The silence buzzes. Alex scrolls through the playlist. Tick. Song. No. Tick. He finally settles, and the silence implodes. The lights that sketch the outline of the towns pass quickly, a blur of tiny cities, filled with tiny people, with tiny stories. The scarlet flag that hangs from the rearview mirror draws you in, and the music is gone. The others dance, and move their lips to the words of the song, but you sit there remembering the tiny day you were a scarlet flag in a sea of night.
Almost everyone is dressed in black, but there you stand, bright and other. You had wanted to dress the part, but it was her last request, that you wear her favorite dress, the scarlet, silk thing she had bought you for your birthday. Black, black, black, red. Your father takes your hand and leads you outside of the little white chapel, to give your mother space, and that’s all you really remember of the day; picking pink roses, and the sight of fresh earth thrown upon the vibrant green lawn. The colors of the day swirl and fade to ash that floats away when no one’s watching.
Alex stretches and your seat lurches forward under the weight of his knee. You’re in the car and you’re headed toward the city. The music is a pulse, it calls, it tries to pull you under, but the next memory seeps in, fighting past the music, past the excuses, past the perfectly placed platitudes, to a time before you first saw your mother cry, before you ever even knew what the word ‘gone’ meant.
You are only six years old, and the woman in front of you reminds you of a caged parrot. Her dress is loud and brightly colored. Shoulder pads fill out her small frame, and the rainbow pattern swallows her. She moves like a bird, too. Precise, clipped movements, with the subtle grace of a person who is never in a hurry. Her nails are long, red, scary things. Her voice is a raspy melody, and you think that if she were to ever sing, she would sound better than all of the women in all of the movies.
“Angel,” she calls you. Her little angel. Her porcelain doll, her robin’s egg.
You look in the mirror and see the marks upon your skin. Brown dots, splattered across your face. Found in her hotel room. Roxana laughs loudly at Alex’s joke. Skin like almond milk. Marianne shifts into third gear. Didn’t even leave a note. More memories of that year reach for you, they cling to you desperately, but the car is moving, your friends are singing, and the music is calling.