Otis whistled, so keen and clear it could twist the smirk off the valley’s face. The hills shuddered with their orange shoulders and pat the artificial breeze on the back to keep it from crying. Red came up behind him, slipping her hand into his.
Eyes dry from just a few feet away, hidden behind the velvet curtains, I wished I was that guy. Tugging on thick ropes like the sun’s burning arms, I heard chirps of anxious birds. The sun’s patch was ripped raw from the quilt of the sky. It swung down to quarrel with the humans and missed Otis by inches.
Otis cocked his head to the left, just enough to shoot me a glare that could shatter my entire snow globe collection of places I’d never been. I pretended not to notice.
The couple leaned in to each other, lips colliding. Otis gripped her hips and held her there for longer than we had planned. He came out of it with a grin that spoke of love under dried walnut leaves.
Red blushed—but I was hoping it was just her wild cherry scented makeup. The world went dark and the butterflies in my stomach were set free.
I had squeezed luck into her hand but she had tossed it into the nearest trash can before joining him again.
They were with their son now. But he wasn’t that; just some kid they ushered into their cardboard car. He had implausible freckles that stained his cheeks and an itchy brown wig that reminded me of a stray dog’s knotted fur.
Their smiles were from Chevy commercials and they could be labeled ‘Real people, not actors,’ but that would be a lie. Red sighed the inky letters of a typewriter and performed her line through grit teeth. Otis inched closer to her in the car and put his hand on hers. She relaxed while I tensed. He played with the family ring on her fat finger.
My cue had already passed but still I called out for the world and its problems and all the rain clouds of the atmosphere and fixated them on that moment. Planting my feet in the nonexistent soil, I let it drain my energy. Red inclined her head with a thank you.
I brought sunshine and fog, all swirling overhead the scared couple and their false son. The people watching—or maybe they weren’t watching—were wondering why the weather was ongoing. Truthfully, it was because I loved the way she looked at me and would bump arm-to-arm when she parted with him. That’s exactly what she did.
Otis mumbled his monologue about life and death and torn leather chairs. All the while he was directing his jealousy and head-shaking towards me on the sidelines. I stroked Red’s fingers until finally she grabbed my hand and held it. Her dark curls bouncing on my shoulder reminded me of pink bows and confusing beauty.
I wondered aloud if this was what love was like. She bumped my arm and the corner of her mouth curled up soundlessly.
The chuckles in the background sounded like water droplets hitting a metal roof. Otis stood between Red and I, talking of the lazy summer days and pugs that rasp deep and low in their throat. He nudged Red and recalled the time they had spent the afternoon at his house, gulping ice coffee and talking about ambitions.
My cheeks burned hotter than the broken stove in my apartment. She nudged him back but her expression didn’t change.
His eyes twitched until he pulled me aside. We ducked into an abandoned dressing room. In the small space his honeysuckle cologne almost choked me. Breathing down my shirt, he warned me to stay away from Red.
The words Or else? rolled off my tongue before I could stop them.
His breath was minty and smelled of rosemary shampoo. Grinding his teeth together, he turned away from me. I knew he was thinking of the true couple of the story and oil paintings bursting with colors and memories by the distant look on his face.
I backed away from his hulking figure, pushing the drapes of my backwards fairy tale. He grabbed at the sleeves of my shirt. I’d feel reassured if you gave me your word.
Wouldn’t you? I snapped, before striding out of the tiny room. Part of the reason was for Red and her sake, and the other part was my aching stomach longing for yellowing chips coated with salt.
I vaguely remembered the doctor warning me about my weight, but none of that was important now. Crunching on a chip, I could faintly hear Otis’ footsteps behind me.
It was Red’s monologue now. She sang it with giggles and heartbreak, even though all she ever needed was sitting there cheering her on from behind the maroon sheets.
Otis pinched me on the elbow and whispered promises of harm if I was to be stupid. He entered the room with a wrinkled, unironed suit and hopes of lipstick smudges trailing down his neck.
Red blinked a few times and yearned to shield her face from the spotlights because we both knew it wasn’t where she was meant to be. Her husband growled for dinner, and so our gazes met. I nodded, quickly and efficiently, shoving the table towards her.
Otis and Red glanced down, disgusted, at what I had brought them. Realizing I had forgotten probably the most important factor of the meal, I tossed a spoon to them. It hit Otis on the forehead, leaving a purpling bruise like fresh grapes in the winter. The veins in his neck pulsed, all blue and big and ugly.
The people, they enjoyed it. Their cackles became background noise, soon fading into ear-splitting silence.
Otis dug the spoon into the plastic bowl which contained nothing but air, and pretended to drink soup. It was a likely situation, considering that’s how life is sometimes. Unexpecting. Fake. Cheap.
Red suddenly wailed, hands clawing at her throat, and announced their son had died. Neither Otis nor Red seemed particularly sad about it, but they rested their heads on the table and prayed the way broken couples do. The sky faded into dark, and Otis whispered about rosy cheeks like ripe plums and wine bottles meant for smashing. They didn’t even have a funeral.
Red begged for one more chance, on her knees and face to the frozen sky. It was almost like I could feel her pain. Isn’t that what couples do? Feel each other’s pain? Otis’s utter anger was nicely disguised by his sorrow for now.
She raised her bargained wine glass towards the people and showered them with gifts such as clear windows into her soul and graffiti that spelled out life as she knew it. That’s why I loved her. She declared there was nothing left to care about. It was because she had lost everything from her adopted son to the rusting family ring on her finger.
I recalled her saying that she had lost everything at the end of the world. I had told her it just needed to be found.
Otis and Red bowed with their fingers interlaced. She beamed and clapped along to the music, finally looking to her left at me. For a second I thought she was going to invite me to join them, but she changed her mind and instead looked at him.
They waltzed off the stage, pride radiating from them like beams of spicy sunlight. Red stood by me and thanked me. Otis stalked past us towards the bathrooms to clean up his forehead. He smelled of sweat and defeat. It was my favorite scent.
Red leaned in and pecked me on the cheek. It was my turn to blush. Again, I asked Is this really what love is like, Red?
She stepped back, a puzzled expression on her face. I’ll never forget—she breathed iron thorn bushes and piggy banks that were yet to be cracked open. Red? My name is Lucy, she said, before Otis came back and grabbed her by the arm. They sauntered away, Red looking back every so often to portray a demented face.
It wasn’t the face I fell in love with.
The curtains went down, the lights went out, and I heard Otis’s whistle from far away. The play had ended.