The day Diondre Wilson left this world, she stared at the perfect white square across from her bed and projected a movie of her third birthday. She had no projector, of course, nor did she have a computer, but her mind stored all the images she needed to replay in full color. She had no trouble staying awake today. She’d told her mother she’d take the pain over oblivion.
Her mother was in the bathroom, washing out the paintbrushes she’d used to paint the wall. Her baby needed that plain white square and she was going to have it, hotel charges be damned. Her fingers glided through the bristles again and again. She wanted to make sure the brushes were clean for their next stop, a town in Florida called Vero Beach. If the brushes weren’t clean, the paint wouldn’t go on smoothly.
In order to make it all the way down the coast without Diondre getting too exhausted, they stuck to the easy-to-reach small towns, provided they had a motel with the requisite bed facing a blank wall, a big window, and an ocean breeze. “You want a drink from the minibar?” Mom asked. Hang if she was going to worry about money now. She’d never be able to pay the hospital bills anyhow since the insurance was cancelled.
“Do they have lemonade?” Diondre asked, without shifting her eyes from the square.
“I’ll go down to the coffee shop and get some. It’s just about time for lunch anyway.”
Diondre rewound a little because of the interruption, not that she ever thought of Mom as an interruption, and went back to the Tiki birds in the room where they sang and spun. “In the Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Lounge,” the birds sang, over and over with brightly glued feathers and beaks that clacked open and closed.
It was the first time she’d ever been to Disneyland, and the exotic bird room/ride, whatever you call it, is where she’d taken her nap. She’d fallen asleep right in the middle of the song. When she woke up, they were outside and Mom had bought her pink cotton candy. The wispy, sticky swirl was bigger than her head. She could taste it now, a sweet pinkness that wasn’t cherry or strawberry but a flavor all its own.
By the time she swirled around, showing off her Mickey ears with a pointed princess hat, Mom was back in the motel room with chicken soup, toast, and lemonade in a covered cup with plenty of ice. The taste of the lemonade was sour and sweet at the same time so Diondre knew it was homemade. She really didn’t care about the soup but it made Mom happy when she ate real food, so she forced a few bites down. She must have a fever because cold felt good and hot felt not so good.
She sucked up a tiny, round ice chip through the straw and held it in her mouth until it dissolved, leaving a cold spot on her tongue. It felt so good it almost made her cry. But Diondre didn’t cry anymore. It was a waste of energy. Besides, she could get real pleasure out of a piece of ice melting on her tongue. That was the kind of thing Diondre noticed.
Mom came out of the bathroom with the paint can and the brushes. She packed them into a burlap shopping bag labeled Just White, the shade of paint they chose from paint chips Mom brought home from Dunn Edwards. It wasn’t a muted cream. It didn’t have a hint of a pale yellow or blue or anything else. It was Just White, the perfect shade of nothingness. It almost sucked you inside.
“Tell me what you’re watching today,” Mom said, polishing off the toast herself. She was wearing her lavender shirt with a little embroidered butterfly at the neckline, the one Diondre always said looked so pretty on her.
“Shi Shi’s wedding. Tom and Junie are just coming down the aisle spreading red petals from a little basket on the white runner. Everyone is laughing because they’re concentrating so hard.”
“Oh, I remember that. What a lovely day. I wonder if Shi Shi’s had the baby yet. I guess somebody would call us if they had.”
“I think I’m gonna channel flick. There’s a day I want to see.” The pain was creeping up on her. She could feel a tightening in her chest and all her bones felt alive. “Mind if I just watch by myself for a while?”
“Sure thing, Bunny, I’ll put away the painter’s tape and tidy up the room.” Mom kissed Diondre’s forehead to make sure the fever wasn’t too high. She got a small towel and drenched it in cold water, then wrung it out and laid it on the fragile little head with matted curls. Diondre didn’t even seem to notice.
She barely looks half her fifteen years was the thought that kept playing in Mom’s mind. She didn’t even get to go on a date. Mom put the leftover lunch in the mini-fridge in case Diondre wanted some later. She walked out to the patio and smelled the ocean. The sky was pure blue, not a cloud, an airplane, or even a power line, just blue that stretched clear down to Miami, if you could see that far. Mom had learned not to see further than a day out.
Diondre thought about her plan to make it to Key West, as far south as it was possible to go. She imagined the water would have healing properties like the German spa in Anna Karenina. The ocean would be all around her and visible from almost any road. If she could just soak her defective body in those waters, who knows what might be possible. She didn’t know if Mom believed her but she was willing to go along with it anyway. Here they were.
The square was coming into focus. She felt disembodied, as though she had become the images in her mind. Instead of watching the past, this time she wanted to see her future. It would be a place where she could chase a puppy and wear a long lace dress. Mom would be there with her arms open wide and a big, real smile stretching her thin cheeks into handles she could almost grab onto. Her dad would be there too, resurrected from his self-imposed exile in the land of the healthy.
In the background the ocean purred and the late afternoon light made streaks on the wall that stopped just short of the square. With a trance-like grace she’d not felt for years, she left the sheets behind her and moved to the square. Inside was a brilliant blue sky, not unlike the one outside the motel window. Horses appeared shaking their manes impatiently. Mom and Dad each held out a hand next to a speckled mare. Diondre had always wanted to ride, more than anything. She would have even signed up for another few surgeries if it meant she could ride, even once. Clearly the time had come at last.
Mom came inside and saw the empty bed. She ran into the bathroom, but Diondre wasn’t there. She looked on the other side of the bed to see if the poor thing had fallen and as she raised her head, a flickering caught her eye. It was the square.
It had a concave quality, like it actually receded into the wall. She perched herself on the edge of the bed and stared into it. The longer she looked, the clearer the picture became. It was a meadow filled with flowers and, in the distance, Diondre was riding a horse. She turned and smiled at her mother, quickly, then rode away, becoming smaller and smaller and smaller until she was completely out of sight.
The “Short Short” is a style of fiction under 1500 words in length. Just right for our current media whirl, n’est-ce pas?