The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan Read Online (FREE)
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My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.
I know it’s true the way I know the stain on the bedroom floor is as permanent as the sky, the way I know my father will never forgive himself. Nobody believes me, but it is a fact. I am absolutely certain.
In the beginning, that mother-shaped hole was made of blood. Dark and sticky, soaked to the roots of the carpet.
Over and over again, I rewind back to that June afternoon. I walked home from Axel’s just in time to see my father stumble out onto the porch, clearly looking for me. I’ll never be able to erase that image: his hands slick and shaking, maroon smeared across his temple, chest heaving like it was iron filings getting sucked into his lungs and not air. At first I thought he was injured.
He choked on the sentence, face puckering into something awful. When he finally got the words out, his voice crawled through an ocean to get to me. It was a cold cerulean sound, far away and garbled. I couldn’t process what he said. Not for a long time. Not when the police arrived. Not even when the people came to carry my mother’s body out the front door.
It happened on Two Point Fives Day. Our day—what had become an annual tradition for me and Axel. It was supposed to be celebratory. The school year was almost over and things were finally going back to normal, even with Leanne in the picture. We were already making plans for the summer ahead. But I guess the universe has a way of knocking supposed-tos right on their asses.
Where I was that day: on the old tweed couch in Axel’s basement, brushing against his shoulder, trying to ignore the orange wall of electricity between us.
If I pressed my mouth to his, what would happen? Would it shock me like a dog collar? Would the wall crumble? Would we fuse together?
And Leanne—would she disappear? Could one kiss erase her?
The better question was: How much could it ruin?
My mother knew where I was. That’s one of the facts that I still can’t get over.
If I could have climbed out of my goddamn hormones for just one minute, maybe my neurotransmitters would’ve signaled for me to go home. Maybe I would’ve shaken off my blinders and forced myself to take count of all the things that had been off-kilter, or at least noticed that the colors around me were all wrong.
Instead, I withdrew into my shell, let myself be one of those self-absorbed, distracted teenagers. During sex ed, our teachers always made it sound like the guys were the horny ones. But right there on that couch I was certain that some crucial detail about the female body, or at least my body, had been left out. I was an already-lit firework, and if Axel came any closer, I was going to barrel into the sky and rain back down in a million pieces.