A Severed Red Thread

by Ptolemy

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She tilted her head to the side and ran a brush through her hair. With long, graceful strokes she smoothed out the tangles and kinks. When she finished, she put down the brush and picked up a tube instead, with tiny print on one side of the tube. She twisted off the cap to the tube and squeezed a small amount of white product into her hand. She replaced the cap and pressed her hands together, squishing the glob between her fingers, spreading it over her palms. Once it looked like the product was spread, she ran her fingers through her hair, smoothing down the stubborn parts and bringing out the shine in her dark locks.

She wiped her hands on a damp cloth afterward, then picked up several pins. She pushed up her hair into a particular fashion and secured it in place with the pins. She hummed as she did this, her voice soft and sweet, slightly melancholic to match the low tune. When she finished, she drew close a pale pink container. She slid off the lid and retrieved a white poof dusted with flecks of powder. She dipped the poof into the powder and smeared the powder onto the poof, then smeared the powder onto her face. She patted lightly, cleverly hiding the dark of her complexion. With different powders she disguised the lines framing her eyes, and with pencils of different shapes and colors, added a little color around her dark eyes.

She used another powder to dust her cheeks and tint them ever so slightly with a faint pinkish-red. When she finished that, she wiped her hands again, and put her tools away. She then picked up a slim black plastic tube, much smaller than the one before, and slid off the lacquered lid. She held two sides and twisted the bottom, and from the tip, like a flower, bloomed a color that complimented her olive skin.

After checking her appearance in the mirror, she put the tube away and stood up from the small stool. She went to the bathroom and washed her hands in the sink, glancing at herself in the mirror as she did so. In truth, she wasn't too fond of this routine, but she made a sacrifice every woman made when seeing a beloved.

She returned to her room and quietly slipped out of her robe. All the while she continued to hum, as she retrieved the dress laid out on her bed. She pulled down the zipper and slipped it on, reaching around to close the dress back up.

Her hands passed over her front and smoothed any possible wrinkles. They slid up to cup her breasts, and, looking at the mirror, adjusted the top of the dress over her generous cleavage. She approached the dresser and picked up a clear bottle with honey colored liquid inside. She opened the bottle and dabbed the liquid onto the end of her finger, then sparingly spread it below her neck. The room quickly smelled of a subtly sweet fragrance, and it put a smile on her lips.

She put the bottle away and sat down on the stool once more, pushing her feet into slender shoes. When she stood up, she wobbled a little, but she caught herself with a little sigh and left her room. She walked elegantly, the skirt of her dress flowing about her calves like the low tide in the ocean. As she walked, she picked up her purse, small and sufficient for everyday use, and her keys before leaving. She locked the door behind her, and while making little clicking sounds with her heels, walked down the hall. She rode the elevator down, and walked passed the front desk with a soft smile on her lips.

The person behind the desk stared at her for a long moment, startled at her appearance, but didn't say anything as she left through the front door. She merely hummed as she walked down the street, smiling politely to those she passed when they turned to meet her eye. When she came to a sign, she stopped and sat upon a bench, holding her purse in her lap.

People walked around her, some coming by to sit on the bench with her. She waited until a bus, the right bus, drew up near the sidewalk to get up and onto it. She pushed money through the clear box as she boarded, and settled into an empty seat. She looked out the window as the bus moved, passing street after street, stopping occasionally to exchange passengers.

At some point, a women sat down next to her, older than she, and more comfortably dressed for the weather. The woman, too, stared at her as many of the bus passengers did, and as many of the strangers on the street did as well. She paid them all no mind, simply humming quietly under her breath as she continued to look out the window.

"Are you going to a party?" the woman asked her, during some part of the bus ride. She looked at the woman and shook her head, smiling. "Are you seeing someone?"

"Yes," she replied, her smile widened ever so slightly.

"Going on a date, young lady?" the woman asked further. She nodded again, adding a small, lighthearted chuckle.

"Yes," she answered, "something like that."

"He must be really handsome for you to dress up so prettily."

She smiled. "Yes," she repeated.

"What a lucky man, you ought to marry him soon!"

She lifted her hand, showing the ring that hugged her finger. The woman stared at it, impressed and appreciative of the diamond ensemble.

"Does he work out of town? What a devoted wife you are, to go visit him."

"...No."

The woman looked at her oddly for the answer she gave, but she simply smiled back before turning her gaze back out the window. Streets passed on and on, and eventually the woman got off the bus. The ride continued, and it wasn't until they were near the outskirts of town that she finally got off herself.

She thanked the bus driver and left with a smile, humming again as she walked down the road. There were less houses here, less buildings to allow nature enough room to breathe and grow. She idly looked from side to side as she walked, following a path her feet knew very well.

As she walked, she stopped by a wild garden and crouched on the ground. She inhale the sweet scent of flowers, and with a tinge of regret, reached out and plucked several from their home. She got up and continued walking, paying little mind to the few folk she passed along the way. Eventually she came to a fork and turned down one of the streets. She walked some of the way down the street, then strayed off the path to carefully walk up a small hill. Halfway up she was tempted to take off her shoes, but she shook her head at the thought and continued a slow climb up the hill.

Once at the top, she rested a moment to catch her breath, then continued a little ways until she stopped before an open gate. She walked through, following a thin cobble path down the center aisle. She turned onto one of the rows and walked across the grass down the aisle. She stopped halfway in, and knelt in the grass, gathering her skirt around her legs. She laid down the flowers she had gathered on a small slab of cement.

Setting her purse down next to her, she looked at the warm cement and touched it with her fingertips. The smile that was on her lips faltered slightly, but she kept it on as her fingers traced the grooves in the cement, darkened with ink to be easily read by any who wanted.

"Hello," she said softly. She faintly thought she heard a return greeting. "How are you? Are you doing well? It's been another year..." Her voice was quiet, and like the song she was humming, was tinted with melancholy. She was careful to hide it, but it was impossible to completely disguise it.

Her cheeks became wet, and she blinked several times to ease the burning in her eyes. "How is Noa? Is he behaving? I hope so." Her voice trailed off, and for a moment she was silent. She didn't speak a word, but her eyes became dark. "...It's hard, but Ashlyn and I are doing just fine. We're making it. Did you know?" She smiled here.

"Did you know, Rick? Ashlyn's first show and tell is coming up. Guess what she wanted to do? Your medals! I had to tell convince her to do something different, I know how precious they are to you. You worked so hard..."

A sniff cut her off, and she stopped to reach into her purse and pull out a handkerchief. She dabbed at her wet face, and blew her nose. She still smiled, though it was considerably smaller than before.

"Ashlyn wants to become a singer. She loves singing. She always asks me to sing for her before she goes to bed. I still hum to her our favorite song. ...Do you want me to sing to you, Rick? You love it, too, when I sing in bed. I can't put you to sleep like I can Ashlyn, but I'm sure you'll still enjoy it, right? I'll sing you to bed, Noa..."

She inhaled softly and softly hummed the song she was before, closing her eyes. She tiled her head back to welcome the afternoon sun's rays, her voice trembling ever so slightly. Her face became wet again, but she didn't bother to wipe them away, clenching her handkerchief in her lap. When she couldn't hum anymore, when she couldn't quietly sing and the wetness on her face was becoming to much, she stopped, dabbed her face, and smiled once more.

Her eyes rested on the engraved name on that tombstone, saddled right beside another one of similar name. Her smile wavered, and she sighed quietly. "Behave, Noa. Be good. You have to set an examble for your sister, now. And don't trouble your father. And Rick, don't spoil him. I know you do. You always did." Her voice was quiet, exhausted for inexplicable reasons. She tried to smile again, and reached out once more to touch the warm cement with the engraving on it.

"...I love you."

She sniffed, and got up. She gave one last glance before turning away, humming under her breath as she left, returning the way she came. Somewhere over head, she swore she almost heard,

"I love you too, Mommy."

"I love you, Lu."

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Afterword:
The red thread used in the title is a reference to the red string of fate or destiny known in East Asian legends. According to the tale, every man and woman are destined to one specific person, and they are connected by a single red string tied to the wrist. This invisible string will never break.

As part of my title, the red thread is severed, even though according to the legend that's an impossibility. There is a reason for the thread being "severed." I'm sure it's easy to tell how and why, but I'll leave that to the reader's own interpretation without adding my own answers.

Thank you for reading this, and I hope you enjoyed it.