Red

by Karen L Carr

Image by Sébastien Maury

Then, there was the next time, the last time, the one time when things became grand enough to unfurl all sense of belonging, a hearty red ribbon, carried behind, blowing in deep ripples, red, yes red, always red.

What was red? She never knew, and never wanted to know about red—the red of roses or blood, all easy fairy tale red, how many clits of red was she supposed to have licked, washed, rubbed with a silty hand? Wh at could red be without all its being red. She wondered this the way she wondered over a pause in conversation, or a crack in a perfectly thick, white cloud…

Red lipstick stuck on red lips all sticking red, clot glob red, on lips, too vaginal to be anything but obvious.

This is what the feminists said: roll red lips, roll, red of blood, of power, of coming into the body’s own red places, the hovering miasmic shifting of red into red into red. Little Red Riding Hood. Slut + Victim–hedonist {2x desire+2y abnegation) = this girl, that girl, no girl, all girl, take out the e and make a y and there is a womyn there in the womb of this woman.

She hated these cloying interpretations, these witch loving, period worshipping pagan feministos, who rose with the sun and danced in moon circles around huge bonfires that licked at their offerings, their sage and their smudging, their blood tasting ways. Would she even ever want to bite into a placenta? Shouldn’t they be dumped, after all, into buckets at the feet of rubber booted doctors who attend these birthing women?

Here was an anchor: the weight of herself, her feet, best feet ever, stuck in sand, water flowing over and over and over until toes disappeared, and she could imagine herself an ocean rock, a statue, a solid, impenetrable piece of something that rushed and wound and flowed and creased and breathed with such slow, slow rhythms.

Here was another way to look at it: The brain refuses the stillness of stillness, all stillness is born of still-birthing, which is dead, really, there still-born, not dead-born, the body laying still, quiet, something other than death, but other than breathing. What is still in the tiny body? What is still that is not dead?

Inside the place where her body grew numb, or fatigued, or just grew, there was a hole of red, all red, weren’t all the body’s caverns red, after all? Where was a romantic red in all this dying goo? What could a red red rose possibly have to say to her now, or the prick of a finger on a white embroidery sheet. Yes, yes, marks they would say, those feminists again. Marks, traces, evidence, of a body’s presence, a body seen, known, speaking, a refusal of the virgins’ directive, a disruption of purity, so much purity in white women, white snow, white sheets whose blood marks are hung in the desperate celebratory proof of a woman unsullied before the husband’s penis has staked his claim.

But then, what of a geranium, and its raw, heavy scent, earth and spice, all assertion, insistence? What of a clematis, winding its way up this post or that, curling around rusty fences ? What of a symbol shed of symbol ?

Impossible.

She had tried straying there before, into that place, that land, of things just are what they are. And she knew better than to ever try to know that. But she remembered, nonetheless, and fondly, her teenage hippie self, taking acid and laying on the ground, all stretched out, smelling the grass, saying over and over and over again: but it’s all so simple. She loved that girl, that pretty, happy girl with her jingle jangle skirts, and her long hair and her Jesus sandals. She was the girl of her dreams, that girl her who loved the earth, the flowers, the sun, and no red lips. She was the girl of all girls, the girl she carried in some place like another rib, being saved, one day, to be pulled forth into her own Eve-girl.

But what was what it was? Nothing, of course, so interpretation came back at her, like a slingshot, an arrow, a bullet—all heading directly for the center of her head. Wasn’t that the place where the bindi was drawn, and could she draw one there even though she wasn’t Hindu? She would like a huge round circle there, a bull’s-eye, a thinking third eye, a window, a shelf, a perch for pondering, for understanding, for knowing.

She could feel it rising, up, up, up, in metaphorical balloons, red balloons, red rage balloons made light with all their air. Could rage rise, into some airy height, could it hover and dart and, finally, collapse in its punctured exhaustion? Could there be a way to know a rage that floated rather than sank? What railways could rage open, what rocks could be blasted through with the fierce, unyielding gaze of rage. Do not go gentle was only for men, though, not this raging woman who must assign her red, red rage to a red red rose, to a hovering beauty mark, a ridiculous sentiment. Rage, rage against the dying light. Far too late, that dying light. Rage against the light of mornings, of rivers, reflecting knife-like bursts of sun into the eyes, rage against red rivers of red, of withering red flowers, of the chipped red paint on a young girl’s toes.

There could be red anywhere, any time, and it could arrive as a surprise, a new red, as in a strawberry fresh from its branch, plucked from beneath the cascading umbrella of its drooping stems. Red in a shape unlike a heart, but reminding one of it n onetheless. Red in a shape that so perfectly matched the shape an eating mouth would form. She would think she could be a red mountain made of strawberries, she would think as she lay in the hay between the plants, and stare up from beneath at the berries hanging in their secret groves. She would think herself lucky to carry the red stains of berries on her fingers, and wished herself brave enough for the dribbling delight that washed itself over the little girl’s sundress in the row beside her.

There was a way that red bothered her, in its constancy. There were the red and yellow curtains of her childhood kitchen, the only colors in that kitchen that she found authentic, rich enough. Her mother had been fond of light colors, colors that she could only describe as “mealy” to herself, because her mother couldn’t bear honest assessment. Light, pale, mealy yellow walls, in a semi-gloss, because, her mother reminded her, a kitchen got dirty, and needed to be washable. That hue, that glare, seemed, to her, to match the instant coffee, and the corelle living wear dishes, with their gold flowers that only seemed to taunt the weak and woozy yellow walls. But in that kitchen, two red things: a telephone, and a pair of curtains, deep, deep red, with rich and bright yellow flowers. Of course, the hues were all off, and the curtains, much like the dishes, only mocked the yellow of the walls, called its cowardice out. But she loved the red things, the red phone, with its rich deep shine, the sound its dial made when turned, something between a sizzle and a small crashing wave.

Each year, the only red food that made it into the kitchen were tomatoes, and, from time to time, red food coloring. The tomatoes her mother bought were weakly red, as weak as the yellow of the walls, and they arrived hard, and stayed hard, so she learned to slice them wafer ting for her grilled-cheese sandwiches, and their color against that vivid orange yellow of Velveeta cheese (product) became richer by association, proximity. But in August, with its thick and wet heat, there would be fresh tomatoes, brought home in a round basket from the farm, red and ripe and smelling altogether of a life outside. Her mother would announce that it was tomato gravy time and she would bend, then, with the disappointment of such redness, such ripe and complete redness undone by her mother’s pots and pans. The gravy would cook for hours, and the tomatoes, mixed with the sugar her mother profaned them with, would lose their bright red-ness, and cook into a sad orange, made into lumps by her mother’s violating masher. Was it any wonder, then, that she could never eat the tomato gravy, that to take a bite of it was to take a bite of something wrong, and that to let it cross from her mouth into her body would be an utter violation of the very idea of red? But she was forced, and, retching or no retching, dry heaving or not, August became a fearful month for her, as it bespoke the repeated scene of red betrayal.

If red were the color of coffins, then they would, perhaps, stay above ground, and our cemeteries would be filled with shiny red mounds and we would visit with cheer and exclaim about the colors, the shine, the way the enamel was holding up. Visiting death would be like visiting a classic car show, and the relatives of the coffin dwellers would stand by their loved one’s coffins, ready to talk proudly about the container that held the remembered, now dismembered body.

Red would be a ghost, a time-traveling piece of something fondly remembered, a ribbon, dangling, blowing, trailing wind and air until its lightness became heft, and all the weight of all the worlds’ red shoulders would drop and crumble and the world below would river and rage red.

 

~

Karen L. Carr lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and teaches all manner of writing and lit classes at Rhode Island School of Design and Rhode Island College.