Cliterature Journal published a little Christmas tale of mine titled “The Ruby Threads in Your Hair” in December 2018 as part of their ANTHOLOGY issue. Every piece in that issue was written by an author previously published in the journal. After 50 issues it made for a huge pool of contributors and it was their biggest issue ever. In June 2020 Founding Editor Lynn Brewer decided to sunset Cliterature and focus her attention elsewhere. The links have stopped working and I sigh in acknowledgement of another project filled with love and passion that has disappeared. My enduring thanks to Lynn Brewer and Cliterature for publishing my work.
The Ruby Threads in Your Hair
Heather agrees to spend the week between Christmas and New Year in Tennessee with Robin. They stay with Robin’s grandmother who lives in an old farmhouse without central heat or running water. Every morning they clatter down the stairs to inhale the delicious food as if they are starving. The old woman makes them biscuits and gravy for breakfast, cooks eggs-over-easy. The eggs gathered from the auburn hens that strut in her yard.
The young women wash in cold water they’ve pumped from outside, run squealing through the chilly air to the outhouse. At night, they don’t bother with shoes but run barefoot in their nightgowns through the coarse grass lining the path. They shiver when they return to the house and wipe their feet on the towel hung inside the back door. They huddle under heavy quilts in Robin’s bed and talk late into the night.
Exploring the western part of the state, they find dozens of curing sheds. Many of the people Heather meets are involved in the industry. A family friend lets them walk through his. The large tobacco leaves, tied together at one end, are hung over open wood rafters to dry. The leaves gradually change from green to yellow to golden-brown. The barn is humid, filled with the scent of earth and plant and musk. Heather reaches for one of the ochre sheets. Its thick, leathery texture surprises her. A fragrant tarry residue coats her fingers and leaves her fingers sticky.
They waste a day with Robin’s older brother who dares Heather to drive his pickup, saying, “OK long legs, let’s see what you can do.”
Of course, she can drive a stick shift, just watch.
She clamors onto the high wide seat, noting it could easily hold four people. A gun-rack, loaded with rifle and shotgun, hangs behind her head. She presses back against the seat, testing if it will adjust any further, checks the mirrors and dashboard. She pushes in the clutch, puts the truck in gear, and slowly drives down the dirt track leading out of the farm. A faint cologne consisting of equal parts tobacco and alcohol hangs around Robin’s brother. Heather wonders if he prodded her into driving because he has lost his license. It doesn’t matter. She likes proving she can do it.
Next, Robin tells Heather she wants to visit her cousins. Heather chuckles because everyone she meets is some kind of cousin. These two turn out to be male. The older one welcomes Robin and they head towards his bedroom. This leaves Heather alone with Tyler. He is blonde, clean-shaven, cute even, his high school graduation half a year away. He charms her with his eager innocence, his enchantment when touching her. He tells her, “She is his shimmering treasure.” They lie on the wide leather couch in the darkened living room kissing and exploring. The glow of the Christmas tree disguises them. It turns their lips into blurred shadows, their eyes darken and red-gold threads gleam in their hair.
Heather entwines her fingers in his. She whispers what she wants him to do. Her body is soft and cool beneath him. He follows her instructions. He murmurs, “You’re my first.” She has him pause, take time to feel and appreciate. He forgets himself, is aware of nothing but their joining.
Afterward, his head nestles into her shoulder and he slips into a tender slumber. His hand clasps her breast. Heather wraps her arms around his simplicity, grins. She is his Christmas angel, forever fused with the multi-colored lights. The memory of her will color his dreams and beguile his judgment. She curls a ruby twist of his hair around her finger, wonders if she will remember him.