Raj

Lauren Leibman

Fort Mill, SC

Indian Land High School

Fiction

“Raj.”

The sunflower stalks bowed for her.  They dipped and swayed and whispered against a lethargic stroke of warmth. Your Majesty… Your Majesty... And even the sun was lowering its head for her, relinquishing its crown in strips of copper and thick yellow gold in a gloss over her skin. Her satin skin. Soft, flower petal skin in deep terra cotta. She shimmered in the gold sweat of sunset. She glowed.

“Raj,” I shifted my body a little and cool grass fell like stripes of sun across the cotton of my dress. She wasn’t listening, or maybe she couldn’t.

That breeze came again, slow and heavy, dragging its finger across the tops of the sunflowers to send shivers through the field around us. Raj was lying on her back with her face tipped upwards—thinking I guess —and looking for images ingrained somewhere in the blue limbo between cornflower and navy where the shades changed and maybe there was nothing at all. I wondered if somewhere up there were the things only she could see—her delusions if you used the ugly word.

Once she told me she saw some swelling form push the sky outwards towards the ground like fingers stretching against plastic wrap or the rubber of a popped balloon. Then when she reached her arm up above her head and splayed her fingers, her hand came away dripping a silver substance like paint. It was moonlight, she said, and when she put it up to her tongue and licked her fingertips it tasted like blackberries and melted sugar.

The visions scared her. They were strange in an ethereal, wonderful way for a while, but when they passed the tears came, wet harbingers of tremors across her shoulders and hours at a time where she would withdraw her soul and her eyes would go flat. It made me wish I could pull apart the disorder from the girl like how she pulled  bandaids from the scrapes on my knees as a little kid, fast and sure and all at once.

“Bohdi,” she would say, kneeling in front of me on the bathroom floor. “Brave Bohdi.” And then before I had time to be brave the bandage was off and my skin screamed and sizzled before her smooth lips were fluttering over my hurt patches in quick kisses. She would smile then, just as beautiful now, and I remember her taking me out into the yard afterwards to braid California buckwheat into my hair.

     Now I touched Raj’s glistening brown shoulder almost reluctantly, watching my fingers make contact with the smooth terrain of her arm. She turned her face away from me, but I doubted whether she had really noticed my touch at all. I tried again, and slowly her head rose from one cheek and turned to lay on the other.

Rise in the east and set in the west.

“They took Jaime.”

     She said it so softly I could hardly tell if she was talking to me or the spiders and crickets watching us from the grass. “They’re trying to fool me with the one that showed up today. I know it. But I can tell the difference.”

Jaime was the boy with the golden hair that fell in curls just beneath his jaw. He had strong arms and a green Chevy pick-up truck that he loaded with flowers to deliver to people around town. Sometimes he let Raj back there and she was just as beautiful as the rest of them. Jaime knew it too, he came by her window at night and held her body against his in the blackberry patch right outside the last fence of the neighborhood where asphalt turned to field. I think they loved each other, though I wasn’t supposed to know what that looked like yet.

     Earlier that day Mama found him on our front porch, his face all colored with smudges of hurt beneath his eyes and across his cheek bones. His truck bed was full of nothing but crushed leaves fallen off the trees around our cul de sac. We could tell then that it had happened to him too. That meant it was the end. When she didn’t recognize them anymore it was always the end.

     “Will the real Jaime come back?”  Mama said I wasn’t supposed to go along with Raj, but I thought it was better to go along with her and have her voice stay quiet. I didn’t like to make her think she was crazy, even if she was a little.

Her eyelashes landed against her skin with butterfly feet as she closed her eyes. “He will.”

I wanted to reach out and touch the pink ribbon edging the perfect heart shape of her lips, just brimming with chocolate boxes and candy hearts and a thousand other sweets when she smiled.

“What if he doesn’t?”

     The heart smudged as her mouth twisted into a frown. “I don’t know.”  She turned her face away from me again and it was like the sun passing behind a cloud.

We lay like that for a while, together but not together at all, until the wind got dark around the edges with the smell of dusk, and I pushed myself up to stand with the grass licking at my calves.

“Raj,”

She sat up silently, smooth as a bird sliding its wing up from the ground.

I heard myself ask if she would walk me home, but I felt a little like I already knew what she would say.

"I'm not ready to leave yet," She said, and lay down again.

I would have liked to have told her to think nice thoughts while I wasn’t with her. To listen to the blond-haired boy with the flower truck when he said that he truly was Jaime, her Jaime, and to stop seeing things that weren’t there and thinking that people that loved her were impostors. But I didn’t know how to say these things to a goddess.

I said to come home soon.

     And so I walked the mile back home through the bridge of oaks and golden rain trees that connected the sunflower fields and the wheat fields and the rest of the countryside to our suburb, humming one of Raj’s songs that was sweet and sad and mel-an-chol-y which was mama’s favorite word for what she believed Raj had become.

     The rain trees cried yellow petals to mourn the end of summer, and I caught one in my palm as it fell, held it to my lips.

 

     Mama was mad when I returned without Raj. She yelled in Hindi until the good china shook off the shelves and climbed behind the cabinet to get away. She only stopped when Daddy came in and held her by the shoulders and whispered something soft into the brown folds of her ear. He eased her down in the sitting room and eventually her cries turned to soft moans that she buried in his shoulder. Daddy had a magic voice. It could charm Mama and Raj into calm, could have made the moon retire early if he’d wanted it to.

At eight o’clock, Raj was still breathing with the grass and the sunflowers or brushing fingertips on all the cool necks of the street signs and crying olly olly oxen free into the mouth of a dying summer. Mama and Daddy sent me upstairs so they could talk about her alone.

I played a record with the volume turned up so they’d think I couldn’t hear, the way I did to hear about Jaime and all those times Raj said crazy things about the factory where they made people that looked just like real ones. I sat in my doorway with my socked feet up on one side of the frame and I listened for a while, but their voices were just sputtering candle flames. They spattered phrases all over the pictures on the walls like wax: suicide… the doctor said…

I picked at a scab on my elbow until I got bored of listening to the half-phrases and trying to understand what exactly was wrong with Raj after all. When she finally came home, I was lying curled up like a pill bug on my bed, looking for friendly faces in the ceiling plaster.

The door hardly made a sound as she rolled off its tongue, but I could tell she was there because the house was holding its breath and I felt the walls contract. Our parents were waiting up, Mama jittering and fluttering all around the living room, and I waited a beat before sliding out from beneath my covers to peer around the doorway, to taste the air to see if it was safe. There was Mama’s voice, pulled taut to dissuade any trembling that would give away her apprehension. Raj, speaking softly, explaining. She was so sorry. Then they were quiet, and I thought that the air had relaxed enough for me to walk down the hall, rubbing my eyes like I’d just woken up. I turned into the living room and Daddy asked what was I doing out of bed and my mother looked at Raj and Mama's face turned inside out and Raj screamed.

     Her moon eyes trembled like dark pools across mine and her mouth fit into a firm little tightrope. “What are you doing here? I don’t want you here.”

     My heart dropped into my stomach.

     “God damnit, I know they sent you.” Her chest was heaving out words laced with terror and fury all at once. Shadows were sticking to her skin like tar. Her eyes darted around like eight balls rolling, rolling, rolling.

My voice was a frog’s croak. I was trembling all over.

     “Just stop it!” She wailed, and her body morphed and twisted into something awful as she lunged toward me.

Arms encircled me then, pushing me toward my bedroom and shushing me. It was Daddy’s voice charming me out of tears and into sleep.

That night I forgot to dream. I didn’t dream until sun squeezed through my blinds like peeling apricots and I thought I saw her hair on the pillow beside me, twisting a little, then floating like raven feathers that curled into smoke ribbons at the ends.

     And then I rubbed the idea from my mind and slipped away again,

and there was nothing at all.

EDITORIAL PRAISE

This piece is written with a delicacy not often granted to stories of sibling relationships. To a certain extent, I think we can all feel for both Bohdi and Raj.

Lauren Leibman is currently a high school senior from South Carolina. She hopes to study creative writing and journalism after she graduates and to one day write full time. When she is not writing she enjoys reading, photography, and music.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR