Perhaps it was a conscious choice, thinks Blanca as she stares into the prized photograph. Her watering can trembles in her hands. The townspeople saw it coming. They saw the twisted, contorted future-first the starvation and the riots and the chaos and the rats in the elevator, then the creases in poor Blanca’s forehead, and they knew-they must’ve!-that Hell lurked just around the corner, running high rise fast in the form of a redheaded, sleekly dressed, shady eyed man. A smooth talking man with careful hands and fanciful gifts, of no reservations and contrary proclamations; with a kind smile for every lie he told, and with a dreary habit of breaking everything he tried to fix. Funny how she already thinks of him in the past tense. A sudden thought. Has she remembered to feed the children today?
Oh well. Not like they’re home for dinner, anyway. Water drizzles down on the parched watermelon plants. She used to be such a sweet girl… She smiled at each spot of sunshine and kissed the toes of Mayer Hawthorne’s stone feet. Those massive, grey feet are crumbling now. She’s sure, but she’s too afraid to check.
Her swollen belly bumps against the wall. She sighs. The girls are at school, probably, or wandering the curdled waters of the swamp, or splaying their legs for any old fool with a pretty promise and a calloused hand. Blanca curls her lip. They’ll end up just like her, and horribly, she can muster up little desire to change their futures. If she cannot change her own, how can she save her daughters’? Or her unborn child’s, for that matter? History marches on. The unfortunate crumble into dust.
Once she attempted to rescue Pastel. The moonlight seeped through the windows, and in its pale lunacy, hope. The conversation started innocently enough. Pastel’s hands on her mother’s island of a belly, and a strangled whisper. “Mama, what’s going on in there?” asked Pastel. “It feels like a party. Boom boom boom. Wub wub wub.”
“A party?” repeated Blanca blankly.
“A kegger,” said Pastel. “You know? Glade, my friend-he talks about them all the time. His mother likes large parties.”
Blanca blinked, confused. She decided not to bother with the strange slang. She doesn’t speak child. “Well, there’s no party in here. Just a baby. My baby.”
Pastel’s eyes widened. Her fists clenched, though Blanca couldn’t tell whether from disgust or excitement. “Why?”
“Things just happen.”
“Babies don’t just happen,” lectured Pastel. “Mama, you’re a liar.”
“You can’t trust anybody,” said Blanca darkly, looking away. The most important words I’ve ever heard, she thought; her mind, as usual, returned to Rouge. Her eyelids fluttered open and shut. Her first true lesson, her first success as a parent, not with him, but without him, solitary efforts, solitary success.. Maybe she can change things for the family.
“And that’s why we have magazines,” replied Pastel curtly. She stepped around her mother’s belly, hands perched on her minimalistic hips in an uncannily mature fashion, mouth forming a wide “O” as she called for her twin, the casual observer. And all Blanca could say was, “Well.”
As Blanca’s pregnancy progresses, Flannery begins to disappear at night. First for only short periods-a half hour or less before sunset, but as the second trimester dawns she vanishes for hours, often not appearing until after school the next day. Blanca hardly notices Flannery’s absence until Pastel raises her voice. Without her sister, the solid anchor, Pastel pouts and cries and blames her mother for her poor grades and her mannish profile; when admonished, she retreats sullenly to her room, and doesn’t appear until the school bus arrives in the morning. As the sun rises, she pulls her thick red coat over some ludicrous outfit and marches into the blizzard, chin raised high against the elements, an overstuffed binder tucked haphazardly under her toothpick arm. She boards the bus without an apologetic smile for her mother. No wave goodbye, not even a backwards glance. Blanca could die.
Blanca only leaves the house once the bus is out of sight. She waddles to the mailbox on her swollen feet. The first mail coincided with the first day of school. Each morning brings a newspaper. The cover always sports some sort of propaganda-all hail the new mayor, the Messiah, and his whore-turned-Madonna wife! No pictures accompany Mayor Herman’s messages. He knows he’s not as good as Hawthorne, thinks Blanca sourly, as she throws today’s paper in the garbage. Hawthorne wouldn’t forget about me. She opens the mailbox, looking for a letter from the newly crowned mayor, from anyone, really. Hands on her hips, she sighs. Her back aches, and the mailbox is empty. She slams it shut, then retreats to her writing desk.
After school. As they plod towards the house, Flannery and Pastel’s chatter overrides the keyboard’s. Blanca sighs. Her head and back ache something awful. “First we’re going to bake cupcakes, then we’ll doodle on our homework-don’t tell the teacher, you promise? Then we can make a snowman! We’ve got plenty of sticks for arms and stones for buttons. When that’s all finished, we can ask the eight ball for our fortunes. Pastel really likes fortunes, don’t you, Pastel?”
“Oh, I love them! They’re so otherworldly. You know, while we’re in the swamp, we might find some ghosts. Flannery never sees them, but I do, and maybe you will, too. Oh, don’t look so scared! I’ll protect you, Seaweed. I’m a lot tougher than I look.”
Seaweed? Mama used to talk about seaweed like it was a luxury. What for? Was it sushi? The door crashes open, and in step a rosy cheeked Flannery, smiling Pastel, and a stranger, a boy. He smiles crookedly at Blanca. His bowl cut is as lopsided as his mouth. She frowns at him. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Dove,” says Seaweed.
Blanca ignores him. The last strange man to walk in this house… she struggles to finish the thought. “You never mentioned bringing home anybody,” she says to her daughters.
“Oh, don’t mind her,” says Pastel. “Mama’s just been in a bad mood lately. Flan says it must be the baby, but I think it’s because she doesn’t like me. Do you like me, Mama?”
Blanca sighs. “Of course I do, Pastel.”
Seaweed swallows uncomfortably. To ease the tension: “You’re very pretty, Ms. Dove”-he eyes her belly-”and I’m sure you’ll have a pretty child, too.”
A lump forms in Blanca’s throat. She stares into the screen as her eyes start to blur. She doesn’t dare turn around. Her voice cracks in the first word. “You’re very kind, Seaweed.”
“Thank you, Ms. Dove,” says Seaweed.
“Do you like music?” asks Flannery to Seaweed, and suddenly, easily, Blanca has disappeared to them. A tear slips down her face. The world has forgotten her, and there is nothing she can do to reverse it. She’s gone-the harrowed, the lost, the invisible girl. Nobody’s going to look her way.
“Some,” says Seaweed. “Dad’s still fixing our antennae, so we don’t get much radio.”
“I’ve got records,” says Flannery brightly. “The old ones, too. They call it rock and roll.”
“I like Pandora Spring”-Flannery cocks her head to the side, and Seaweed rushes on, a courier of exposition-”she’s from Neon City. She’s really pretty and has a voice like an angel. I’ll play her for you sometime. Maybe Mom’s got some records.”
“Who?” calls Pastel from the restroom.
“Pandora Spring!” replies Seaweed.
“She sounds lovely!” calls back Pastel.
“We should go to a concert,” says Flannery. “Of Pandora, or anyone, really.”
“Maybe we should throw our own,” says Seaweed, and Flannery claps her hands in delight.
“Oh, that sounds wonderful!” she cries.
Blanca doesn’t turn around.
She’s never seen her daughter smile.
Later that evening, when Seaweed has gone and the girls are outside building a snowman, Blanca scoots out of her chair. She runs a hand through her ivory hair and sighs. Her back burns beneath her sweaty shirt. “A hot shower,” whispers Blanca to herself. “It’ll calm me down. Fix my back. Maybe me.”
She steps into the bathroom, but before she can turn on the water, sharp pain stabs her abdomen. Liquid, red and sticky and wholly frightening, seeps through her jeans. “No, no, no,” Blanca repeats. “No, no, no, no.” She slides her pants to the floor and reaches a hand inside her underwear.
And then she screams, and screams, and screams, and as she screams, her daughters place the head on their snowman king. “He’s lovely,” says Pastel with a smile. “Probably not as lovely as Pandora Spring, though. D’you think we’ll ever meet her?”
Flannery thinks for a moment. “Maybe.”
Pastel narrows her eyes and puts her hands on her hips. “Do you hear that? Someone’s screaming.”
“It’s just a party, I’m positive.”
“Or a murder,” giggles Pastel. The girls collapse in a giggling heap. “So silly,” laughs Pastel, “I’m so silly. So, so silly.”
Inside, Blanca cradles her newborn child. “Boston Dove,” she says, squeezing the baby’s chocolate arm. She wonders vaguely where his color comes from, but decides not too worry about it too much. His eyes shine red, like Rouge’s, and his nose sits wide, like hers. A gurgle escapes his lips. Suddenly, a strange tenderness comes over her-a warmth like that of a fireplace on a winter’s night. She smiles down at the child. “Welcome to Orchard, Boston Dove,” she says. “I hope you’ll be ruthless. Only the strongest survive, little one. Your father taught me that, and I’ll teach it to you.”
Little Boston vomits on her blouse.
Outside. Flannery wraps a tattered yellow scarf around the snowman’s fat neck. Pastel shoves rocks in his face. Two for his eyes, three for his mouth. A carrot nose is propped between them. “You know,” says Flannery as she fastens a stick to his side, “the screaming’s stopped.”
“Then the murder’s finished,” laughs Pastel.
“You’re hilarious,” says Flannery. The cattails’ shadows crosses her face, and she smiles at her sister, extending a friendly bare hand. “Mama would want us in bed now. Want to buy some magazines?”
Crystal Castles – “Vanished”
A/N: Look forward to an heir vote later today! Just a quick note on how I’m doing heirs, though:
First, each heir has a different roll. This is to increase the variety between heir choices, and allow the spares to be fleshed out more. HOWEVER, the roll won’t be explicitly revealed until after the vote!
Second, heirship will be assumed not at young adulthood, but when the previous generation has completed all of their rolls, whether that be child, teen, or young adult, unless the story demands a time skip. 🙂
Oh man, I am so excited for this heir vote! It’ll be open until Saturday and will also have the next generation’s spouse color on it, too. Thanks for reading!