To continue the sad annoying trend of me posting my short stories on tumblr, here.
The Lady of Red
All the children knew somewhere deep down when the lady of red came by.
They felt a shiver run down their spines the night she stepped foot in the town, they curled up in their beds, they hid under the covers and their breath shook from their lungs.
The animals could smell it in the air when her skirt passed them by, the click of her heals making them squeal and wine and their ears go flat back.
The adults were unsettled when she first said hello, but she smiled and flittered her eyes, and the grownups were calmed and settled back into their spots.
She stepped into the limelight, she smiled and sang, and they were all delighted by her beauty and her song.
But the children still knew, and the animals knew, and they were afraid.
When the lady admitted to her admirers that she had nowhere to stay, they leapt up with offers. They all wanted her to come to stay with them. They wanted the chance to let her put their roof over their heads, to let her stay in their homes, to eat their food and laugh at their jokes and sleep in their beds.
All the adults, all the men and women, wanted her to make them feel special. They all wanted her to look at them and say “I like you the best.”
The lady of red laughed, and calmed her admirers with a simple wave of her scarlet gloved hand. It was agreed that she would stay one night in each house in the town, and then decide where she liked best.
The first night was with the town’s richest member. He was young, and well dressed, and his smile dripped of insincerity. His house was a mansion, and his mansion was vast. He had his staff cook the finest meals, and he served his guest with all the lavishness and pampering one would with royalty.
That night, after the stars had come out to shine, he confessed his love for her, a love he suddenly felt, burning deep inside him, and he begged her not to leave, to stay with him and love him forever.
But the lady merely smiled, kissed him on the cheek, and said “I cannot stay.” But promised she would seem him again, some day very far away. With that, she was gone, and nobody knew where she slept that night.
The next night she was with the town’s happiest family. There were brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins spreading throughout the house far too numerous for one to count. They told the lady stories, old family tales, they laughed, and played music, and ate on every surface available to them. But though the family hugged and kissed and laughed and danced, there were very few of them that ever looked one another in the eye.
In truth, none of them noticed when the lady of red slipped back out their door into the night. None of them missed her until they were all going to sleep, and they couldn’t help but feel relieved, since they had realized after inviting her in, that they didn’t have the space for her to stay. But someone did remember her promising, over wine and the kinds of snacks only family brings for family that she would come back for each of them one day, some sooner and some later.
The third home the lady went to was small, but lavish. The woman who lived there was an image of perfection, and her home represented her obsession. Her hair was always perfectly done up, just like the pictures on her wall were perfectly straight. Her dresses were perfectly ironed, and her floors were perfectly swept. Every room in the house was clean, and perfect, except for the room of the woman’s daughter, which was messy and chaotic, but the woman loved her all the same.
During the day, the woman and the lady of red talked, they talked about many things, about memory, and belief, and hardship. They talked of exhaustion, and though initially the woman was wary of the red lady, she found that by the time they had eaten dinner, she was in love. She wanted the lady of red to stay with her forever, to share her bed and complete her.
She offered the lady her heart, and the lady of red seemed to consider it, before the daughter came home. Like the rest of the children, the daughter was frightened by the lady of red. She hid behind her mother and asked in a terrified whisper if she was going to eat her.
No matter what, the woman could not convince her daughter not to be scared of the lady of red, and finally through tearstained eyes that obliterated her perfectly painted face, she was forced to ask the lady to leave. But the lady smiled, and promised to see her again someday soon, and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek before she walked out the door.
Finally, after she had been to every house in town, and deemed that none of these places were the home for her yet, the lady of red began to walk out of town, all the adults weeping, and all the children waiting, holding their breath until they were sure she was gone.
But she was not gone.
The lady of red noticed an old man on her way out. He was dressed in clothes that had once been beautiful, and now were shabby with age and use. He sat on the ground, leaning his back against the wall of a building, his white beard hiding his face which was lined with smiles that came both from laughter and from tears, and he nodded to her, inviting her to join him by the small fire he had made.
So the lady of red, who had dined in the wealthiest and most lavish of homes, joined the old man on the dirty cold ground, her scarlet dress not at all dirtied by the grime of the street. She sat beside him, and he smiled through the dense of his white hair.
She asked if he knew who she was, which was not a question that she had asked any of the other adults, and not a question she had needed to ask the children. The old man nodded. He said that he had always known who she was, from the second she had waltzed into town. The lady was surprised by this, and asked him why he was not afraid.
The old man’s eyes were bright with the many years they had seen, and full of the mysteries that we know only at the end of life. He told her that there was nothing for him to be afraid of, and chided her on tricking the townsfolk, of not telling them who she was, but instead dazzling them with smiles and song.
The lady of red was puzzled, and at last admitted that she thought if the people really knew who she was, they would have hated her, and driven her away with all their might.
The old man admitted that yes, perhaps some of them would have hated and feared her, and perhaps some of them would have loved her too much, or wanted to use her, but that was not a reason for her to lie. The old man confided in the lady of red, that he didn’t think anyone had to be afraid of her, nor did they need to love her, but simply accept her as she was, and only invite her in when it was truly the time to do so.
The lady of red found a tear in her pale, moonlight face, and wiped it away with a bone white hand. She kissed the old man on the cheek, his silver hairs tickling her ruby lips, and asked if she could stay the night.
The old man touched the spot where she had kissed him, smiled at her, and told her he would be happy to share his fire with her, and the two leaned in, innocently pleased with one another’s company.
That morning, when the red lady woke, the old man was still there, but he was ghostly. He was standing next to the fire, but he was also still lying next to the lady, cold and still as a stone. The old man who was by the fire smiled again at the red lady of death, and the two of them left the town arm in arm, as she led him to his next destination.