The Auburn-Haired Heroine

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Meg began her morning by waking up. That's a horrible opening to a story she thought to herself as she opened her eyes. A writer shouldn't open up a story with a character waking up, it was bad form. She could hear the narration perfectly, She heard the rude chime of the clock rattle her awake from a dreamless sleep. With an opening like that, she assumed whatever the heroine was waking up to face that day most likely involved an angst-filled love triangle. Meg sat up to face Tom, who was seated on the armchair at the end of her bed. He was wearing his old maroon high school sweatshirt and blue jeans that had faded to pale blue-grey. His large body was draped over the chair horizontally, his feet dangling carelessly over the arm. The journals she had filled up over the last five years that had been where he now sat were spread beneath him, pages decorating her floor. He acknowledged her with a nod as he flipped through an issue of Cosmo, which he must have brought since Meg had never touched the magazine herself. "10 Tips to Rock His World!" the cover page promised. She fantasized for a moment about sitting in a New York office cubicle, hunched over the blue glow of a computer at three A.M. on a Saturday night, clicking her pen impatiently and trying to come up with anything to give her editor besides, "You might want to try touching his penis."

Meg pulled her bedcovers aside and planted her feet on the ground, "Hey." She said to him, an early morning hoarseness to her voice. Her bathroom was only two steps from her bed; and she shuffled her way there to the sounds of Tom turning the thin and glossy Cosmo pages. As she entered the bathroom, she paused to consider her own reflection for a moment. When she looked at herself in the mirror she saw brown hair, brown eyes, and a normal human face. She couldn't really describe her own face; the details of it which might be defined seemed insignificant, because they were her own. As she bent over to wash her face she thought about describing the heroine who was woken up by the rude alarm clock, She had uncorrupted ivory skin and auburn hair with piercing blue eyes. The word "piercing" in reference to eyes was one of Meg's pet peeves in stories, but she did not detest it as much as she did those heroines with "auburn" colored hair. Who in human history has been attempting to describe a girl and said anything like, "You know that girl from history class- the one with the auburn hair?" As Meg dried off her wet face she did notice one particular familiar feature, the dark set circles ever-present under her eyes. They had grown deeper and darker because Tom had kept her up last night talking. She didn't want another one of his long conversations this morning, she had to get ready, but the minute she picked up her toothbrush and had the thing in her mouth, he started up yet again.

"This thing is hilarious." Tom said, holding up the magazine.

"I wouldn't know, I never read it." She replied, minty foam impairing her speech. He either understood perfectly or didn't care about her response.

"It's like- all so, 'I am Woman! Hear me roar!' or- well- 'Hear me orgasm!' Seriously the stuff they talk about in here is crazy." Meg spit into the sink. Despite herself, she gave a short haphazard laugh to humor him, and wiped her mouth on her shirt sleeve.

"I'm sure the liberated feminists of Cosmo would love to hear they are pleasing their male demographic so much." She said with her husky voice, "Maybe that's one of the tips they have in those articles on how to best serve your species, 'Have opinions and sexual drive, he'll find it hilariously adorable." Tom dropped the magazine lazily to the floor where it joined Meg's writing.

"It's too early for your wit." He replied with a yawn.

"Did you even sleep last night?" He hadn't left the chair at least.

"Of course not, I was engrossed in a novel." He jumped up and gestured to the floor with the Cosmo and her own old pages. It was unclear if he was referring to the magazine or her journals. She had not even considered he might have read what she wrote before he had casted it all to the floor. Tom noticed her eyes followed his gesture, "Were you gonna write today?" He asked. Meg responded by turning back to the mirror.

"I don't know when I'm going to write, I don't plan it, I just do it." Which was true, writing was something she just did. She just hadn't done it in a while.

"That sounds like a load of crap." Tom said, and then suddenly his tone was cautionary, like a mother warning her child not to touch the stove, "You're just putting it off, you need to start writing again." Meg gave an exasperated sigh and took out the small bag of makeup she had in her medicine cabinet. Maybe she would wear some today. She zipped it open and looked inside; trying to remember what the mean lady at the Este Lauder counter in the mall told her to do with this stuff when she first bought it.

"Why should I write?" She asked as she pulled out the eyeliner, "Because you think so highly of my work?" She mimicked his grand gesture at the mess on the floor.

"You should write because you're good at it." He replied. "You filled up all these little fuckers after all." She heard the rustling of pages, like he was kicking those little fuckers around a little. And Meg put the eyeliner down to pick up her liquid foundation. She assumed that smearing something on her face would be an easier start than stabbing something in her eye. The rustling kept on as she starred down at the small glass bottle of foundation. She couldn't remember how much makeup to use- was the dollop supposed to be the size of a quarter, or a dime, or like a Sacagawea gold dollar? She couldn't remember because when the makeup lady told her the exact coin size of foundation she should use, Meg had only been pretending to listen. She tipped the bottle over into her palm, nervously, and what must have been half of the bottle plopped into her hand, a ridiculous drag queen's share of makeup. She gave a low exasperated groan and attempted to somehow funnel her hand to put some of the stuff back in, but it seeped from her palm and dripped onto the porcelain sink instead. Her hands and bathroom were now covered in the stuff, and she assumed neither her hands nor her sink had ever looked more beautiful. The Heroine with the auburn hair was constantly having men hopelessly fall in love with her incredibly youthful hands, she thought.

"People are so fascinatingly complicated." Tom suddenly said- his voice playacted as small and sincere, "I love how every person who crosses my path is just a series of stories and motivations and are made of a billon broken pieces that I'll never know. It's terrifying and brilliant."

"What's that from?" Meg asked, turning on the water to wash off her hands.

"It's from you. You wrote it." Sure enough, when she turned her head she saw Tom was seated now at the foot of her bed and was holding a certain page he had ripped out and pulled off the floor.

"It sounded pretentious." She said, turning back to the sink to watch swirls of liquid skin wash down with the water. She could feel Tom roll his eyes at her. "Why are you looking at that stuff anyway?" Meg asked. "You made a mess."

"Words are supposed to be read." He said plainly. "And anyway I like what you said- about how people can come down to the stories that they are, and how we can't really know all of them." There was a special kind of joy in someone reading her old books that she had abandoned in the corner, a small privilege she had never allowed herself to feel. It was the sensation that someone had gained something from her words. But she knew Tom was only pandering to her, Tom wasn't able to gain anything. "Hey! Maybe you should write about me. Tell my little broken story." And there it was, what he wanted. He shot up as he said it and came to stand in the doorway.

"No." She replied uncomfortably, pulling her hair into a pony tail.

"Why not?" He asked.

"Is there anything worse than a teen suicide story?" Meg retorted, taking her hair out again and running her fingers through it frustrated. Writing about Tom was the last thing she wanted to do. She had rather write about the auburn-haired heroine, even the mean makeup counter lady, or both. The Auburn Haired Heroine sobbed over the lifeless corpse of the Este Lauder counter Makeup Lady, her one true love, who took her own young life by eating all the makeup tester cotton balls. But although the light had gone out of her Makeup Lady's piercing blue eyes, their passion lived as fiery as the Auburn Haired Heroine's auburn hair.

"You don't have to write about that." That. It hit her unexpectedly hard, the simplicity of the word, and the nonchalance of it. "That" was him dying. It was something she could never understand about Tom, how he never seemed to dwell on how he ended it.

"You killed yourself." She said.

"I did other stuff too." The page she had written was still in his hands, crushed between him and the doorframe.

"The defining moment of your life was deciding to end it." Meg said. "It was who you chose to be in the end- the story of the boy who killed himself. I can't tell your story without telling all of it, because that would be a lie. But if I did tell the whole story, it would mean simplifying you into that cliché."

"I'm not a cliché." He echoed, letting her now crumpled page fall back to the ground.

"Exactly, so I'm not going to write a story about some poor misunderstood suburban white boy who slit his wrists because he was depressed about having nothing to be depressed about." It was insensitive, but that was the only thing Tom ever seemed to respond to. And maybe the truth was she really didn't sympathize with her friend that much. Maybe he really was just a bad story, no better than the Auburn Haired Heroine and her star-crossed lover the Makeup Lady. He must have followed her train of thought somehow, because he quickly and bitterly retaliated.

"Maybe that's how I did it. Maybe I slit my wrists."

"A little melodramatic don't you think?" She asked, her anger unwillingly rising.

"What would you prefer?" There was no answer to that. She had never found out how he did it, and she hadn't thought much about the logistics of it. She had only ever been able to picture his last hours, not through his eyes, but his mother's. She figured his mom would have come into his room that night to check on him, and seen him on his computer as usual. Maybe he would've given her that disinterested nod, his eyes never leaving the screen. She might've gone downstairs to make dinner, and then came back upstairs only to find her apathetic eye-rolling boy was now dead. Meg couldn't even really think of Tom lying on the floor motionless, lifeless. She only ever pictured his mother's face, the horrific pain of trying to shake him awake, desperately pleading and praying for some kind of miracle. And Meg found herself wondering if Tom ever thought about it too.

"Well?" He was back to sitting on the edge of her bed, and he was eyeing her impatiently for an answer. "If you were writing it, the story of how I died, what would it be?" She tried to think on it, but was suddenly overcome by the strange image of his mother in her mind again. She closed her eyes, leaning on the sink for a moment, and let in a deep breath, trying to slow the beating of her heart. But in her mind's eye there was only his mother, and the more she tried to make the image go away the sounds of her screams grew louder.

"It should've been like Hemmingway." Meg said over the piercing sound, her voice shaking. "One shot and done." She had hoped that would be a simple enough answer for him to stop questioning her.

"Didn't Hemmingway use a shotgun? That's pretty messy."

"The cleanup is a bitch either way." Meg was overwhelmed by an urgent need to say something that affected him. Anything that could make him hear the cries, anything to change that smug tone in his speech into some form of regret. "And isn't that the fucking point?!" She let the pain in his mother's voice cause her own to rise, "Don't you go out hoping that you'll make a mess, that the parts of you left over won't be so easy to get rid of?" The sound reverberated off the tiles in the bathroom, but his mother's voice was silent now, and so she opened her eyes again.

"You writers, you overthink everything." Tom picked up one of her journals, and leafed through it like the shiny pages of his magazine. "Its blood and guts, you need to stop romanticizing it all." Tom could admire the idea of people's broken pieces, but he couldn't see them. He couldn't hear his mother screams and he couldn't understand Meg's words. "You're romanticizing me too." He added.

"Really?" She asked, incredulous. 'How so?"

"You got so worked up about what happened. I mean, we were friends, but you would have gotten tired of me eventually anyway. We would have gone our separate ways when we went off to college, tried to keep touch but slowly find one-another more and more obnoxious." His words had become slower, he spoke in the rhythm that he skimmed through her words, looking but not seeing.

"I would have loved the opportunity to have found you obnoxious Tom," her voice faltered as tears threatened to invade her sight, but she tried to hold on to her anger, "I would have loved to outgrow you. But I didn't get to, I didn't get to lose touch, you just left." It was so long ago, and yet it wasn't, because Tom never left. He didn't look at her; he was still flipping through the book, she wanted to knock it down to the ground, right out of his hands. But she didn't want to cross the threshold of the bathroom. She just wanted to finish getting ready. She looked in the mirror again, satisfied enough with her familiar face.

"What are you getting ready for?" Tom asked, noticing she did not look at him anymore.

"Today." She replied.