A Little Red Soul
Tomi Shaw
On Tuesday afternoon, Coral finds a red and yellow cat's eye marble. As if Gollum was reborn, she palms it, making it her very own precious. Her older sister, Jyma, doesn't have a cat's eye marble, Coral is almost positive. Jyma gets everything first. In the fifth grade, Coral ate everything she could get her hands on, trying to outsize Jyma so she could get Aunt Wilhemina's daughters' hand-me-downs first. The only thing Coral managed to do was put on ten pounds she couldn't get back off. And this year, her first year of middle school, those ten pounds matter! Where the sidewalk isn't heaved or busted up, Coral skips all the way home.
Friday evening, Coral watches Jyma's father put her sister in his shiny Camry and carry her off to the movies. It's their very first visit together. Before he got there, Jyma'd taunted Coral about buttered popcorn and fountain pop. Jyma's daddy is taking Jyma school clothes shopping, too. That's what Jyma'd said. Coral shrugs her shoulders and goes off to her room where she watches the marble's colors swirl as she rolls and bounces it off the baseboard. Jyma wants my marble, Coral thinks. She wants it because it's mine, and she can't have it.
Sunday night, Coral doesn't wait for Jyma to invite her into her bed. They always get in the top bunk after Mama hollers, "out lights, good nights." Jyma's smoky skin glistens by the light falling through the slatted window. Coral runs her hand across her sister's shoulder. It's so soft. Jyma jerks away, turning her back on Coral. It's shiny too. Coral pulls the marble from her pillowcase and tucking her head into the covers, shuts her eyes and dreams about tomorrow, about stealing the silky red bra and panties she saw Jyma push to the back of her underwear drawer. Thought you could hide it from me. Ha!
Monday morning, Coral's brushing her teeth, the panty and bra soft under the tattered sweater Mama spent two dollars on at the Goodwill, when she hears the splintering of glass, glass thrown against a wall, anger pulsing through the house so thick Coral thinks she can feel it on her skin. Mama screams, "oh Dear Lord, not the body oils," and drags Jyma down the hall and through the kitchen and out the front door and into the car, the beat up Chevy with one bullet hole in the passenger door and a busted windshield, courtesy of Mama's last boyfriend and a Budweiser bottle. Coral wants to giggle, in a way; Jyma never gets in trouble. But there was something in the way Mama screamed that wasn't funny.
They went to the hospital. Whatever they found out, they wouldn't tell Coral, but whatever it was took all the clear out of Jyma's eyes, muddied them up.
Tuesday afternoon, Jyma won't be coming home anymore; She's gone to her holy home. That's how Coral's teacher told it, put Jyma's suicide. When Mama picked Coral up at the school, she could tell Coral knew and Mama threw a hissy. She'd wanted to tell Coral. It didn't matter. Jyma can't come home again, not to Coral anyway.
Friday, the buttpuke sun shines. Buttpuke was a Jyma word. Coral was thinking in Jyma today. She had on her sister's bra and panty again. Coral felt soft in it. The cat's eye marble was tucked in her hand which was buried in her pocket. Coral listens to some minister the funeral home recommended talk about her sister like he knows her. He screws it all up. Jyma wasn't a typical young woman. She was diatomic! Jyma'd always said so. This man doesn't know her. While he talks, Coral stands up and shuffles her way to the casket, trying to keep Jyma's black pumps in place on her feet. She bends, presses her lips to her dead sister's cold ear and whispers, "I know you wanted this. I'd have shared. I was just messin with ya." Coral places the marble under the pillow beneath Jyma's head. When she turns around and walks away, she doesn't stop until she's out of the building, on the sidewalk and breathing air that has no ghosts or secrets in it.
Tomi Shaw lives in Kentucky amid the clutter of her writing, family and mutt dog. Her work has appeared in over fifty publications, including Identity Theory, storySouth, Pindeldyboz, Mad Hatter's Review, The Barcelona Review, the Harrow and Southern Gothic.   Website