The Texture of Red
I had dated him for several months before he was arrested. We had little in common, but shared a few of the same vices which made up for a lot. We both liked to work out; we both liked to smoke. We both liked to spend hot, dusty afternoons at the racetrack, in the free seat Bukowski section, where the true gambling addicts, alcoholics, and sublimely self-hating masochists gathered to drink their six-dollar Heinekens and spend what little cash they had on the fine, taut horses in front of them. We drove out there in his red convertible, then fucked ourselves sober before heading home. It was a thing I was going through. He was slightly taller than me, but I always thought of him as shorter.
Owen moved freely about the house on Saturday mornings. His parents slept late, and in the void of their presence, the small boy explored his home. His own room was full of cars, trains, stuffed toys, a red canvas tent that hung over his bunk bed, sheltering him from imagined storms, pirates, bears. His space was rich, benefitting from his parents’ adoration, imagination and liberal arts degrees.
His mother was named Connie. She was almost forty when she had him and she thought of Owen as both a miracle and a hell of a burden after living a rich, unfettered life for so long. She wore her hair long, tying it back with gold bands, her slinky wrist taut with jangly bracelets.
His father was named Diego and came from Cuba. He moved to Florida when he was twelve, then earned a baseball scholarship. He studied business, then law, and enjoyed the crease of his own pants. Little of Cuba remained in him, except his love of baseball and the faded memory of a Castro childhood, faded pink and blue memories. He kept coasters, books of matches, receipts and pastel colored snapshots in an empty cigar box at the top of a bookshelf.
Owen knew of that box. He also knew it held one more secret treasure: a red whistle. Why this caught his mind that morning, I don’t know. Perhaps it was the red of his tent that reminded him, or the silence of the home that called for disruption. Owen approached the tall shelves, placed his bare foot on the bottom frame, stretched his fingers to the upper shelf and pulled. He pulled again and again, until reaching the top, grabbing the box.
The dust over the yellow and brown paisley swirls of the box was silky and grayed his pale fingertips. He pulled it forward with his free hand. The shelves wobbled. Owen steadied it. Then it wobbled again. Owen fell. The bookcase fell. The cigar box fell. Owen’s mother fell out of bed, fell into the living room, fell to the floor, falling over the small, crushed body. A whistle lay by his side. Silent.
Do you remember that kid, Levi?
Levi? Can’t remember.
The short kid. The one whose mother is an accountant. Complained about his grade.
Maybe. He was small? I mean, small for his age. Blue eyes?
Yes. Yes, that’s him. He was murdered.
Yes. Kidnapped. It was on channel 4.
Kidnapped. No way.
Yes. Some creep. They found his body in two places.
How is that?
The guy, I mean, the murderer, dumped part of his body in Bushwick. Another part was in a refrigerator in his attic. So Jeffrey Dahmer of him.
I can’t believe it. Who found him?
Some teens found him in a red suitcase in the garbage. I suppose the cops found the other parts in the fridge.
His poor mother.
Yes. Poor thing. Did you know her?
No. Not really.
Strange lady. Complained about his grade.
Should we go to the funeral?
I don’t want to sit shiva.
Maybe the school will do something?
Maybe it’ll be in the paper.
His poor mother.
Yes. Let’s get lunch.
The texture of red
Orange hues blended fire
braided white cells blue
cells crimson red
Thick stained blood clot black red.
brown “old blood” misforgotten red
Blood scissor scratch ruby red
high desert clay red sky
crescent dahlia red zinnia
maroon corvette abortion red
earth dyed henna eyes
so red like flames
like lips pursed in fear
merlot across canvass
fields of wild red poppies.
After the police left, I tried to remember if there were any signs I should have noticed. We had seen each other, but trying on each other’s skin hardly counts as dating. I certainly would never have introduced him to my friends. Not my mother.
First degree murder. Two counts of rape. Two counts of rape with a foreign object. A dead girl. Fifteen.
I tried to remember. He had slim, long hands and ginger hair. A red sports car. I never knew where he was; he didn’t ask about me. We did not live together. We were not in love.
I didn’t even want to sleep with him at first. I was so drunk I just didn’t say no. Maybe in college it’s rape, but at thirty it’s just a bad night.
A dead girl. Fifteen. Her body thrown into the ocean. Lost to the white foam of the sea. I imagine him smoking in his red car, above the cliff where he released her back to where she came from. Was he panicked then? What did he remember about her?
He is in custody for the murder of a girl. She was small and mousy; he was taller than me but always seemed shorter.
I am able to shrug off the idea that he may have wondered about my neck, the way it might crack if he twisted hard enough, the way the flesh will give if pressed hard and fast enough.
But the girl dies with that secret. Her last moments are his. He fingers them like a rosary.
Candyce Pelfrey Kannengieser is a high school English and Creative Writing teacher and writer. She also teaches Creative Writing at Hofstra University. Early in her teaching career, Candyce was a New York City Teaching Fellow and member of Americorps. She earned her MsEd from Lehman College in 2005 and her MFA in Creative Writing from San Diego State University in 2000.