Saturday, August 20, 2011

123/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Hand Me Down" by Tin Star Orphans

There was a dim brown light. Ray's head pounded.

"I'm not going away," whispered Felicia. A faint whiff of her perfume lingered in the air.

"What?" asked Ray, his voice cracking. There was no reply. He blinked and his vision cleared. He focused on the source of light. It was coming from down the end of a dark hallway. He realized he was sitting down on something soft and cool. He put his hand down and felt pliant grass. He shook his head and looked down, then around.

The walls of the hall were made out of clothes. Above him the clothes curved over in an arc. Immediately behind him Ray stood unsteadily and looked closer. They were Felicia's clothes, all spread out. He looked down the length of the hall--everything she had ever worn apparently. He pressed his hand to a pink t-shirt he remembered her wearing to a picnic last summer. She dribble barbecue sauce on it when she ate ribs. She laughed about it instead of getting upset. The wall gave slightly at his touch. It was all clothing.

"Felicia?" he asked.

"I'm not going," she said. He turned around three sixty but her body did not accompany her voice.

"Where are you?"

"You know where I am. You put me there."

Ray gulped and held his forehead.

"Did that really happen..."

"You were bad."

"It...was an accident I think."

"No. You were bad."

"I didn't mean--"

"You did. You did. You did..." her voice grew tiny and vanished.

"I didn't," said Ray. His face flushed. "I didn't." He wiped a tear from his his face with his sleeve.

Ray walked down the length of the hall towards the dim light. There was the hat she wore playing softball. He pulled it from the wall and ran his fingers across the brim. She'd wind up her arm and stare down the batter. When a teammate once remarked that softball was sexist compared to men playing baseball she said flatly, "Women have the bigger balls," and this in front of her mother when she was sixteen, but everyone laughed.

He continued walking, and saw the blue dress she wore for prom. Her grandmother sewed it for her, and it had a pouffy skirt and a high-cut, frilly collar. Felicia looked like a wet cat in it, but she went to prom without complaint. Ray saw her there with a smuggled-in pyramid riveted belt across her middle and clunky black combat boots replacing her blue slippers. She was sitting at a table laughing with her other ironic friends as he danced with his girlfriend.

Then there were the old scruffy jeans she wore to prowl the forest near their house between the ages of nine and twelve, before her growth spurt. They were his jeans as well, but she snatched them when he complained to his mother about a hole in the knee. She never cared about such things. In the summers she would shove them on in the morning after breakfast and stomp out the door and wouldn't be seen again until dinner when she returned covered in dirt, pine needles, tree sap, fresh abrasions, and an enormous grin.

He walked further and came to her red swim suit. Somehow it was still damp. He withdrew to the other wall and felt dizzy and flush. She lived in that suit, the past couple of weeks at the end of her last summer. They were surrounded by friends in their back yard pool. Her friends wore Hawaiian shirts and old-fashioned sunglasses and sipped colorful virgin margaritas; they fanned themselves with chinese folding fans and discussed early modernist literature, probably without knowing much about it. His friends guzzled contraban beers and yakked about intramural sports and complained about how hard math was. She came up to Ray and slapped him on the back, then pinched his beer and sipped it trying not to laugh. He snatched it back, then she lunged and then he pushed her in the chest, and she fell into the water but her head didn't. He remembered seeing her eyelids squeeze shut as the back of her head hit the concrete edge of the pool. She was still smiling.

One of her friends screamed as Felicia slumped fully into the pool. Her arms and legs spread out lazily in the water. Tendrils of red curled out into the water. Someone pulled on his shirt and he fell backward onto the grass, and she fell out of sight.

"I'm not going anywhere," she said.

"I know," he whispered.

He reached the source of light. It grew brighter, and her bedroom resolved around him. Their mother stood in front of him.

"It's okay if you don't want to do this now," said his mother. "I know it might be a bit soon to donate her clothes. But I'd rather do it now." She put her hand on his shoulder. He touched it lightly with his fingers and saw that he was holding Felicia's hat.

"I want to keep this," he said. "Do you mind?"

"No, of course not. You should have something. You were totally different, but you were so close."

"We'll always be close," said Ray. "Always."

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