Organically Red

by Kate McSHANE

My brother Paul only eats red food. Think apples, cherries, tomato soup. It has to be organically red, he says. My mother tried dyeing his food but that only led to scarlet noodles down the garbage disposal, limp and sad that they couldn’t fool him. It’s been about two years of red. Before that it was round food and before that everything had to be barbequed. He’s leaving for college tomorrow and I’m a little worried.

It all started when our Dad would go on long business trips. Paul would always eat the same thing while he was gone, a strange protest that never got Dad’s attention anyway. Endless days of wheat thins with a slice of swiss cheese. He tried starving himself but it seems I got the anorexic gene and Paul got the fast metabolism. At first I tried to join him in his edible quest for Dad’s return to us but soon I grew tired of eating at all.

I eat now, if that’s what you’re wondering. Not much, but enough to get my period again and to stop my mother from placing m&ms in my mouth while I sleep.

I love Paul, I really do. I was the only one to join him for his circular Thanksgiving in ninety nine and I even helped him think of his current fixation. I suggested he pick a color and run with it. I was wearing red at the moment and I thank God every day I wasn’t wearing lavender or chartreuse.

Our parents mostly leave us alone these days. Sometimes my father will look at us with what looks like pride. I imagine him thinking, look at that Paul chomping on a radish at nine in the morning, now that’s commitment. Occasionally my father will offer me a bite of his cheesecake or tiramisu and I happily slide it off his fork. Good girl, he says although I know he is secretly happy I’m not fat like our mother.

I told Paul to pick a new obsession to kick off his collegiate career but he said he wasn’t quite finished with red yet, as if he is having a hard time quitting a lover. It does seem to suit you, I said and he smiled.

I told him I’d drive him tomorrow and he said alright, sounds good. I’m thinking I’ll stay for awhile. High school doesn’t start for three weeks and I can’t bear him eating red skittles for breakfast. I have a folder filled with recipes and I think we can sneak in a hot plate. He has a single and while the guys on his floor might mock him for having his little sister stay, they might sing a different tune when they taste my red pepper and corn enchiladas.

It doesn’t take long to pack his things and I regret yelling at him yesterday to get a move on. I forgot that boys need little to nothing to exist comfortably. All Paul really needs to survive is his wacky, wacky brain.

Take care of yourself, our mother says as she hands Paul a jar of monochromatic jellybeans. She looked old as she stood there waving from the driveway, wondering why her children were so peculiar.

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