Brandon from Geometry class was dead.
On the bedroom floor, it was dark in there, but the string of lights gave off a pretty low light. A yellow light. In a pool of yellow light on the floor.
How can someone be dead?
I guess that boy was kind of cute. I never talked to him. He wasn’t someone I was friends with but now that he’s dead, I’d like to have a memory of him.
What is this? Wasn’t even a thought that formed as Charlotte sat there. Holding her grief for someone she didn’t even know. Her family dispersed through the house. The days getting shorter and winter like a powerful smothering forcing everyone indoors for a season of getting on each other’s nerves.
The pain sat like a lump. Brandon was dead. Brandon had nice hair. Brandon had had nice hair. What was it like at his house now?
Charlotte had a pair of scissors with her from the bathroom and she was scraping them in a line on her forearm. Lightly, then with a bit more pressure. Over and over. To cry at this death in school would be weird, right? To cry for someone you really didn’t even know. Did she only care because he was dead. He knew everything now. Didn’t that mean he knew everything there was to know? Every secret. Every piece of mystery. Brandon was there knowing it all.
Charlotte made her face into a crying face and in the dim light and in the reflection in the full-length mirror on the back of the door, she looked like a real ghoul.
It was almost Halloween but now it seemed wrong, all the stuff about dead people.
Paul Rosterman had died when they were in seventh grade. He killed himself. But she didn’t know him. It was different. She didn’t know him at all. Her mom had cried when she found about it. Paul had shot himself in the face.
Charlotte thought of everyone she knew who had died: her Grandpa Ray and John Langley, who worked with her dad.
She felt weird. She lay on the floor and whispered to herself “God bless you Brandon,” even though she didn’t really believe in God. He died in a car accident. No one was drinking, it was just late and dark and who knew what happened, really. How could they know?
These were the times she felt so alone. She couldn’t tell her parents, they’d think she was crazy, to get so upset over someone she didn’t even know.
Charlotte was playing behind the couch. The babysitter had MTV on and La Bamba was her favorite. She’d run inside from the backyard if that one came on.
La Bamba was on the radio a lot, too. And she would dance around and think about going to Casa Lupita. The Mexican restaurant, where they served warm chips in baskets and little black cups of saucers. Ramekins. That word made her laugh (though she wouldn’t learn it for another decade).
Charlotte’s Grandpa was in the hospital. They stopped at Casa Lupita on the way back home. She had a fajita, it was a fancy meal.
When Grandpa Ray died, Charlotte’s parents waited to tell her. They didn’t want to upset her, they said. Her fury was real and alive and bigger than she was, but not as big as how sad it hit her.
Charlotte did not go by Char, but sometimes she thought Lotti would be a good nickname. It sounded very German though, like an international movie star from the 1950’s.
A teenage girl. What is that thing of teenage girls, holding the drama of a lifetime in even a fingernail. In zero gravity. That’s why it was always so satisfying, high stakes when really there were none.
Charlotte liked to cry like it was life and death and yell and get upset and be moody and in a funk if she wanted, but not when it mattered. When it mattered, like this, like now, with a dead boy sitting three rows behind her and to the left in Geometry, it was all wrong.
Teenage girls should be spared thoughts of death. Teenagers don’t know what death means. Does anyone know.
Charlotte wondered and knew it had something to do with the way that, when she was a kid, her mom would fawn over her friend Allison, and once she bought her a winter coat, but pretended it was a hand-me down when she gave it to Allison’s mom.
A hunger strike seemed like a serious and thoughtful expression of her current conundrum, of how to feel for this dead boy in actions. So when Jean called her downstairs for dinner, she skulked to the table and announced her stomach was bothering her, she’d sit but wasn’t hungry.
Jean made her some bouillon, the little foil covered cubes Charlotte and Luisa used to sneak and lick like little deer, plopped into a cup of hot water. She consented to this gesture of care.
The bouillon tasted so faint in relation to the unadulterated cube of salt and seasoning. That’s why stock, and soup and general, had always fallen short for her. She wanted them at their peak, not this warm dilution.
Jean was tired and had done something strange that day on the way on home from work. She bought a pack of cigarettes. She’d laughed at herself, like she was the teenager, but the familiarity of transgression was warm against her skin.
She’d smoked one in the car on the way home with all the windows open and the rush of the wind and the nicotine and NPR turned up to full volume just to hear it over the noise of the engine and air made her feel like herself for a minute.
Jean worked for an interior designer with a boutique firm. They did well, she liked her job, she was good at it. She knew where to find almost anything you could want for a house, and she didn’t go in for all that quaint, faux-country stuff. She had an eye for color, it showed in her dress, it showed in the way she cooked. Jean was a secret painter.