by Audrey Collier
“Welcome to Mcdonald’s, may I take your order?” This was everyday life for me, considering I worked forty hours a week to help support my family and I. Trust me this isn’t exactly my favorite place to be, but you get used to smell after a while. One thing you never get used to is the customers, and in fact they only get crazier.
“Henry Fragonard,” said my boss looking around for me. My heart sunk, what had I done now?
“Yes sir?” I answered removing my headset to the drive-thru window.
“Just the man I was looking for, listen Henry we have to talk,” he told me. I furrowed my brows unsure of what I could’ve done wrong, and even debated on if I’d have to turn on the water works for my family. If it came to it I could possibly kiss the ground he walked on just for this job.
“I’m going to have to cut your hours back from forty hours a week to twenty-eight.”
“Wait what?” I answered as if the wind had been knocked out of me. Hearing those words so short was like I got punched in the face, especially since he knew my situation.
“Listen kid, Henry, I know your situation and I’m doing the best I can. I really am. But you have to cut me some slack, other people need hours too, and you only work at Mcdonald’s. I’m sure if you really needed, I could find you a job in labor. But that also requires flexible and long hours, and you’re still in school.”
He said all the things I’d been trying to avoid, the last thing I wanted to think about was school. There were some days where I missed to pick up a sick sibling, or run errands for the family. I’d definitely considered dropping out, but my older sister, Sadie, definitely didn’t agree with that.
He patted me on the back, “It’s business you know that right?”
I nodded nodded unable to respond with the lump in my throat. How would I tell Sadie what happened? Without making a scene I put the headset back on and answered the line of cars.
“Welcome to Mcdonald’s, can I take your order?”
“Yes um..” the lady over the speaker trailed off. “Hm, do you guys have the shamrock shake still?”
“No ma’am those are out of season.”
“Are you sure? I saw one of my friends with one the other day, I’m pretty sure they’re still sold.”
“No ma’am they’re not available here anymore. We have vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry shakes though,” I was beginning to already get annoyed. Some people didn’t understand these things were out of my control.
“Alright well, then can I have a ten-piece chicken nugget and shamrock shake? Extra sauces.”
“Yes, but the extra sauces is an upcharge. Also once again, we don’t have those shakes.”
“An upcharge for extra sauce? I can go to the store and get my own. I thought you said you had shakes?”
“We do,” I rolled my eyes luckily she couldn’t see me. “Just not shamrock shakes.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, and quite frankly I feel as if your service is making fun of me.”
“Well maybe if you comprehended the words coming out of my mouth when I say we don’t have the damn shamrock shake, you wouldn’t be offended by my agitation. Now how about you order something we have, and stop complaining Queenie!” I shouted into the headset then threw it off before she could rebuttal.
Finally all of anger had already built up between her and the manager I stormed outside only to kick the trash can and ball my fists up. After all the hard work I’ve put into this place, and all the help I’ve done staying after hours to clean and this is my thanks? Having my hours cut back wouldn’t put food on the table and feed Sadie, Ethan, Ella, my mom, and I.
My mom worked enough as it was, working at an animal shelter during the day meant we never saw her. Maybe a glimpse when she’d eat and nap for a few hours only to go and clean office buildings at night.
The mother in the house had basically been Sadie, and was the cook, maid, and hairdresser. Those scissors would make my nine year old sister Ella cry within thirty seconds just after cutting her bangs. Despite her left hand having more cerebral palsy she could still chase your ass down with those scissors determined, and luckily she never got ahold of mine as I was the oldest. Which explaining why my hair nearly reached my shoulders.
That night at the dinner table, which Sadie had prepared us some potatoes, greens, and chicken I decided to break the news. There was the two empty chairs where my father and mother would’ve been as always, except my father hadn’t been here in years. The last man to sit in the chair was my stepfather, Ella’s dad, but he bailed.
My father, whom name was Henry Daniel, died when I was seven years old. I couldn’t remember a lot, except the fact that when he stepped off the curb, a car, as if it’d been flying hit him. Every man in my family died from some freak accident too young, my grandma said it was the Fragonard curse.
Ella was moving around the greens on her plate with her fork, til I nudged her in the side to eat them. She made an icky face as she’d already eaten her chicken. Sadie finally noticed Ella’s discomfort over the greens and sighed.
“You have to eat them,” Sadie said sternly.
“But they’re gross!” Ella whined looking at me for confirmation, I wasn’t sure what to do as Sadie gave me a death glare.
“Ella just try a little, for me?”
“No,” Sadie said. Ella and I turned to look at her, “We’re most definitely not wasting any food in this house, and we all need the most nutrition we can get on a minimum wage budget.”
The bills I always paid with the money my mother made, she always left it in envelopes in the cabinets. We tried to save as much money as we could, and my mom put the most she could in a savings accounts. So the taxes and bills were always done by me, and on occasion if I was late on them Sadie would do them. Since I worked a lot.
“Ella, eat what you can please.” I told her, “And then go to your room.” I knew Sadie was on edge today, and my speech wouldn’t have to be heard by my younger siblings. “You too,” I looked to Ethan.
When my younger siblings left the table to go to their shared room, Sadie got up from the table to start immediately washing dishes. “Sadie, I had to talk to you.”
“You have to talk? Start washing then,” she nodded her head to the dishes and the second sponge.
“It’s serious,” I told her scraping off my plate and soaping up the sponge to clean some dishes with her.
“Is it about tonight? Because if it is I’d rather not hear it, you know I do everything for our family. So do you, but I have to plan their meals and make sure those young kids get the nutrition they need. Each day I get more scared because it seems as if Ella gets smaller, and the school won’t even contact me back about if they qualify for free lunch.”
“Sadie I understand,” I paused to look directly into her eyes so she knew I meant it. “We’re all so thankful for everything you do, I don’t know what we’d do without you.
She sighed, “Thank you.”
“But that’s not what I wanted to talk about,” my heart dropped as I knew I’d have to tell her. I could see her heartbreaking in her eyes, “Today my boss told me that they’re cutting back my fours from forty to twenty eight.”
She froze and I wasn’t sure what to do. “What?” she finally said as if she got a breath of air.
“My boss also encouraged me to quit school and go into manual labor, to provide for my family better.”
“As if he knows what’s best, hell, he cut your hours! Then he has the audacity to suggest quitting school, no wonder he’s only gone as far as Mcdonald’s.”
“Yeah and I work for him Sadie, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. His hands are tied and there’s nothing he can do for us Sadie. Not anymore, and I’m going to have to quick up more hours somewhere.”
“Henry you can’t quit school, that’s going to hurt us more than help us in the end.”
“Sadie what else can I do? You can’t even get a job.”
She sat down the plate and rubbed her eye with her hand, and I think she began to tear up. I wrapped my arms firmly around her and got the scent of our cheap detergent. I didn’t say it to be mean, I knew she couldn’t help her medical disability. Yet she still did everything she could for this family.
That night lying in my bed I could hear the faint sounds of someone crying in the room next to mine, my mother was at her night job already. Sadie was far too gone in her deep sleep, and the cries were female. I gently pulled the lamp string to dimly light the pitch black darkness, and made my way to the hallway. The girly cries were in my baby sister’s room, and when I opened the door the light cascading into her and my brother’s dark room.
I could see Ethan on his side fast asleep in his bed, and Ella had her knees pulled to her chest. Her strawberry blonde curls were put up into a bun, and her long baby blue nightgown was so long it covered her tiny pink toes.
“Ella?” I asked in a soft voice to not alarm her.
Her pale face looked up with a cherry red glow and her nose seemed like a tomato, a few fiery curls stuck to her face, and tears ran down her freckled face. As if someone had a handful of glitter and only threw it to scatter across her nose and cheeks.
“Why are you crying?” I asked her concerned. I wasn’t sure what to do in these situations, I wasn’t exactly motherly like Sadie. But I knew Ella felt comfort in me like she never had with her father.
“My bangs,” she said blubbering through her tears. Her rosy bottom lip quivered and you could see the child-like innocence in her soft eyes.
“What about them?” I asked brushing them out of her sight. That’s when I saw how crooked they were cut from Sadie, but I didn’t react so I wouldn’t alarm her.
“Everyone’s going to laugh at me,” she pouted.
“No they won’t Ella, you’re beautiful.”
“Yes they will!” she said in her high voice. “You have to say this you’re my brother.”
I brushed back her bangs and looked at them, if she had a headband I could easily solve her problem. But where was I supposed to find one at this time? Instead I gently patted her back, “It’ll be alright. I have something for you tomorrow it’s a special gift, but it’ll only fix your hair if you no longer cry.”
She gasped and rubbed her eyes with her tiny pale hands, then threw her arms around me. “Really, you’d do that for me?”
“Of course,” I smiled.
“I love you Henry Blake Fragonard,” I was a little surprised she knew my full name. But everyone did, it’s how they knew the oldest male in each family was different from the other. Since we were all Henry.
“I love you too Ella, get some sleep.” I tucked her into her bed and made my way quietly to my room.
I looked around my mother’s beauty supplies for some sort of headband, til I found a bag of old shirts. I began to cut each shirt up into small strips and braided the fabric together to make a circle. Each time I got farther I measured it around my own head. And let me say, the rainbow looking hairband did suit my golden blond, almost brown hair very well. Each wave peaked out of it, but this was for my baby sister. I couldn’t see her cry anymore, we didn’t have enough money for haircuts.
That morning I woke up not even remembering when I fell asleep, the headband by my bedside, and a half empty glass of water too. When I swung my legs around I felt my back ache, this work did not do my body good. I drank the rest of the water feeling as if I was in my thirties. No wonder Fragonard men died fast, our bodies seemed to shut down at seventeen, which was how old I was.
When I got dressed in my practically every day outfit and made my way to the kitchen, Sadie was already dressed and had bowls of cereal sitting out.
“You’re right on time,” Sadie said handing me my bowl.
“Thank you,” I told her.
“I just finished making their school lunches, I can’t believe their schools haven’t called me back.” She sighed and sat a brown paper bag next to both of them. “Save them again please you two, don’t ruin it. We can’t exactly afford a bunch of paper bags money-”
“Adds up,” I finished the sentence for her and smiled. Sadie only rolled her eyes at me. “Let me drive them to school today.”
“Are you sure?” she asked with an awkward look. Normally they rode the bus, but looking at the time I wanted them to be able to enjoy their cereal without rushing. I always drove to school, and Sadie insisted on using the bus to finish her homework with her bus buddy.
I guess the only good thing about my dad being gone was the fact that I got his old junky car, which was better than no car at all. My mom’s car wasn’t exactly much, but it was maybe a step up from my father’s. But I’m sure if we tried to sell them we could barely get fifty dollars for the shape they were in.
“Yes,” I smiled at Ella and Ethan who had big grins on their face.
“I guess just be careful this time, but don’t make this an everyday thing.” Sadie got her backpack and sack lunch, “Goodbye guys.” She kissed the tops of their heads and left.
When my siblings finished their breakfasts they messed around a bit as I suspected since I was driving them.
“Come on guys,” I told them and they giggled and came out of their rooms with their backpacks.
I handed them their labeled lunches and followed behind them out of the door, before locking it behind me. As if a robber would have anything of ours to steal that’d be valuable. Our furniture consisted of yard sales, goodwill, clearance, and auctions.
I dropped Ethan off at middle school and laughed seeing such young silly kids there, I imagined them coming to high school. I liked Ella’s elementary school a whole lot better. The kids there were all dressed adorably, and when I pulled in front of the school she didn’t get out of the car. She had her arms crossed despite me letting her ride in the front after Ethan got out, she was still grumpy.
“Ella what’s wrong?” I asked when I saw her bottom lip curl into a pout.
“They’re all gonna laugh at me,” she said blushing as her gaze turned away from the school.
“They won’t,” I told her removing the headband from my pocket. “And because I’m your brother I’m giving you this,” I handed her the braided fabric for a headband.
She smiled as she admired the pretty colors in it, “This is pretty.”
“Put it on,” I told her. She proceeded to put the headband over her head and I helped her slip it down to cover her bangs. “I tried it on last night for measurements and let me just say, I did really good. And I also looked really good in it.”
Ella giggled and threw her arms around me lovingly. “You’re the best big brother ever.” With just simply a few words I felt warm.
“Yeah, yeah,” I smiled at her. “Just don’t tell Sadie.”
She held her finger to her lips and so did I, and with that she got out of the car with a big smile. I was thankful I could help her situation, it made me happy. All Sadie and I wanted to do was help, but Sadie couldn’t know she hated it. She didn’t need to feel guiltier.
I drove off and went to my high school, I knew the buses had already unloaded so Sadie was probably in class. She was an early bird, and always did good in school. Meanwhile my grades were the most average you could get, and I excelled the most in English. Of course I’d never tell my friends they’d rag on me, they were more so into cars or math.
In fact my best friend Harold takes mechanical classes and works in his dad’s auto body shop, his dream is to take over his dad’s shop. He has a lot of potential to be a football player, but that was never our crowd. Considering my last girlfriend was eighth grade, and when we came back for high school she pretended she didn’t know me and cheered for the football team.
Harold was the closest to me out of the small group of guys, and of course no one ever called him Harold. Everyone called him ‘Big H.’ If you called him Harold it’d surely be hell for you, it was something the guys did to get under his skin.
Unless you were his ex Josefina, then you called him ‘Little H,’ and she’d hold her pinky up while she did it too. She wasn’t exactly the most chipper girl at the school, in fact she had a big mouth and short temper. Perhaps she was so grudgingly mean towards him, because his idea of a good time was being in his parents basement playing Xbox. None of the guys held it against him for it, we all knew she just wanted to be spoiled.
By the time I made it to my classroom the bell had just rang, and I made sure to nod to Big H. He smiled flashing his pair of perfect teeth his parents had bought him, back in seventh grade there wasn’t a tooth straight. The dentist did amazing, of course they’d do anything for Harold, including filling in his cavities with gold which Josefina loved. His curly fiery hair was tousled on top of his head, his hat on his desk because the teacher told him to take it off everyday.
“Henry, my man!” Big H stood up to pat my back. “Once again here at the bell, were you at your locker with someone?” he winked and made an ugly kissy face.
“Get out of here, just because you don’t have Josefina to bully doesn’t mean I’m your next target.”
“I’m joking,” he laughed and slapped a hand on my shoulder. “Besides I never bullied her, I only said what everyone else did.”
I rolled my eyes, “Which is?”
“For a latina I thought she could at least dance, not that she has the hips or body anyways-”
“Excuse me?” I heard Josefina from across the room. She stood up probably reaching at most five feet, and probably wore my brother Ethan’s size clothes.
“Oh come on butt out!”
“Can’t you stop talking about me Little H?” she held up her pinky. “I don’t know why you bother Henry, he’s nothing but trouble.”
Big H rolled his eyes and laughed, “Funny last time I checked we broke up because you weren’t spoiled enough princess.”
“Alright guys,” I tried to keep the peace. “I’ll see you at lunch Big H,” I told him.
This wasn’t an uncommon thing to occur, it just so happened that they always got in spats. Together or not the hatred was obvious, and the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. The boys and I tried to keep them as far away as possible, last time she got too close he had a scratch across his face from her witch nails we called them. Drama was never my thing anyways, I didn’t have time for it. It was why Big H and I were so close, we could chill and never worry negatively about one another.
The school day was average as usual, all the teachers dragging on for way too long. And I found it hard to keep my eyes open during notes, which was always an issue for me. I felt like at this point I didn’t even try anymore, and it made me feel tired.
Harold, Big H, didn’t know how lucky he was to have such a close relationship with his father. He often spent time working on cars with him, and they’d share a secret beer together without telling his mother. Maybe I wasn’t even jealous of their relationship, maybe it was the fact he had a father. Each time I went over to Big H’s house I found myself staring at his dad, being a nice father figure to each of his friends that came to the house.
Such a good man that lived under that roof and loved Big H’s mom more than anything, such a honorable man that always did the right thing. Such blood that pumped through his veins to his heart so it’d beat, and he was able to be alive and support his family. He was lucky he had a father, and I grew jealous because I didn’t.
I drove myself home from school and listened to the radio, the music calming my nerves as I thought about the chaos that would be at my house. Of Ethan running around making Sadie crazy, and it made me sick to think of the time Ella tripped and fell.
When I went through the door my heart nearly dropped at the sight of my grandmother. Her face was very weathered, and even without movement the years of stress had her face permanently creased. Her hair had fallen out, and what was left was pulled into the smallest bun possible. Loose tendrils framed her face and fell at the nape of her neck, the color of it so gray it almost looked translucent.
Her eyes looked sad and dark when she looked up to me, and I knew my reaction made her uncomfortable. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her, and in fact had gotten so used to not seeing her I didn’t care. Sadie watched my emotionless face frozen as I stared, and left the room with tears in her eyes.
“What’d you say to her?” I asked in a harsh tone.
“Nothing,” my grandmother said in her raspy voice. It sounded as if she’d been crying for years, and which she was.
“She’s crying, now tell me what you’ve done!” I walked closer to her, and she had her hands folded on her lap.
“I haven’t said anything but the truth, she knows that you’re going to die. She knows everything Henry, and she’s scared.”
“So you came here to depress everyone? Thanks, we didn’t need you.”
“I offered to help you guys, after all without you and Ethan that’s half of the siblings gone.”
“We’re fine without your help, we have been for years. What did you tell her about us? I know we are the die just like our father did, but I need to know more. Please tell me what my future holds.”
“And with this curse there is no future for you.”
“Have it be that way, but I cannot see my brother die before he may prosper. My siblings need me, and what will they do?”
“They have your mother-”
“My mother’s existence is merely her absence, and I still break my back for everything we have. Yet you wouldn’t know, the last time we saw you was our father’s funeral. As if you even spoke to us.”
“Your shoulders are big enough to take on the load and you do so, but someday you may push too far,” she avoided the bitter statement about her grieving for years.
“There’s not other option other than to take it all on myself, some people in this family don’t have that trait,” she knew I hinted to her.
“They have me.”
“You’re nowhere near stable in your pit of grief, you’ve barely seen the light of day since grandpa passed. And when dad died we never saw you again. I’m asking for answers, for help.”
“All we know is the day your great, great, great grandfather had the curse placed on him by his father-in-law it began. That’s all any of us know, if you think you can do something to erase it by all means do it. Afterall I’ve lost my husband and my son, the most grief any woman could take. But really Henry what can you do, wish on a star?”
How she spoke made it sound silly, as if everything I said was utter nonsense. As if all my work was put aside, useless, she was a master at making everyone around her feel as solemn as she did. With the grief of death always on her mind, she had nothing else to lose she assumed, everything she’d loved most had been taken. And sometimes I think she wanted others to suffer from the curse as well so she wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t sure if it was her or the curse. Then again what did it matter? The curse became us.
“What was my dad’s grandfathers name?”
“Henry,” she said. Then realized I meant the whole name. “Henry James Fragonard.”
“You’d think they’d stop using the name, perhaps that’s the curse,” I dwelled on it. Except it didn’t affect the Henry’s, it was all the men which made it worse.
“Henry Nathaniel was your great grandfather, and his father was Henry Samuel. That’s when we don’t know anymore, and that’s when the curse began with your great, great, great grandfather. The worst part is every man in this family knows they have limited time, and they make the most of it being great men. In fact if they lived longer they would be loved by the world, perhaps famous. But then again that wouldn’t make them cherish their last moments. These men in our family possess such compassion and strength, and it makes everyone love them. Which hurts even more when they die, and we all knew it and saw it coming, yet we’re still surprised.
“You’d think their kindness would make up for their curse, as if god will reconsider it. But it doesn’t, and the time the curse strikes seems the be at the peak of happiness. When their life, and your life is beginning. Suddenly it all ends, you don’t except that call, and you want to know how he fell off of that ladder to crush each bone in this body.
“It never ends Henry, people continue to die. I just pray your family can manage without you, and I’m not sure if they can. Their grief may be too much if you pass, but at the rate you work the curse doesn’t have to do much except sit back and watch. As you kill yourself.”
I looked into her eyes, she’d never spoke so much to me before I was baffled. Her negative and depressing speech had me more angry than before. “I’d like you to please leave.” I asked.
She nodded, and without even one more word she rose out of her seat. Her body moving with ache as she walked out of the door, and disappeared. I knew I had to do something for not only myself, but my family.
Sadie peeked her head around the corner, and the tears from her eyes were gone. The only remembrance left was her pink cheeks and puffy eyes. She attempted a stiff smile to lighten the dark mood, “Man Henry, if only you could go back in time.” She laughed, “Then you could talk some sense into whatever Henry it was. Then it wouldn’t be so bad.”
“Yeah,” I furrowed my brows and didn’t laugh. For some reason her idea didn’t sound crazy, she noticed the look in my eyes and her expression turned into almost fear.
“Henry you know I’m joking, there’s no possible way for that to happen.”
I shook my head, “I know. But I wish there was.”
“Me too,” I wrapped an arm around her and we both stood there for a minute without any thought. Just silence as her soft brown hair was against my cheek. This whole situation brought our family closer, I just wished we could have enough food for all of us sometimes.
That night I laid in bed having skipped dinner for my siblings to eat more, as if I was even hungry from what reoccured earlier. My mind swam with thousands of thoughts, and it was almost hard to focus. If I could only go back in time and save not only my great, great, great grandfather but this whole family.
My hazel eyes read the sky like a book, without enough change to spare the library was our best friend. Sometimes all I had to look at was the sky, and I think I named each star personally after all this time. Each time I inhaled I focused on a star as if it was a thought to calm myself down, that way my heart wouldn’t pop out of my chest.
I turned out my bedside lamp when I heard the pads of little feet around my door and close whispers, and waited for them to go to the bathroom to brush their teeth. My gaze made its way out the window once more and I noticed one of the stars brighter than the rest. That must’ve been my father, the star pulsing and glowing in such a way it stood out. As it danced across the sky I thought to myself and closed my eyes.
“I wish I could go back in time and reverse the curse,” I said aloud. Wishing on a star may have been childish, but it was my last hope for us. With that thought I closed my eyes, and drifted away quickly. Listening to the sound of my sister Ella dancing around as Sadie tried to get her to go to bed.
With sleep all of my problems diminished for a moment, and for those hours I was worriless. Everything was perfect and how I wanted it to be.
My eyes opened to the sun streaming in my eyes, who opened a window? I felt a rush of wind against my skin, and tried to reach for my blanket. All that gathered in my hands was straw, why straw? I noticed I was laying on a pile of hay, and it stuck into my skin making me wince. A few strands stuck to my boxers.
“Gah!” I sat up and looked into the eyes of a chicken sitting on my stomach. I immediately got quiet, trying to not freak it out. I couldn’t die from a chicken attack, that’d be silly.
It moved its neck a bit and I held my breath, suddenly the sound of it screeching signaling for everyone to wake up made me jump and knock it off of me. It danced around my feet, and I ran quickly around the barn looking for the exit. But then again if I exited who knew what was out there, and I was practically naked. Where was I?
I climbed up to the loft in the barn, knowing the chicken couldn’t climb. Finding a pair of pants and a tunic lying up there. They appeared a few sizes too big, but exceptionally lucky for me in my state. The brown material hung oddly on my legs as if I was Aladdin, and the off-white color of the tunic made it seem dirty. I picked pieces of straw off of the clothes, and searched for shoes but came up with nothing.
I suppose this was better than nothing, and now that I was dressed I had to get home. There was no possible way I slept walked here, and my family would never have brought me here. My first instinct was to assume I was kidnapped, but I hadn’t been restrained. After climbing down from the loft I eyed some of the animals, which made the barn smell horrific.
My lips were dry, and my skin felt itchy. All I could do was eye the cow knowing if I could milk it maybe I could use it to help myself. My feet slowly inched near the cow, and I balanced myself steadily to not alarm any animal. My heart began to race fast and I jumped up when I heard the booming voice of a man.
“Hey!” he shouted with a pail in his hands, everything about him spoke to be a farmer. His hands large around his pail, and I didn’t want those close to my neck.
As soon as our eyes met I darted to the side, and he chased after me angrily. Luckily I wasn’t as large as him so I retained speed much faster, and his pail kept him unbalanced next to me. His large chunky boots weighed him down, and I darted out of the barn as quickly as possible.
“Thou art a cutpurse!” he shouted after me.
I furrowed my brows very confused at how he spoke, what did he mean? I’d never heard anyone use those kind of words before, despite it being the same language it sounded so different.
After making my way dastardly down the street, it definitely looked odd. The streets made of stone, and buildings looked very old. Every person seemed to be dressed as if it was a renaissance fair, and trading at stands. Finally when I stopped to catch my breath, I felt my feet ache from the rubble squished against my bare skin.
A few children dancing around looked at me, and stared me up and down with curious eyes. “Who are you sir?” one of them asked me.
“Henry,” I answered through heavy breaths. “Why?”
“You sound odd,” they answered and I’d been thinking the same thing about them. “Yes, where are your shoes?”
“I lost them,” I told them hoping they’d know where to find some. “Tell me, where may I find some?”
The little boy pointed to a small building, and I noticed old and ugly looking shoes. I had no clue where I was, and I assumed I hadn’t been kidnapped since I was ran out of the barn. It looked as if I’d gone back in time, and I felt fear run down my spine. I wasn’t sure what I’d do.
This is what I’d wished for, and now it was my time to reverse the curse as best as I could. This was my opportunity to save my family.
“Thank you,” I told them and walked off as they waved.
When I went inside the building a man greeted me, I brushed him off eyeing all the shoes. Since I wasn’t in modern time there weren’t tags, it must be easy to steal. I was sure I wanted a job for a home, but for now there wasn’t any other option. I slipped on some pairs of shoes til I found ones that fit. Then I quietly made my way to the entrance.
“Hey!” I heard a voice and without a glance back I dashed out of the store. The shoes gave me more endurance, and my adrenaline made it easy to weave through the people on the streets.
I didn’t stop til I noticed a group of people paused at the side, and watching a few people dressed the fanciest of all walk by. Their chins up, and what appeared to be knights leading them. I used this time to catch my breath, and tucked a curl behind my ear. My fingers slicked back the sweaty curl from my forehead, and each breath shook my whole body. My legs like jelly from the marathon I’d run to escape my thievery, or as the one guy said ‘cutpurse.’
Hardly paying any attention my eyes focused on the ground, til I noticed something or someone that caught my eye. The way her head was held high up, and each footstep appeared as if she was floating. Hair as black as a raven’s wing, and amber eyes that glowed in the sunlight. Her porcelain skin looked like she’d never seen a day in the sun and yet the complexion was so smooth and fine that if she stood very still you’d swear she was a doll. Like a true Spanish aristocrat her golden complexion was muted by the fact she carried her parasol, and she was much too important to let the sun see her face.
The red dress fit her figure beautifully, like a fountain of youth. The gold brocade that went even down her arms made her appear like a princess, if her posture weren’t enough. Beside her was an older man, with a velvet black cape that cascaded down to the stone he walked on. It sat over a purple jacket, showing his royal colors. I knew from my history classes a lot of these things, and it was as if I was watching a live history documentary.
His salt and pepper hair was concealed under a crown, and his mustache and goatee aged him more than the wrinkles in his skin, yet showing true bravery and power over the rest as many kneeled briefly.
One of the men next to me that bowed, I turned to and tapped his shoulder. His expression was a mixture of confusion and a nasty look, as if he was surprised by my action.
“Who’s that?” I asked and pointed to the girl with hair the color of midnight and her face the bright moon.
The man furrowed his brows, “Sebastian Castille?” he pointed to the man next to her.
“No, no her,” I pointed again.
“His daughter, Rosalinde Castille.”
I admired her with loving eyes, after hearing such a lovely name to match such an amazing face. She was like perfection, I’d never seen anyone that held this radiance in modern times.
He snorted when he saw my eyes on her, and rolled his own. “She’s got her nose so high up in the air it’s a wonder she doesn’t drown when it rains. Thine eyes doth taketh interest in thee?”
I assumed as best as I could what he said, and knew the first statement was shady. “I’d like to see her again, where can I see her?”
“The carouse at their castle, everyone will be gathering together. Of course you need an invitation, the poorest people there would afterall be servers.”
I thought briefly, a get together. Now I just needed the address, every bone in my body wanted me to follow every step she took. Of course to look somewhat presentable I’d need money, and I didn’t have the energy to run and make more enemies any longer.
“Do you happen to know where I may go to work?” I attempted to speak where he could understand me.
He paused, “There’s an opening at the locksmith,” he pointed. “Of course,” he looked me up and down, “Hopefully you have the strength.”
Maybe I didn’t appear to be strong, but years of working doing labor around the house definitely paid off. Following the direction of his finger, I made my way to the stone building, and it seemed colder when I entered.
The guy at the counter eyed me up and down, “You need a job?”
“How’d you know?” I asked.
He laughed, “Your clothes appear as if you’ve been stealing just for your next meal.”
“Yes I do need a job,” I admitted. “I have no where to stay as well, I’m just trying to make it as best as possible.”
“For your service here I will provide shelter, bed, food, and money. But you must be a locksmith here, and start when I need you.”
I nodded, “Agreed.”
After a long day of work, and sweat dripping into each crevice of my skin the shop closed down at night. The clothes I wore almost seemed yellow from the sweat stains, and my hair appeared as if I showered. After he took me upstairs from the shop, I used a bucket of water to remove the sweat from my hair.
The locksmith, my boss, helped me find one of the most known addresses of all. I walked and followed much of the crowd in the street, it was easy to find my way to the back and swipe a servers outfit to fit in the crowd. It didn’t smell of sweat, and I looked a lot cleaner. As soon as I walked in I was handed a tray, and walked around the everyone trying to find Rosalinde. People continued to follow me, and I tried to brush them off to find the girl with black hair.
That’s when I saw black curls, half of it pulled back, and the rest cascaded down her back. I found myself going closer to her figure, and the silk pink dress was almost made for her. As I got closer I saw her thick lashes move each time she blinked, and when she looked up at me.
She almost gasped when she saw me, and I hoped it was in a good way. “I don’t remember you having been here, and I’m sure I’ve seen you before.”
“Possibly anywhere,” she laughed. “There isn’t a place I haven’t been practically. Where are you about?”
“I come from a place…” I trailed off she didn’t know where I came from.
To my surprise she took my arm and walked me to the doors onto the terrace, and hid near the bushes. “My father can’t see us talking,” she admitted glancing into the window. “You’re different.”
“You’re unlike many of the people my father has had me meet. Your golden blond hair appears as if you’ve spent your life in the sun, and the hints of copper show when the sun hits it just right. Hidden in the corn silk hair.” she looked as if she wanted to touch one of my curls, then drew back her hand as if she’d came too close to a flame. “You’re not a server,” she seemed amused.
“Neither are you.”
“You dress as if you are,” she smirked.
“You dress as if you’re a princess Rosalinde,” I gently took her hand and let my lips lightly touch the soft skin.
“Thou talk as if thee is not a lord or for a matter of a mere servant. We speak the same words yet the way of your words flow out and hit my ears as if you’ve forsworn. Even with strapping words and looks I pray each time I know more of what you mean. You speak in tongues good sir.”
“And what should that mean lady Rosalinde?” I furrowed my brows. “Not one word of mine should ever be a lie, and if it is I hope the stars never shine. Because if I forsake you I don’t want to see the twinkling lights against the sea of molasses, for then it’ll remind me of your silk hair and bright eyes.”
“I trust you sir,” she didn’t let he guard down. “But as if I’ve known you since the hour was turned back. You speak, but your lips do not move. You talk with your eyes, and those eyes sir Henry, tell me more than your mouth.”
“I Henry Blake Fragonard, swear I will answer the truth,” I hadn’t realized how old my name sounded till now.
“Where do you come from? You dress in sheep’s clothing, but underneath you’re a wolf. And I know you are not fit to cater these events, and I hope to know why you come. To chase me like a dog with its tail?”
“I come from a place where you don’t have the get fresh vegetables every single day because you can store them in a refrigerator, which is basically a big box of ice. You don’t need a chamber pot beside your bed because there’s indoor plumbing, and water runs through the house.”
“Sir Henry, forgive me if I am foolish, but these things you speak of sound unworldly. They’re not right, even the most poetic pieces aren’t as brainsick. You sound as if you’re beside yourself, tell me where do you come up with these things?” She circled around me, and I watched the moonlight glow in her hair. The crow-like feathers gleamed as if they had a reflection of silver in the light.
“No, Rosalinde the world I speak of is existent. Never for your eyes to see, but my mind to remember. Per-say it brings me pleasure that you don’t have to see the advanced world, that never communicates. Because then you would be beside yourself.”
“I cry your mercy.”
“Where I come from romance is dead and I didn’t know it could have life til I came here and met you. There the duration of a letter can be cut down in a moment with a device we can communicate. But here with you, I feel more connected with anyone I ever have.”
“My mind says this is soon, but your eyes say not soon enough. Yet your lips say now, and in this moment my heart agrees with those persuasive lips.”
“You side with these lips? Perhaps you should confide in these lips, they never tell a lie. And perhaps with a touch of mine they could wash you of a sin. Or they could subside and be content with just the fact yours may move in the same hour.”
“If you’re telling me the truth then maybe I should try, and if they repent me I shall never go to church again. My god watches me and the Bible is your lips, and I will read and examine them every passing day for good faith and charity.”
“And How should you go upon studying them? With complex examination? Maybe that’ll take as long as your castle was to be made. Only if you’re willing to remain at my heart and not my hand for that time.”
“You do wish to see me again? If I said I wasn’t I would be no better than my father. He pushes, but I do not push. Instead I move with your heart, and our hands do not touch. But if they do happen to touch I may allow it, but my father Henry. My dear father would not allow it, he’d beckon it a sin.”
“Banish me from your city, and he can banish me from your world. As long as I can see you once more, and I will fill with joy. I’m good with secrets, and we can do this again.”
“You know where I am Sir Henry, well everyone does. Drop a card by sometime, but I guarantee you we’ll meet again. I have my ways as if I rule over all with just a drop of a coin.”
“You boast, and talk of wealth. But what do I have to offer to you? Your cunning father and all of the people would drop to their knees at the sight of us. I practically work for your servants.”
“You have no material things I ever wish to have, and in fact if it weren’t for how you speak and draw me in I might run at just the mere smell of you. Reeking of the fires peasants use for warmth. But I give you a chance.”
“A chance? I will not be a toy for you to bat around as your cat does in the barn. I will not go back to that barn, and I will not be beneath you.”
“You are socially beneath me, and everyone sees it that way. You take it to heart as if you can help. Never did I say you were at fault, and never did I act as if this was a game for me. And if you see it that way you can simply walk away and I will turn the other cheek.”
“Turn the other cheek and move along without any trouble. Your breathtaking looks don’t fool me, and I can see your heart of gold. Yet why do you insist on being a royal pain?”
Her arms were crossed and her eyes widened a bit. When Rosalinde’s lips parted it appeared as if a rose bloomed, and her cheeks blushed. “Because I like you very much and do not wish to lose you.” I was in shock and so was she by the way her feet moved quickly to the door. Her hands nearing the handle til I spun her around.
“Tell me that again.”
“Speak those words to me for I wish I could have them echo in my mind any time I wanted. Rosalinde you’re such a minx and I love every spat we have.”
“You’re making me blush, and I find myself almost getting meaner the more I fall. Afraid of the gossip, but more afraid to lose your affection.”
“Many men await you in the carouse, yet you waste your breath to break bread with me?”
“You act as if it’s such a sin, your mind doesn’t move the way theirs does. Their thoughts are simple and your complex mind makes me think. I like the feeling of not assuming I’m right, even though I usually am, I like how you fight me. Yet you’ve never raised a palm like I can see the fire in some doctors eyes they would. The genuinity you have reminds me of my mother. Now as you said before of repentment, take away the sin.”
And as she ordered I leaned in to just kiss her pale cheek, which felt warm against my lips as the blush rose up.
“Only because you asked m’lady, I would never do such things unless you asked me to.”
“Yes I did, now I want you to give my father an indulgence for all he’s done with those lips. And to be fair he’s done a lot, and I want to forget. Repress it all for me, they move and I fly.”
I slowly leaned my face down to hers, and her doll-like complexion didn’t move. Her eyes closed exposing her dark lashes to contrast against the pale perfection she called her skin. The sun had never stooped to its knee and kissed even her hand, but I found myself kissing her lips like two rose petals against mine.
“Rosalinde,” I broke her from her trance as her eyes were still closed when I pulled away. I could practically hear the butterflies wings flapping in her stomach, and when she opened her eyes it was as if you’d open a chest of gold.
“Hm,” she said with one corner of her mouth raised. “I thought it’d be better,” she tilted her chin up.
“Better? I didn’t think that’d be possible with the expression on your face, I thought you’d turn into a tomato right there on the spot.”
Her lips parted and she blushed more, “ I dare thee! Ever care to wonder if I grew hot in this corset? If you’re going to be rude I bid thee farewell,” she turned but I took her hand and spun her around back to me.
“I was rude? I think you ought to rethink your words lady Rosalinde, and maybe have another trial run to see how terrible I kiss.”
“Maybe instead I should give you one of me and you can see how well they can be.”
“Have you had a lot of experience?” I chuckled as she gasped.
“I cry your mercy sir Henry, you say such things? Very cold words as if I flirt with every sir or lord in town. They flirt with me, and I’ve only shared my sins with you.”
“Then we shall keep it that way.”
“What we will not keep is how you dance, you’ll simply have to take lessons.”
“And lessons are costly right? I think you forget where I work, and who I work for. While you can sit and have each diamond on your tiara shined, which says a lot at the excessive jewels.”
“Sometimes you speak and don’t listen, maybe I wouldn’t grow with discomfort if you let a breather in between words. I know people who may teach you, and that stance will just not do.”
“For now I can spin you into the night, which is good for me. You almost disappear in the dark night, but what guides me is the touch of your hand.”
We both heard the sounds of her father beginning to speak instead, his voice growing and I felt a panic as if he was searching for Rosalinde. He’d have my head if he saw the two of us, especially in my attire. I saw a glimpse of his large velvet cape and eye catching crown, a lawyer followed him around.
“Henry, I’m afraid this is the end of this, but not of us.”
“Will we meet again?” I asked finding her hands in mine.
“We shall, now let me share with you.” She stood on her tippy toes and kissed my lips as if a soft wave brushed up on the beach.
“Farewell lady Rosalinde, I dream of our next visit together.”
“I bid thee farewell Henry, and I do admit mine was better,” she smiled and rushed off through the doors.
And I watched her figure move farther away til she was by her father’s side.
As he introduced her to this foreign man to my eyes I watched her expression shift to a soft discomfort that only I could see, I knew by the way she looked at me. There was no doubt the man didn’t think she was breathtaking, her pale blush dress that was made from the finest silk.
I only wished it was me by her side once more, and it took away most of the memories from my past. Well my past had been the future, and now my future would be the past. Everything about this situation was confusing, but Rosalinde brought me back to my senses.
I woke up with ache in my back from a very uncomfortable bed, and the sheets scratching most of my skin off. Before I’d left last night I’d decided to leave a card with where I stayed, and my name. I’d read about the cards being left in the dish, and knew it’d be a good idea to meet lady Rosalinde again.
I splashed my face with cool water, and got dressed in clothes that hardly made me feel like I wore anything. But the chunky shoes made my feet feel sweaty within minutes. I went down the stairs into the store, which was there immediately when I got down. My boss was fixing a few things up, and uncovered his face with the mask when he saw me.
“You’re up, more than most people around here.” He glanced around and the store was only him and I.
As soon as I went to work I saw the door open, and what walked through with her skirts in her hand appeared to be a dark haired angel. Her hair up and curled, and the dark blue dress seemed to contrast against her pale skin. Making her lips appear like rose petals.
“Hello sir Jonathan, I simply need new shoes for my horse.” she tilted her chin up more when she spoke to him, almost as if she didn’t want to breathe the same air as him. Especially with his hands the color of oil now.
“Were the ones that I made a couple weeks ago not fitting?” he asked.
A dark blush came over her, and she looked at me out of the corner of my eye. “I simply insist on new shoes for my horse, and it’s not for you to question.”
Somehow our eyes kept finding each other like lost souls, and I was sure Jonathan noticed. He only nodded after staring at her for a prolonged time. “I see,” he rubbed his chin and the residue on his hands rubbed off on his face.
She wrinkled her nose and made sure to grip her skirts tighter, then glanced at me. “Make sure they’re most suitable.” Rosalinde nodded and turned away from him and I, as she she were to walk out. I didn’t want her to.
“I will Lady Castille,” he said.
Without a thanks she walked out, and I could feel the burning sensation of her amber orbs glancing at me for a moment. Of course I was overjoyed from her arriving at the shop just for me, but I knew money for her didn’t seem to be an issue. You could tell how she was clothed.
“You know Henry, it’s dangerous to mess with lady Castille.” he admitted after looking at me for too long, just thinking of what to say.
With a smirk I mocked her uptight tone, “As the lady said it’s not for you to question.”
He raised a brow, “It’s your funeral.”
I couldn’t help myself, as if I were a hopeless romantic except to rush out of the store to follow Rosalinde. I had to see her face once more, just a little longer. Afraid if I were kept from her I’d forget her face. Just as I’d forgotten my place in my home, and their faces hopefully were much happier. I never wanted them to struggle.
As I almost chased her down the street, like I was running from my thievery. My hand touched hers and I noticed her gasp in surprise, unexpected to see me.
“You didn’t expect to see me?”
“Not necessarily,” she paused. “Why are you here?”
“Am I not supposed to be here?” I looked around and laughed.
“Not that it is wrong, but that my father will see. People will see and talk, and I do not wish to be the gossip of the town.”
“You care about what other people say about you?”
“I care about my reputation,” she looked me in my eyes. “My father isn’t the most forgiving man.”
“And your mother?”
That’s when she looked to the ground, and I saw her expression subtly. “My mother is not longer around to see my next year, and in fact hasn’t been living for years. It is why my father is how he is, and I understand, but at the same time wish to not be held so close by him.”
“My father died as well,” I told her. “Tell me more about your mother.”
“My mother had an aura of beauty and sincerity around her that shone brighter than the diamonds in her tiara. No one questioned where she went after her death, so no one knocked at our door for an indulgence. Of course I guess that goes both ways, if my father were to die I’m sure we’d go bankrupt for his indulgence,” she laughed and it was once of the most beautiful things I’d seen because it was so genuine.
“Your father is a good man, beneath that pain of your mother’s death is a love for you. I know he does all he does to protect you.”
“I know, but I don’t need to be protected from anything but your eyes and it’s far too late for that I’ve already found myself lost in the hues and unable to find my way out. For you’ve captivated me before I could think to allow it.”
“And do you allow it now?” I asked
“Not like I may have a choice, it’s far too late. But I feel safe, as if you’re a gift from God.”
“He’s the one we all go to, and the one who’s there. No matter what he helps us repent from our sins, and gives us life.”
“You talk to god, but tell me does he answer? Do he speak?
He speaks if you are to listen carefully. Of course everyone knows he is not seen, no imagery could compare to his profound essence. At times I speak, and you do not answer, but it doesn’t mean you’re not there. I don’t have to see you to know you’re with me. I close my eyes and you’re still there aren’t you? And I can feel you around like the scent of cedar floating and dancing in the wind.”
“If you can smell the cedar then you know it’s there
You can smell it but it’s presence escapes me, but it still remains. He in fact listens more than you do.”
“Rosalind, I listen, but sometimes I don’t understand. You sound much older than you are, and with age comes Wisdom.”
“On the contrary, I’m not more noble than I am understanding. To listen you don’t always need to respond, but to speak carelessly is the most foolish of all. Not only babbling into one’s ear, but to be infatuated with how the words taste on your tongue.”
“How can you say all of this when you in fact do the same thing? I can’t forget a time when you didn’t have a rebuttal to whatever a said.”
“Indeed a rebuttal, not nonsense. Sounding nor negligent yet words with reason. Speaking requires meaning, and without meaning you might as well do nothing more than close your eyes,” she said with passion in her eyes.
“You can shut me down in each argument, and still manage to have my heart in the palm of your hand. So tell me Rosalind, what is it you desire? To shut me up so I can no longer talk your ears off?”
“I just know how to put things sir henry, and you know I’d listen to your voice as music until the sun set, and again when it rose.”
“Your passion is contagious, and I can feel the so called essence you talk about. But I can not take another argument and being shut down, it’s something I’m not used to. Normally I’m the one who always shuts them up.”
“So you surround yourself with fools such as yourself, and in fact worse? Such a tragedy, but luckily for you, you’re the only one to challenge me. Which speaks more volumes than one may see. But I see.”
“Oh yeah you see everything don’t you?” I rolled my eyes.
“No, you talk as if I’m god,” she joked.
“Oh Great we’re on this topic again, and just when I thought that conversation was over,” I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose.
She broke me from my annoyance by grabbing my hand and rushing me down one of the alleys, and taking me back all the way to a fenced garden. She opened the gate and allowed me in to sit on a stone bench, and lifted her skirts to sit properly.
“I saw my father,” she admitted.
“You act like you’re afraid of him.”
“It’s not I that should be afraid but you should be.”
I stood and took her hand, and she slowly rose from the bench with her hand in my grasp. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you,” I told her.
She smiled till I noticed her face grow weary, and her brows furrowed. She doubled over and rested her hands on her stomach, a groan erupted from her lips. And she looked as if she’d be sick.
“Rosalinde, tell me what’s wrong?” I placed one hand on her back and the other on her side to help comfort her. That’s when it hit me, my great, great, great grandfather had been cursed and killed from his father-in-law. Perhaps that would happen to me, and I couldn’t let it.
In the distance I heard his familiar deep voice, and asking for Rosaline’s name. Quickly I gathered Rosalinde with my strength and led her through the garden much further so he wouldn’t see us. He’d think I’d hurt her, and wouldn’t know I’d never harm one hair on her head.
“Henry,” she whispered through the pains.
“What is it?”
“I have heart flutters,” she frowned. “This happens often, sicknesses are the impossible for me to break. And I’ve fallen faint,” she placed the back of her hand over her forehead.
I knew it meant she had a hole in her heart which made it difficult for her to fight weaknesses. I knew back in the day many people died from illnesses, and didn’t have strong immune systems. Especially from the inbreeding in the royal family.
“I will be alright, just take me home.”
So I did as instructed and led her all the way home, she insisted on me going inside with her. And I’d never seen anything so grand and royal in real life, even the museums didn’t compare. Her room was decorated with gold and white, and her bed seemed like a pillowy cloud. I helped lie her down on the bed, so she could rest.
She told me, “I want to lie, and you to lie, so we may lie together. By each other’s side and together we may sleep as one.”
All I did with her was as I was told, and not one time did I question my feelings. You could say it was because I’d never been with someone like this before, but also maybe it was because this was meant to happen. With the time space continuum what happens ends up meant to be.
One of the things that made me happiest in life much later after that is the bundle of joy she’d conceived. Of course his name was Henry, and his dark hair took much after his mother, and the curls looked much like mine. These two had completed my life, and I’d just hoped everything I’d done had been for good. That my family had a better life, and I hadn’t been selfish. But for so much of my life I sacrificed much of myself for everyone else. Even going back in time had been a risk. But here I found happiness.
When one of the maids were taking care of our child I laid next to Rosalinde, who was on her side. Brushing a dark tendril out of her face I noticed the pale smooth complexion was red and hot. Sweat bordered her whole face, and made baby hairs stick to her skin. She breathed heavily and I noticed the veins in her hands seemed prominent. The color of it blackened and sickly.
When I pulled down the covers it seemed there was a blister on her torso, and it nearly reeked. My dear Rosalinde smelt of death and rot. Her eyes were hallowed, and each movement she made seemed like a skeleton when she once symbolized a doll.
“Oh Rosalinde, what has happened?” I asked with tears in my eyes. In this time they didn’t know the cure, or even what it was. With clueless help, I knew the truth. But having not been a doctor I couldn’t cure her.
The worst part was knowing there was no hope and that’d she’d die, and having to watch each day of hers get shorter. I gripped her hand tightly, and her hands were icey as if she’d already lost feeling in them. But her face represented a fever-like presence.
Rosalinde and I wouldn’t grow old, and she wouldn’t see Henry grow old and go to college. Our grandchildren wouldn’t ever meet her eyes or know how all of their beauty came from her. Everything I’d become, was because of her. And without her I felt weak and defeated again. As she took one final breath I knew everything I’d loved was gone, what had given me happiness was ripped from my fingertips as soon as I got it.
Maybe this is what I deserved for being selfish, and all I wanted was for all this pain to be for something good, and wanted my suffering to benefit my family. I just hoped Ethan was able to live longer than all of us. I guess now the person who died the earliest hadn’t been a male at all, it’d been Rosalinde.
Jeffersonville High School, 2016