Evanescence -- fiction by Reese Beebe
I’m too young to be nostalgic. Too old to be completely still, unwilling to move. No one has ever said it to me, but I know. I know, as a single birthday candle lights up the dim room, as it sends an orange glow onto the surrounding faces. My family looks like they’re trapped in an oil painting, skin erupting with colors and textures that transcend real life. The wrinkles stemming from the corners of Grandpa’s eyes deepen as the fire flickers, making him look much older, like a shadow, a wraith haunting my coming of age. I stare at the birthday cake sitting in front of me; the icing is written in curly letters. Happy Birthday!
The flame in front of me is like a pin prick in the atmosphere; a peephole into the next life. That’s what birthdays are, I decide. A seductive chance to escape; an opportunity to flee this life and fall into the next, blown away by the will of childish breath. That breath that clings to this world and allows you to become one year older. At any moment, I will blow the candle out. At any moment, I will become one year older than you, eighteen, and how is that fair? How am I to do it? How am I to bring my lips inches away from the fire and extinguish you?
“Ophelia, it’s time to make a wish,” Mom says from behind me, delicate hands resting on my shoulders.
But, oh, the wish I wish to make. That wish is drowning in you. Covered in sweet nostalgia. Smelling of your bubblegum scent. I stare at the fire, the flickering whisper, goodbye. I watch the flame dissipate in the air when I blow it out, smoke clouding the room. Has fire always done that? Haunted the room like a ghost? Was it that way four years ago on my fourteenth birthday? You were there, being a good sister, watching the glow of the candles. That day, seventeen seemed so much older and wiser, but now I am hanging on the edge of it as the world begs me to let go and grow up. Perhaps you wore it differently than me, with an air of mystery and maturity. That was all before that age defined you. Before it became all you would become. I squeeze my eyes shut and wish to see you again. I wish to meet you at the pond again, somehow.
You grabbed my hand, sweaty palms, chipped nail polish, and brought me there to watch the moonlight dance on the water. I had always found that pond murky and gray, but the night you took me there it harbored this luminescent beckoning that enchanted me. Nothing was ever beautiful or original until you showed it to me, until you shined on it a new, glittering light. You looked as if you belonged there in that moment, an agile creature of the night under nature's spotlight.
“Your birthday is almost over,” You said.
Earlier that night, the sun lingered still, making a show of the summer evening. Light streamed through your vertical blinds, a honeycomb illusion on your bedroom floor. That's where we sat, when the carpet left speckled grooves under my thighs. You were digging through a drawer next to your bed and I was looking around, admiring the paper mache effect of the walls with your posters and book pages and photographs. Every inch was covered, an intricate mosaic of vintage pictures and pop culture references. I hadn’t been in there much before because your door was always closed and I was always on the other side of it. But it was my birthday, and you were digging for makeup to decorate me with.
“Here. This one is clear with a little tint of pink,” You handed me the tube of lip-gloss, assuming I knew what to do. I brought the felt applicator to my lips while you held up a little mirror for me. “And purse your lips together like this,” you said, demonstrating. “It blends it all in.” I slathered the gloss on, going a little outside the lines before rubbing it in. You smiled. It was waxy and had an artificial bubblegum taste that I loved so much. The poppy melody of “Material Girl” by Madonna swirled around us as you adjusted my hair so it sat in the right place.
“You look so pretty. When all your friends get here, they’re gonna be so jealous.”
I looked down at my legs. I had never thought of myself as pretty before.
“Whatever, you’re perfect, May.” I said, lifting my gaze. You’re dirty blonde hair was tossed over your shoulder and the sunlight highlighted the freckles that scattered across your nose.
“No, no I’m not.”
“Really, I mean it. I wanna be like you when I’m seventeen.”
You laughed and stood up, picking up the scattered makeup items and stuffing them back in the drawer. You tried to turn away from me, but I still saw it. I saw the way your face cracked a bit when I said it, like a hard stone under too much pressure.
“You won’t be like me, Ophelia,” you looked at me then, “you’ll be better.”
You gave a weak smile and left me there in a surreal disposition. I was floating through this glorified atmosphere, shiny with wisdom and mystery. If I had looked around more, I would have seen you there, the real you. I would have picked up on the little fragments of you that scattered around the room. Instead I saw the room as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts. I wanted to sit there forever and assimilate myself to your likeness, to your universe. I wanted to relive that moment forever, sitting with my sister, taking in the glory I’d somehow missed all the years we’d lived together.
Why isn’t it enough? To live and be tainted by time? To go through life as it ebbs and flows without any hard stops? Without any fractures?
“O,” Mom strokes my hair, tucking a brown strand behind my ear. We came to sit on the back porch to watch the sun set. Dad is smoking a cigar, Grandpa erupting with his gravelly laugh. The humidity looms over us, sinking into our skin. As the sun begins to drift away, my eyes study the wooden panels that make up the pergola over our heads. Mom placed string lights up there a few days ago in an attempt to distract from the old patio furniture. “Do you wanna see what I got you?” She smiles.
She pulls out a little film camera with a bow stuck to it and I kiss her cheek.
“Thank you, Mom.”
“Take my picture, Ophelia, will you?”
My fingers caress the leather body of the camera before bringing it to my eye. For a moment, I watch as my world seems to transform from the stagnant oil painting to a fluid film. The sunset shines an unbelievable orange on my mom’s olive skin, making her look like she is glowing from within. Her smile quirks, her eyes flutter, waiting to be captured this way. But something stops me from bringing my finger to the shutter and solidifying this memory. Is it not enough to exist? To live fluidly without burying your memorabilia in every place you touch? Sometimes it's best to forget, no strings attached. Though I think these things, I ultimately bring my finger to the button, freezing this moment in time to live on forever.
I used to think God broke a rule by letting someone so good die so young. Maybe I still think that. Maybe I hated your long musings on pop culture or the way you left your towels on the floor. Maybe I memorized the way you said things so I could say them just the same. Maybe I thought that even though I lost you, I would be just like you by now, stunning and confident with a good taste in literature. But now you’re gone. Now I am one year older than you and I am still me, not some ethereal reflection of the sister I used to have. I will never be you. I will only remember you and hope the memory sticks.
I bring the camera down, setting it in my lap.
“It’s beautiful isn’t it?” Mom says, admiring the evanescent sun. I stare straight at it. Now it’s not so bright that it burns my eyes, but the perfect sultry orange.
“You better take a picture now. Before it’s gone.”
“You give it a try,” I say, handing the camera over. Mom laughs, taking it from me. She positions it in front of her face, aiming straight at the sun. Click.
“Happy Birthday, my love.”
Reese Beebe is a current high school senior in Fort Worth, Tx. When she isn't writing, she's enjoying hobbies like theatre, dance, and reading. Reese intends to study English and Creative Writing at University next year. She has written plays for local theatres and intends to write a novel someday!