Red Hours by Stina Trollbäck


    I was half convinced that my sister viewed life through red sheets of cellophane. She wrote with white pencils in white notebooks, caged up in white walls, but I always thought that the reason she was so scared was because the red clouding her eyes turned her life into a clock. I imagined her brain ticking away like a white clock turned red, gauging the finite number of cells her body would entertain in its life.

    When she slept, I was fairly sure that a sheet of black cellophane just overlapped her red one, such that even her darkness held a red hue. Minutes dripped from a cloud that hung permanently over her feet, and melded them to the ground as if it were a workable adhesive. She could move; at least the floorboards could shift under her toes, and she could manage to propel herself, somehow, through the red air around her that stuck to her pale face like plasma. She could pick up her blood white pencils, and she could write about green while refusing to accept what it was or why red wasn’t.

And I didn’t exactly know what green lives she wrote about, but when she wrote, she smiled. And I knew my sister wouldn’t smile at malice; she just breathed it in and out. I watched her fingertips shake from numbness, and almost believed that their heat was what she used to splatter instant happiness into the lives of her green people, and I almost believed, before I understood, that she wanted happiness.

    I watched her eyes roll, click, and toss around the doubts of a clock. I saw her eyes spinning when I peeled open her sticky, plastic-coated eyelids and I watched her long limp fingers keep twiddling away time in increasing increments. Seconds, minutes, hours, months, years. And I felt her body, unweighted by limitations, but her fingers kept crimping and fluttering and aching for ink.

    I stood. And walked. With my feet sticking to the minutes my sister had plastered and dragged back and forth across the floor, and I picked up her white notebooks and started learning about the green lives of the green people.

    I sat down on my sister’s bed, consuming the hours she was desperate to have more of. I read her mundane words that had been laced with colorful intricacy to describe lives of people who did not bleed out their time or want to live, to die, to live. I became aware of her efforts to live without disruption. I saw her desperation to exist and keep going. I read her thoughts through her struggle to understand the ease of green people. I almost convinced myself that she was trying to get over time, but her obsession became thicker and deeper, and I realized that nothing could have pulled her out of her paranoia. I read all her blood-white notebooks that had triggered the happy memories I had and she didn't. I picked up the last one she had finished. I felt my own fingers sucking the pleasure out of her books, and I stood, refusing to let the seconds ground me as I walked back to her body.

    Her corpse lay flat on the floor, cheeks still rosy, eyelashes still curled. I hoped she still clung to existence. Her arms were tucked neatly by her side. She didn't want to be dead. She had been prepared, cleansed, groomed. And I felt like somehow she had mummified herself, because she looked more alive than I'd ever seen. And I realized that was the point. Her point. She wanted to exist forever, and I wanted to let her.

    Her body looked less plastic to me then.

    I flipped to the last page and placed the open book over her face.

    I walked out of the white-walled room, shutting the door, and barely blinked when green cellophane rolled over my eyes.