Paragraph 10: “It was my father and his eyes were red and bloodshot.”

What is the color of blood, Harrie; why then, are you telling me it’s red!?

Also in Paragraph 10: “I looked to his left hand to see the wadded up kerchief clenched tight in his fist.”

Don’t tell me “I looked”, this is first-person, I know! “In his left hand was a wadded up white kerchief bordered with an orange-blue swirl. I’d never seen him with one. He might have appeared dainty, except he clenched it tight as if squeezing a soaked rag.” With more detail you can show what the narrator is looking at instead of pointing it out.

Paragraph 12: “I was the calmest underneath the warm blue sky and solid brown earth.”

‘The’ calmest? I think you see why this sentence is awkward. It’s easily fixed and thus easily enjoyed.

J.H. said...

Paragraph 26: “The touch of her scarred fingers wrapped around my wrist, wrapped around my waist, wrapped around my neck.”

This sentence by itself is jarring and creepy. It’s certainly not believable as Jasmine’s “sweetest memory.” “Scarred” ruins or distorts the image for me. There’s not enough in that word alone to explain why the mother’s fingers are scarred, so I’m also confused. You might want to explain or simply choose a different word. “Scented fingers” works, creating a “motherly” image, but ‘scarred?’ I almost wonder if Jasmine has something against her mother’s hands! I also want to point out all the places the mother’s fingers are wrapped around: wrist, waist, neck. That’s hard to imagine. What was her mother, an octopus?! How is that possible? What are you trying to describe here, a hug—octopus hug?! Such a sweet memory, heh-heh.

Last Paragraph: “Mother. I miss you so much. Why’d you have to die now?”

Now, I realize this is supposed to be the surprise at the end of the story—the clenching moment, but I was neither surprised nor held in the grip of your narration up to this final revelation, so I’d like to ask that you remove the here’s-what-I’ve-been-hiding-from-you-this-whole-time impact of this paragraph. As this piece is now, the last line should simply read: “Mother, why did you die?.”

- And now my biggest frustration. Let me preface by saying you succeeded in pulling off a double tragedy, at least, well enough to my current knowledge. Jasmine is attached to her mother. The mother dies and now Jasmine gets attached to a gift of rainbow beads which, in a sense, die when she drops them all in the mud. That is truly devastating, especially for a child. But there’s this mystery I feel as well, a mystery that I know you as the author purposefully created to either test the attention level of the audience or, genuinely create an appropriate level of climatic buildup. You’ll probably disagree with me, Harrie, but it just felt too much like you wanted see how long you could disguise from the audience that it was Jasmine’s mother who in fact died. The last line drew waaaay too much attention to itself and I suddenly stopped feeling sad for Jasmine and realized I was reading a story! I knew the mother died at paragraph 23, “The reflection of summer in her eyes is the most painful memory”: Why is this a painful memory? Because something bad happened…oh, it was to her mother! She’s mentioned in paragraph 7, then in 10, the father is crying. Why isn’t the mother crying? Ah, because she’s dead. Mystery solved. So the point of the story is the plastic rainbow, hence the title. Why then, is the focus back on the mother at the end? I want to know more about the beads: did the mother give them to Jasmine, that was never clear? Why? When? How? Did Jasmine like them initially? If you had addressed these issues first, of course having to reveal sooner that the mother died, then all your energy could have been properly spent creating the second tragedy to befall Jasmine which compounds the first and, ends up being the greater tragedy anyway.

Sara Harricharan said...

Yes! I am so glad you took the time to comment on this snippet.

Hi again, J.H.

This piece did come out at a rather frantic period in my semester. As the note started, I almost didn't bother to post it.

Jasmine was based off of a little girl I met during one of the spring funerals I attended. She was eight years old and I have to say that she did scare me some. It was painful to watch, because I didn't think she was capable of the things she said and did. It bothered me that no one really paid any attention to her and what was going on at the time, so this, in part, came from that.

*wince* Yes...paragraph 10 is horribly redundant there. >_> Thanks for pointing it out!

Hmm, the sensory section--the one with the hands did come out awkwardly. The intent was to follow a memory of a hug, in which, her mother gathered her into her arms and held her close. It would seem I botched that thought entirely, LOL. I see what you mean by the octopus comment-! :P It would seem rather creepy, wouldn't it?

Ah, paragraph 12 was a rushed/sleepless moment. *double wince* I'm afraid my lack of sleep and coherent thought shows through a bit too much here.

Double tragedy? Hmm. I hadn't even seen that, in all honesty. It wasn't going to be her mother at first, but I changed that somewhere in the middle (which shows of course, *sigh*) and that muddle is why I never did mention where the beads came from. The inspiration for Jasmine did have a moment like this though--a pretty gold necklace that was stomped into the sandbox--a gift from her mother. Thank you for pointing out the inconsistent details. This is slotted for a rewrite in my queue and I'm happily adding your critique to the notes that go with it. Very much appreciated! ^_^ I hope it doesn't turn you off from my newest writings, I should hope they are not all that painful to read. ;)