Short Story: Red

>My brother would read quite a bit in our shared bedroom, and at times he would read out loud. I never paid too much attention, and thus could never recall the exact details of a story. Except for one.

At one time, he lived in the same room that I did. Even though my parents had money falling out of their pockets, they aimed to raise their children properly, and part of being modest was the ability to share. The large family estate easily held all my siblings: Sigmund, the eldest, Zoey, my younger sister by seven years, and very much later there was Franny, who by the time I left for the academy in the capital, was only a toddler. With the building’s twenty bedrooms and expansive halls, the estate was my father’s and grandfather’s pride of how well the Glass family name boomed in the business. All my brothers and sisters were allowed rooms of their own, but they did not have a fraternal twin. and thus, my parents had placed my brother and I in the same room. This went on for about the first sixteen years of our life.

Theodore, or Teddy as many called him, had an obsession with books. He was never right in the head, though it certainly didn’t mean he didn’t have interesting perks about him. If anything, it made sure that he had very unique qualities. He could read by age four, and never could stare in the same direction as any other person in the room, including those painted and hung on the walls. Many a times the maids have had to reconfigure the setup of family photos along the stairs running up through the home, seeing as Teddy would at times lose glance and attention by the looks of Uncles, Aunts, and Grandparents painted and photographed. He took a tumble more than once going up the stairs towards our bedroom because of this.

Teddy’s obsession in books gave him many troubles due to the fact he had difficulty telling fact from fiction. Upon delving into the books at the Payon library, he’d come back with tales about the Orc bard that fought dragons, or the flying metal birds that he swore he piloted in a past life. I, equally the same age minus about fifteen minutes, knew already that what he talked about was complete fiction, and was nothing to take seriously, but in entertainment. But as he explained these stories he would smile in glee and excitement, and speak of these characters as if they were real people with real feelings.

He sifted his way through the library’s collection quickly, and moved on to other books. Where he found books from, after he cleared out the library, was difficult to tell. These books came with no library marks, no plastic covers, but enough dog eared pages to make them frumpy and stick open awkwardly. I knew that even if I asked Teddy, he wouldn’t respond truthfully. At least by this time he was strong enough to carry a large stack of books. Some he neglected to return to wherever he had gotten them. It was this time I noticed the smell of lilacs and vanilla about Teddy. A sweet, delicate smell that was nothing like the boy who held it. I remember finding the curious curls of long hair in our room, nothing like any of the maids or my family members had. The curls were long and red. The appearance of the hair had made me start to believe that there was a stowaway visitor that came and left ever so suddenly as I blinked. They must have came from an outside source.

The day he read me that story, he came home smelling of the flowers and musty aged vanilla, and if I think hard enough I can almost imagine seeing him with a tinge of blush about his face. He started off by asking me what my favorite color was.

“Blue. My favorite color is blue, Teddy.” I responded, irked that he had interrupted my moments to myself. It is sad that I cannot remember what I was doing then, but I can remember looking at him so carefully that I could taste the utter glee on his lips. He then opened his mouth, saying what little words I remember him saying that weren’t quotations, stories, or deranged, nonsensical mutterings.

“I like red.” He murmured softly, hand running along a leather bound volume, appreciating every dip and crack in the surface. He sat down on his bed, opened the book, and started to read out loud. When he finished, he turned to me, who at the time was busy with some sort of eight-year-old’s business, and told me that I would remember it for forever, even beyond this life and even beyond the next. I snorted in some sort of response, as if arguing against it but not giving much effort to do so.

My eldest brother had planted the seed of becoming an alchemist in my mind early on. What little time we spent together was used to speak of scholarly things, even with our wide age differences. He claimed I had a knack for knowing materials and their properties, while I mentioned he was always gifted in his remembrance of history and speaking of men who had willed their way through royal lines to become nobility. He always wanted to be a member of the palace, which was proper for a Glass man. It was only perfect that he ended up on staff as one of the high guilds of Geffen, known for working directly with the King. When he left for the bigger city, I couldn’t help but feel much more lonely in my prospects. Sigmund’s leaving was celebrated by much of my family, while myself leaving for the capital’s academy went fairly unnoticed. I liked it that way. Mother simply gave me a sad look, and father a pat on the shoulder to encourage. Teddy was nowhere in sight.

He went on with his life, and so did I. He was some sort of wilted wallflower, slightly damaged but still trying to give off a radiance of life, and our parents noticed more when I left. While I went on to the academy and learned the ways of an alchemist, Teddy snuck out of our parent’s home and went on his own adventures. Mother and father would complain that he would come back with packs of roasted-tobacco cigarettes and enough wine on his breath to curl your nose hairs. He always had a book tucked under an arm and a smile on his face with some sort of glee running through his veins.

“This isn’t something a Glass man would do.” They’d say. “Theodore just wastes his life away.”

They’d claim I could do something about it. He’d listen to me. He was my brother, my twin, my other half. I began to detest the thought of leaving the academy just to deal with their troubles and wouldn’t respond to my parent’s begging. I had much more better things to do than sit down with Teddy and explain the ways of the world that he would simply ignore anyway. The letters that they sent to the academy in the capital through carrier pigeon went unanswered. I did not want to take responsibility for that type of burden: a man the same age as I (even older than me by a grand fifteen minutes), yet with no drive to do anything in his life. I was bettering the family name by becoming a business man, a scholar, and an alchemist, while he was breaking it down with his drunken rampages through town and claims of second life. Even his grandiose stories of the giant metal bird made it to the capital, as fellow students whispered behind my back of my other half’s wasted life.

I had to work harder to prove myself that I was the exact opposite from Teddy. That I was not cut from the same cloth. That Teddy was a washed out red cotton cloth only useful for washing windows while I was a brilliant blue silk that could awe even the queen. I spent my academy years proving that I was worth my weight in platinum, not just gold. To admit, this took a toll on me; both in spirit and mind.

I spent some time researching tonics and tinctures outside the typical Academy curriculum. I did no asking of teachers of how to deal with this problem, knowing from student whispering of the glorious nights of illegal activities that had helped them get through their studies for midterms and finals. It was rampant in the Academy, and I at once detested the thought of relying on such a thing, thinking of myself the better of many of my peers. I was a Glass man, I had needed no help. But the studies had worn me down by my fifth year, and through convincing of my flat-mate, I had bought into the popular, yet underground opinion of my fellow students. Tonics and tinctures, indeed, and the type to keep you up all night. Instead of casual green fairy houses where men such as Teddy would blissfully waste away their lives, I gave myself a chance to excel through my school works with the bitter taste of pure, driven snow on my gums. It was rather glorious at first in my young years, but it came with a high price as the months went by as I would wake at all hours and work on making more for the next day’s supplies. I sent home letters asking for more money for materials and school books, but never once mentioning their problems with Teddy. Slowly and slowly, my mother’s desperate letters about my brother seemed to stop, and instead were replaced by crisp bills and a mentioning of how my older brother was doing, how my little sister was finding herself a man, and how my youngest sister could speak and write in such fluency. My anger over my other half was satiated.

I didn’t visit my parent’s home again until late in the summer of my twenty-fifth year, fresh from graduation. With the trees of my parent’s estate buzzing with the sound of cicadas, I marched up the steps to the front door and let myself in. I, at the time, commanded quite a bit of respect that, at my young age, was questionably deserved. A graduate, an alchemist, and above all things, a business man. Business in the capital required several things: a good, outward personality, and a good family name, for a gauge of trustworthiness. I was a very good business man, blessed with both of these things. My adventures through the looking glass had found quite a number of associates that were pleased to do business with me so long as I showed them a good time. This entailed more of my tonics and tinctures, which was easily produced through means I had now mastered. The nights of rambunctious journeys always came out more up than down for proving good faith with such men. The Glass family name had little problem to begin with, except for my brother, who by now my parents had attempted to close off in his own room, or at least I thought.

My mother and father were busy in their own business. Mother tending to my youngest sister and father to the work in his office. My siblings were going about their own business as well, Sigmund far off in Republic at one of the guilds there, Zoey with the so-called love of her life (or whatever a sixteen year old girl would lead herself to believe). I led myself around the home, debating what exactly to do. My steps echoed on the hardwood floors as I moved from room to room. From the piano room, to the front room, to the kitchen. The maids gave me no attention as I helped myself to an apple from a bowl on one of the countertops there. Hunger never was common in my body (perhaps a side effect of the dust), and idle moments of consuming like this were rare. I couldn’t help but think in my lonely moment that I was finally here and neither of my parents wanted to speak with me or congratulate me on my recent graduation. It was after taking a bite from the apple that I decided to stop in my old room, which was Teddy’s as well. I thought that perhaps my brother was there, reading, cross-legged on his bed and murmuring to himself about an Orc’s battlements. I made my way up the stairs and opened the door to be barraged by the scent on vanilla and only to find that half of what used to belong in the room was gone. Teddy’s books, his desk, his journals, his bed, his dresser…completely gone. My own bed, dresser, and desk sat in the left side of the room, once complex and busy but now balanced by the empty space on the other end.

I stood in the frame of the door for a few minutes, staring at the empty spaces where Teddy once had been. Where he knocked his head on the bed post and opened it up, bleeding all over the place, insisting that I don’t tell anyone, only to be found by the maid hours later holding a pair of dirty pants to his head to soak up the bleeding. Where I found him one day with my shoebox of questionable magazines, staring down at the ladies on the glossy pages until he looked up to stare around me, not directly at me, and ask, “What are these women doing,” in a neutral tone of neither disgust or interest. Where he sat on his bed, legs crossed, book in lap, reading that one story out-loud as if it was the damn most important thing in the world, claiming, “You will remember this, Waker.” Just like how he remembered flying in that big metal bird until he crashed and felt water all around himself. Just like how I still remember the long strands of curls that I found about our room. I somewhat believe they were not as red as I remember them now.

I sat down on the bed I had very much outgrown, though felt the crinkle of paper underneath the covers. Standing back up, I reached under the covers to find a note written in Teddy’s sloppy handwriting. It simply read, “GONE FISHING.” I remember that it smelled like tobacco, but there was something else there. Lilacs. Certainly such a sweet smell couldn’t linger very long in this room.

I’m not entirely sure exactly where he went. Mother and father wouldn’t say, playing dumb as if they never heard his name before. Finally free of the weighed-down responsibility of a grown man who insisted on coming home talking of fictional cities in the far future and their comings and goings. When asked, the maid simply smiled at me when I asked her where Teddy had gone, whispering in a somewhat excited manner, “A girl with red curls took him.”
I had thought about looking for him, though I did not want to carry the burden of finding him. The whispers of my business associates about my brother’s escapades died down after a few years. Everyone forgot about Teddy. The man wasn’t anyone’s priority. Including me.

And all he left for me was the story I can still tell word-for-word, from memory:

Duke Mu did so, and subsequently dispatched him on the quest for a steed. Three months later, Kao returned with the news that he had found one. “What kind of a horse is it?” asked the Duke. “Oh, it is a dun coloured mare,” was the reply. However, the animal turned out to be a coal-black stallion! Much displeased, the Duke sent for Po Lo. “That friend of yours cannot even distinguish a beast’s colour or sex! What on earth can he know about horses?” Po Lo heaved a sigh of satisfaction. “Has he really got as far as that?” he cried. “Ah, then he is worth ten thousand of me put together. What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism. In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details. So clever a judge of horses is Kao, that he has it in him to judge something better than horses.”
When the horse arrived, it turned out indeed to be a superlative animal. “
( Taoist story taken from JD Salinger’s “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters”)

All I know is that business has been good since.

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