“Guaranteed to Bleed.” That’s what you told me when you explained how Brooks Brothers marketed their madras after thousands of Ivy League preps washed their blazers, shorts, and button-downs to find the bright colors had bled into each other, leaving pastel puddles of vegetable dyes across the plaid. That’s what I told you after some drunken fraternity boy spilled wine on you, your chocolate crop of hair falling to your forehead as you anxiously blotted your lapel with a wet napkin.
There was the spot of water and wine mixing on your madras, the grease wax of my ChapStick sealing the corner of your mouth. There was a collegiate cluster of our classmates bumbling underneath the chandelier, hoots and yelps coming from the cracked windows, coming from the dark.
You threw your head back and laughed, a cackle rising and falling as you pulled me to your chest and I blew the spot of water and wine mixing on your madras to dry it underneath the chandelier in the yellowy shadows in the dark, my flushed cheek matching the tiny polo player embroidered on my breast. You kissed my forehead.
“I love ya,” you grinned.
You were an odd bird amongst the rest, too tall for your Nantucket Reds and too skinny for New York winters. After our classes, in the sunstained late-afternoon walls of your white room, I’d find you with one leg crossed over the other, elbow resting on your knee, reading a book about the bitter oppression of colonialism or The Hanging Gardens of Babylon or something like that. Maybe that’s when I loved you most. Your sloped nose nearly brushing the pages, the cuff of your pants pulled upward to reveal the hair on your ankles, you bobbing up to see me standing in the doorway. Your voice cracking, ready to take the words you’d just devoured and spill them into the space between my lips, cupping my chin in your hand. Your nonstop blinking. Your East Coast accent.
They congratulated us on getting out for once, enjoying our last fall semester. You, gawky and giddy, twirling me by the finger amidst puddles of spilled liquor and the blare of shitty bootleg reggaeton. The sweat caught in your collar and the spot of water and wine mixing on your madras. Our dancing carved out a space for us on the creaky floor, and I secretly hoped no one was watching. There was no Ivy League fairytale waltz to watch, no greasy grinding for the freshmen to get their jollies from. Just you, dressed like the villain from a John Hughes film, caught between a boy and man, and me, as radish red as I was the cool and cloudy evenings we’d trip down Hudson River Park. You smiled so hard that your
teeth went dry, sticking to my lips when you kissed me.
There was the dried water and wine mixed on your bleeding madras, my spot of ChapStick smeared from one corner of your mouth to the other in the scatter of shadows in the yellowy dark, you trapped beneath the chandelier. The crystal rattled and drunkenly, they ran. Stone cold sober, yet we were the ones who didn’t notice the warping light, the clink of the chandelier, chipping of plaster round its rim. I loved your hands, large and exclamatory when you spoke. The slip of sweat as I grabbed your left one, my eyes swimming in the blue dark before us, suits and boat shoes and cricket sweaters melting into some elite stampede.
Do you remember when my hand slipped out of yours, my whiplash whirl to see you? You didn’t look tragic or heroic standing in the crowd, desperate for my eye contact. I could see the stupid stain from several paces away when I flailed my arms, your eyes spotting the tips of my fingers when the chandelier snapped, cracking the ceiling and crashing in one shrill dinnerware crescendo, illuminating the pills on your sweater, the sweat in your collar, the water and wine on your madras when it fell on your head, breaking your stick-straight frame and shattering into a million glass snowflakes. Your madras bleeding both literally and figuratively when I ran to you, wailing.
The shards stuck between your curls, the hole in your head as you laid limply in a pool of blood and beer and thick static, me pushing my fingers against your neck in an attempt to feel some phantom pulse. Tangling in them was the gold chain you wore, your 14-karat Star of David dangling in the flickering lamplight. I remembered that this would all be very real in the morning, your battered body left untouched and unembalmed, placed in a pine box while our classmates slept soundly into a bright afternoon. Before the sun melted the frost beneath my bare feet, evaporated the fog lingering between the residence hall masonry, blurring ambulance light, I peeled off your jacket and slipped it over my shoulders, breathing you in between ragged sobs, my crying choke. I’m going to take a walk along Hudson Bay, my love.
Emily Murman is an eighteen-year-old writer and illustrator from Chicago’s northwest suburbs. She is currently entering her last semester at Lake Forest College and will graduate with her BA in creative writing in December 2018. She has been published in Tusitala, Collage Magazine, and Two Short Plays by Kenneth Sawyer Goodman, with forthcoming work in Okay Donkey. Emily is thrilled to be featured in Cease, Cows, especially because “Bleeding Madras” is her first published short story and is inspired by her favorite band, Vampire Weekend.
Lead image: [Untitled] (via Flickr user Randy Aquilizan)