“Wading”

Porsha Stennis
  • Fleur will do whatever it takes to see her brother one last time. Even if it kills her.
14 min read

The winds bouncing off the gulf swaddle Fleur’s bare head as she stands at its fringes, and almost with the same delicacy her brother Jackson used to smooth down the waves of hair rippling along his scalp with his durags. The breeze sleeks down her back, it drapes her shoulders and supplies her with inches and inches of hair that had become foreign to her for some time now.

Three months. It had been three months since May, since Fleur woke up in the middle of the night and slipped from underneath the throw on her bed. She still can’t remember how she had made it to the end of the hallway, through the trembling shadows of darkness that sucked her in like a sinkhole. It must have been her fingertips that traced lines along the wall in search of familiarity, or her feet that sunk into the dips of the carpet, merely footprints she had left behind through her youth. With persistence, Fleur made it to the doorway and stumbled inside.

Her palm had circled around, patted down the wall until she found the light switch and flipped it up. Her eyes had burned from the sudden shift, but with a few blinks she could make everything out; the toilet was to the right, the sink was beside it, the shower was behind it. She eased further in and palmed the sides of the marble sink, adjusting her vision once again. Fleur saw everything, even better than before; the mirror, its wooden frame, and the divider in the middle creating two doors that opened up to a cabinet but what she could not make out was herself. She had no longer looked like herself. Her cheeks were caving in, her lips were peeling and eyes bloodshot red. Her eyebrows had grown back in since the last time she left the house, now bushy, no arch and when she looked close enough, she could see a shadow slowly uniting them. Pimples rose, bright and red like volcanoes, on her forehead and on her chin. “It’s just a hormonal imbalance” is what Dr. Van Norman had told her but Fleur just wanted them to disappear.

Sometimes she wanted to disappear.

Five years had passed and Fleur figured she’d be used to celebrating her ma’s birthday and a week later mourning her passing, but it never got easier. And maybe it impacted her harder this year because Fleur wished her ma could have seen her walk across the stage with her degree. Or, or maybe it was because she yearned for her ma to witness the expression of happiness, even if it did only last for a moment, that she never experienced herself glow across her daughter’s face. Fleur knew it was both and more, it was just in her blood.

She spent the entire month of May trying to feel like herself again, that goofy and playful girl who loved to paint. She had tried to remember what it felt like to enjoy waking up and going down to sit at the kitchen table with her father and brother to eat breakfast. But she just couldn’t. Fleur wanted the energy to simply brush her teeth, change out of her pajamas and into a new pair. She wanted to open her blinds sometimes, pick up the bottles of water tossed everywhere and change her sheets. Fleur wanted to do her hair. She wanted to remember what it felt like for the end of a rat tail comb to graze her scalp and part each strand, or remember what castor oil felt like dripping down to the nape of her neck or remember what her crown looked like outside of this mess. She wanted to tame it. She wanted control.

Fleur reached her hand up and pried open the doors of the medicine cabinet. At the top and tucked into a corner was a red hair clipper with its cord wrapped tightly around it. She pressed up and onto the tip of her toes, grabbed it from the shelf, and stepped down to plug it in. The immediate buzz didn’t seem to startle Fleur as she slowly brushed the blades from the nape of her neck, up to her dome and down to her temples. The first round was tough though. Her hair was so course and brawled with blades but she continued to force it, force herself.

As beads of sand mesh into the soles of her feet and between her freshly polished toes, Fleur remembers the thorny sensation she felt against her forearms every time a spec of hair fell and even more so the sudden horror that slowly devoured her insides knowing it would take forever to grow it back. Twenty-two years was all it took to get it to stretch to the hooks of her bra, and now she’d be in her forties before it’ll happen again. She snickers at the image of clumped auburn hair sprinkled across the tile floor and in the sink like confetti. She remembers the smile that slowly crept up her cheeks, the pigment returning to her face as she gripped on to what little bit of herself she could. Fleur had examined her new look, all the patchy, lighter in some spaces while darker in others, flat out spots just like a Dalmatian. I look horrible, but she kept smiling through the tears that began to well up at her eyelids. Part of her wanted to yell, to cry but because she felt relieved.

“Oh shit…”

Fleur dropped the clipper into the sink, it jerked around amongst all the hair like a baby in the womb when it landed. Fleur’s bald head swung around. It was her brother Jackson. He had barged into the bathroom, assuming it was empty, but instead was met with what Fleur used to refer to as a murder scene. He gawked down at her with his lips parted wide, his hazel eyes slowly roaming around to the space she occupied and then the chaos that laid in the midst.

“Damn,” he dragged out. “I know ma and pop said we were fraternal twins and all dat but you really tryna look like ya bro, huh?” His auburn waves that had laid fresh on his dome, blended so well against his caramel skin. His red freckles popped.

Jackson cackled as Fleur curled up her lips. He wrapped his arm around her neck, playfully like he always did, and ruffled her butchered fade with his large palm. “Aw lighten up, champ. Ya still look cute.”

Jackson teased her until his laughter became a shared experience between them both. Fleur couldn’t help but break her silence and give in to his lanky fingers that began to tickle her sides until she shuffled out of his grip and he poked her cheeks.

“Stop that,” she hissed and slapped his hand away. “Well…”

“Well what?” he shrugged.

“Did I do all right? You’re the barber here. Don’t just stare.”

“Oh,” Jackson chuckled and eased behind Fleur, hovering her by only a few inches. They both watched each other through the mirror; him inspecting her scalp from every angle and her scrutinizing his expressions that altered every few seconds. Jackson reached down and grabbed the clippers from inside the sink, then began to glide its edges along her head. He evened out the surface just like the pro he was known to be around New Orleans.

“If ya wanted to cut ya hair, ya could’ve just asked.”

“I was being impulsive again,” Fleur mumbled as she watched him shape up the hair on her temple. “You know,” she paused and swallowed the spit gathering in her throat. “Something has to get me out of these funks…or else I’ll end up like ma.”

“I get dat,” he said meeting her tone. “Scoot over for me.”

Fleur stepped to her right but Jackson’s body, a lot heavier than hers, nudged her hip as he bent down to open the cabinets beneath the sink. She decided then to sit on the lid of the toilet concealed in a burgundy cover while Jackson removed a white label free container and placed it on the sink. She watched as his fingers twisted the top off and set it aside. Jackson slipped his index finger along the inside, sweeping up a thin layer of gel and placing it into his palm. He rubbed his hands together, then along her head, round and round, ever so gently. The scent of peppermint lingered in her nose and Fleur exhaled as she felt a breeze run along her roots. Jackson reached into the medicine cabinet after his hands were dry and removed a soft bristle brush that he used to tidy every bit of her hair.

“Now look at it,” he instructed and stepped back, letting Fleur jump up and in front of the mirror. She turned her head from left to right, titled it up then down, absorbing every view of herself she could. Their eyes locked and Fleur’s lips spread widely along her face, her teeth laced with the silver bracket of her retainer gleamed back at Jackson, making him chuckle. “You good?”

“I’m great,” she nodded then stretched her arms open and wrapped them around his back. “Thank you.”

“Yea, yea,” he smiled and hugged her back. “I gotcha, always and foreva. I’m proud of ya, slim.”

“Are you now?” Her brows furrowed together as she glanced up at his face. “For doing the big chop?”

“Nah, for fighting back. Ma would be proud too.” Jackson said with a slow nod, this time his eyes looked away.

 

Fleur wants that day back. She wants to have her brother here with her, being her twin like they were born to be. She wants her ma to see them taking care of each other like she had taught them to, but instead it was just her. She was alone. An empty bottle of cheap vodka and a grey cross-body purse lay at her feet in the sand. Dainty rocks and seashells lay in between, and not too far off is another bottle; compact, cylinder and tangerine.

Somewhere inches away, its white cap is detached and thrown. Oblong pills, for what Dr. Van Norman called clinical depression, scattered along the corpse of belongings. None left in the prescription count of sixty. Fleur discarded them all out of anger, not even able to swallow one. She wanted to swallow them all and at once, but his voice told her to stop. She hates that. She hates that she could hear him and not see him, that he had the audacity to be present but energetically or maybe just mentally. In her head, he is alive. She feels him, always, every single second of her day, but he wasn’t here. It drives Fleur mad the more she tries to separate reality from what she believes to be her insanity.

Her toes dig deeper into the wet grit, her eyes flutter open. They sting as the familiar coolness, the dampness and inexplicable roughness that used to scare her brings her a sense of peace. Fleur and Jackson would always pack up the F-150 their pop passed down to him for a few days and drive an hour and a half away from NOLA just to be here at Biloxi Beach. It was the closest beach they could enjoy without going down to Florida, and though it wasn’t any Miami Beach, because so much of their childhood was linked to it they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Those memories ease over her as she listens close, to nature clash and create what many would see and instantly consider divine. She felt it grind against her skin and send a chill up her legs. It helped her do the one thing that kept her alive; imagine. Imagine the future, the past, and a life where her ma and brother existed.

Pops said everything would be okay, that they’d both make it through this troubling time together. But Fleur remembers how he was when her mother died. She remembers how he didn’t eat for days, how he didn’t go to work, how he resembled death himself. He let his beard grow out, his usual brolic frame shed a few pounds making his clothes fall on him like dead skin. And his eyes, they were always the color of blood. The infectious laugh that quaked from his core and shook rooms, the one that would always follow behind a corny joke, no longer existed. His jokes were like strangers to them. He was like a stranger to her. So, Fleur simply could not trust his words though she wanted to. Not when she really had just gotten back to being okay and knew how easy it was to not be. She wouldn’t believe a lie was enough to save her.

Her gaze remains set on the hue of blue stretching miles and miles between one border to the next. One she knew nothing of, but felt enough to imagine how heavenly it’d be to emerge herself completely into it. To allow every layer to submerge her into an abyss where she’d just be. Being swallowed away by the gulf seemed like a better fate than being above ground and roaming aimlessly on this Earth alone.

Fleur couldn’t swim one bit either. She never took on the challenge. Not as a six-year-old when her ma forced her and Jackson to take swimming lessons and definitely not on their eighteenth birthday when he begged her to go scuba diving with him in St. Lucia. Too much of it just wasn’t her thing.

With every step she begins forward, the flaming sun broadens and scorches her bare skin. Her imaginary auburn curls blow with the wind as the alcohol she downed sways her body. Tears fall and streak her cheeks. They weigh her lashes down and lower her eyes, forcing her to be blindly brave. It was long overdue though, for her pain to manifest itself physically and exile itself from her body. Jackson had been gone for a week and this was the first time she allowed herself to feel it. To wonder, why this happened? To guess, who did it? Why Jackson? Why now and not when they were both elderly and thrown into a nursing home? Fleur wants to make this make sense though it never would. And that was the only thing she was sure of.

You really tryna be like bro again, huh?

She hears his voice again, far behind or maybe aside her. Her head jerks around as she slows down in her tracks and her eyes dart about.

You don’t got to though. You don’t have to be dead. Yeah, I said it. Ain’t no room here with me and ma.

“I do,” she mutters. “I have to.”

She wants to, to be as close to where he was as possible. She wants to see him, to reach out and touch his calloused hands. She wants to smell the musk cologne that their pop still wears and lean her head into his broad shoulders like when they were younger and she sought his protection. Fleur wants him to tell her she’d be okay.

She treads, on and on until the water marks the middle of her thighs. Her denim shorts become soaked just as her anchored forearms. She allows the water to cover her in fragments, by her hips, arms, shoulders, and then her head. Saltwater clogs her nostrils and trickles down her throat as her hallucinations become more vivid. He was there, in front of her, dressed in the sweat shorts and t-shirt she last saw him in. She reaches out for him, her body barely fighting with the restless currents that beat against it. She sinks deeper and deeper, until they’re greater than her. Until they swarm her, until they consume her.

 

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