“The Red Ribbon” by K. Davern

Original Fiction written in CW 205:  Introduction to Creative Writing with Dr. Carlos Dews — Spring Semester 2010

“The Red Ribbon”

John felt as though he could close his eyes and arrive on his apartment stoop in eleven minutes. And thirty four seconds. Approximately. Of course, if Oak Drive was backed up it would take two minutes longer. And if the McKinley’s Doberman was outside he would need to circumvent that block and detour through the alley across the street. Which would add five minutes. John hated Doberman Pinchers. He had always thought they looked like evil detectives dressed in Sherlock Holmes–era garb. But he didn’t close his eyes. Instead, he watched as he passed the sights he viewed every day of his life, twice a day. The red, yellow, green graffiti on the side of the library. The metal wire garbage can that was surrounded by old men at night and Big Mac wrappers during the day. The very old bus stop bench with the picture of the very tan realtor with very dark brown hair smiling at him with very white teeth. A red ribbon stuck in the crack that parted the dark brown hair in a very unnatural way. That was new.

As he made his final turn onto his home street, John strained his eyes for the coffee shop at end of the block. Sure enough, she was there. Having the smoothie that she always drank with her friend on Thursdays.  Better yet, she was wearing his favorite dress. She seldom wore it, and only if it was the time of year when the sun heated the pavement enough to make wearing shoes necessary. Though he was still too far away to make out any of the details, he knew that the dress was made of white cotton. That the hem reminded him of the way frosting looks when it dresses up the edges of a birthday cake. His heart accelerated as his feet drew him ever closer to her. Her voice became audible when he was about twenty sidewalk squares away. Her voice. Like when the sunlight streams out of the clouds and looks like spotlights coming out of heaven. Like waves greeting the beach at the lake. Her friend’s voice, and personality, and looks, paled in comparison. Elise, the friend, was one of those “if-we-ever-see-each-other-in-public-I’m-going-to-pretend-I-don’t-know-you” kind of girls. The kind that had a new polish on her nails every other week. The kind that knew how to sweet talk adults, but would eat an innocent child’s dessert when his parents weren’t around. She wore sunglasses, but John could feel her intrusive glare sizing him up, or down, rather, as he passed the friends. Though every part of his body ached to pull up a chair and take a seat next to his heart’s desire; John made sure that his shoulders were back, his gait was relaxed, and his breath was steady as he passed. He kept his eyes lowered – he knew he would blush if he looked to the right.

Having put more than a couple of feet between himself and the coffee shop, John dared to glance back at the woman who didn’t yet know that her soul-mate had just passed her.

And then he saw it. It happened so quickly that John felt as though his brain had sent a message to his legs but had forgotten to let his conscious self know what was going on. The back of that white dress that he loved so much was missing something. Her dress usually had a color, an accent. But today it was absent. Instead, there existed three holes on each side of the seam that begged to be filled. The red ribbon.

It took every ounce of him not to sprint back to the bus bench. He was a very good runner, and he knew that he could get there quickly. But he needed to remain composed. He couldn’t be huffing and puffing and red in the face the first time he spoke to his future wife.

Turning back onto the street with the bus stop, John averted his eyes and stared at the horizon. He was too nervous to look at the bench, for fear that the ribbon, his only chance, had somehow found its way out of smiling realtor’s hair. But there it was. He pulled it from crack gingerly – if he grabbed it too quickly it would disintegrate, fall apart, and his dream would be lost. He wrapped it around his finger, slid it off, and placed it carefully in his right pocket.

He had never had the courage before. But with the token in his pocket, he felt like he could jump over moon if he really wanted to. He took a deep breath, and headed straight for the white dress. She had her back to him, so he stuck out his index finger and tapped her on the shoulder. Elise practically spit out drink. Her friend turned slowly to face him, he had to do it.

The expected happened.

He had so wanted to be smooth, but he knew that a nonchalant demeanor was too much to ask of himself during his first encounter with the sunshine of his life (to put it in his mother’s favorite blind musician’s terms). Before he could say anything, his throat had closed up, his lips had locked together and thrown away the key. So he did the only thing he could. He stuffed his hand into his pocket and pulled out his prized possession. And a couple pieces of lint. When he presented it to her, she had to lean back so that his protruding fist would not collide with her nose.

“Sorry,” he stuttered, and moved his hand to a more affable position.

After a moment, she realized what was he was holding.

“I can’t believe you found this…”
“John.”

“John. Thank you!”

Red-faced, he nodded, and placed the ribbon in her outstretched hand.

“Do you know how to tie a bow?”

Did he know how to tie a bow. He had learned at least a year before. Again, a nod was the best he could do. She returned the ribbon, rotated her body back toward Elise, whose facial expression reminded him of the way he felt after eating a particularly sour apple. That didn’t matter. He turned his head back toward the auburn hair only inches from his nose. She lifted her shimmering ponytail, gesturing for him to lace up the bow.

He did so meticulously, measuring so that the ribbon was perfectly even on both sides of the holes, making sure that there were no twists, and looping around the tree and through the rabbit hole. He did not need to further embarrass himself by having to start over.

When he finished, she turned back around, thanked him, and presented him with a biscuit from her plate.

“Perfect! Are you allowed to have these,” she questioned, looking from the cookie to him.

No, but he wasn’t going to tell her that.

“Well why don’t you take this? Thank you again, John, that was so sweet of you. I’ll see you soon, okay? I’m Rose, by the way.”

Rose. Of course she was named after the flower that he wished he could bring her every time he saw her. And now she had given him a cookie. And his stupid vocal chords, or lack thereof, apparently, had surely ruined her first impression of him.

All he wanted was to be alone. As he passed the kitchen, his mother interrupted his internal brooding. He stopped short, and slowly reversed to face her. She held out her hand, waiting. John shrugged his backpack off his shoulders and unzipped it. He found the paper with the shiny purple star sticker and placed it in his mother’s open palm. She surveyed the spelling test, smiled, and handed over two Oreos as a reward. He couldn’t think of eating at a time like this. Leaving the backpack on the chair, John made his way toward his bedroom. She called after him to remind him that Elise would be arriving shortly to watch him for the night. This did not help his mood. She added that Elise would be bringing a friend. At that moment, John decided not to save the Oreos for later.

The day had only just begun.

—written by Katherine Davern

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