An Afternoon with Red Evelyn by Ashleigh Houff

  • February 15, 2017
  • 12
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1st place, William Howard Taft High School
2017 Fiction Contest Winner (11th/12th Grade Division)

 

1941
It was a significantly red September. The air was unusually clear and sharp for a west coast
autumn, and it seemed like everyone’s cheeks and noses were flushed a brilliant crimson.
Though widely circulated newspapers screamed of The War that stained the world grey, seaside couples still bundled up in cheery checkered scarves, and the Kasumi family’s tomatoes were as red and ripe and bright as they’d ever been.
 
Andrew Kasumi’s color, on the other hand, made its descent into dull many months before, and it was then that he decided to direct his focus towards rosy ribbons tied to a background of blonde or the persimmon beak of a shopkeeper’s finch. Red was bright, open, bold; Andrew had always been told opposites attract.
 
It was a Thursday afternoon. The red he had dedicated a majority of his focus to was that of the small scarlet drops of his blood, blinding and sharp against the sun-bleached railing of the family produce trailer. It had dripped from a small hole in his finger left by a shard of his violin’s snapped bridge, which he had been nervously twisting between his thumb and forefinger for the better half of an hour. Kasumi was extremely anxious that he’d be unable to get a replacement before the evening’s concert. For such a thing, he would need to go to the nearest town.
 
Towns had become dangerous for Nisei like him. Citizen or not, any Japanese-American who ventured their way into the public had come to expect the steadily increasing divide between them and the rest of the residents. Kasumi was no different. His chest constricted at the very thought of it.
 
Necessity made up his mind, and, fetching a bandage and some tweezers from behind the
counter, he bid his mother farewell. She glanced up from her beginner’s English novel, her eyes narrowing at the ever-present worried wrinkle between his brows. The two let out heavy, synchronized sighs, one despondent, the other seemingly omniscient.
 
“Have courage, my son.” Gently, she pressed the wrinkle flat, brushing sable strands of his hair away as she did so. “At this point, all we can do is have courage.”
 
The violinist wandered his way into the nearest town, focusing more on the accumulation of courage than his route. Still, he arrived in front of the small brownstone shop in what seemed like no time. The music store was pleasantly empty, save for a stone-faced clerk behind the counter and a strawberry blonde beanpole rifling through bins of recognizable records. Kasumi lowered his head, lifted his shoulders, and shuffled his way into the store, round-rimmed glasses making a slow descent down the slope of his nose. It would be a quick and painless trip. He just needed a bridge.
 
He found what he was looking for quickly, the manila package crumpling slightly in his fingers as he hurriedly maneuvered his way towards the front. The man still stood behind the counter, his wedding band rapping against the glass, steady and staccato. Stone twisted into a slight scowl, and then the man spoke, his voice a low rumble. “The music shop for traitors is in the next town over, kid. We don’t serve Japs here.”
 
The air became saturated with spines of tension. He took one breath, another. “You have me mistaken, sir. I am an American.”
 
“You ain’t like any American I seen.”
 
Kasumi gripped the violin’s case tighter in a failed effort to still his shaking hands. The pool of courage in the pit of his stomach had been fast replaced with a web of fear and anger. Slowly, he moved his way out of the store, his mind a tumult of defeat. Then he was outside. He kept his pace as brisk as the air around him, slowing only when the seaside’s silence was interrupted by the cobblestone click of running shoes.
 
“Mister? Mister! Slow down a little, would you? I have the…eh, bridge you wanted,” a voice
called, breathless.
 
The retreating violinist stopped mid stride, feeling a small, familiar packet wiggle its way into his curled fingers. Keeping a loose but careful grip on the bridge he had been unable to buy himself, he turned to see the beanpole from the music store. Her short, strawberry hair was covered with a khaki cap and the sunshine in her smile was bright enough to give her a second spattering of freckles. In his eyes, she was a welcoming red. His opposite.

“I’m Evelyn,” she said, shifting the cap so its brim tilted to the hazy sky. “But you can just call me Eve. Got a name?”
 
“I should repay you,” he replied hurriedly. Though his body wanted nothing more than to go home and prepare for the concert, his upbringing told him politeness should always take priority.
 
“Okay, sure. Take me to an ice cream parlor or something. Got a name?”
 
“It’s Kasumi. Andrew Kasumi.”
 
“Well, Andrew, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” she chirped, grabbing the violinist’s calloused hand and giving it a firm shake. “Ready to go? I heard the place down the road has amazing milkshakes.”
 
He nodded his head, a single jerk downwards, and they were off.
 
The “place down the road” was closer than expected, a symphony of chrome and vinyl that
looked as if it had nestled itself in the row of shops just days ago. Everything was a glossy red and shone like new. Andrew’s eyes widened, in awe of both the scene before him and the overwhelming sense of belonging that had begun to warm his chest.
 
Eve chuckled at his look. “C’mon. Let’s find a seat.”
 
Once the two had situated themselves in a bright red booth, Kasumi was careful to move the bridge into his violin case, a silent expression of relief crossing his face. Evelyn’s smile grew wider. “Hope that comes in handy. You looked like you really needed it.”
 
Kasumi looked down, eyes unfocused. “Again, I must thank you for that. I only wish I was able to do such things by my own means.” 
  
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