Seven

by Laura Pavlo

I.

I had a brother once.

He had blue eyes and yellow
hair. His favorite crayon to
use was the red-violet one
and he liked how the grass
felt between his toes in the
summertime. He slept with a
lion at night and he said he
had dreams about lions too.
His best friend’s name was
Jack and the other best friend
was me.

II.

My mom and dad drifted
away on sailboats after Lucas
died. My therapist told me it
had nothing to do with me. I
asked her if they would stay
together because of me. She
said there wasn’t an answer
she could give me, but to not
blame myself for anything.

III.

Before leaving for Lucas’s
wake I went into his room.
Every night Mom stood by
his door but never went
inside.

Legos were organized in
towns across the floor. His
soccer shirts were stacked
next to a bin of matchbox
cars that we pushed around
until there were tire-tracks all
over the carpet. His favorite
blue rocketship pajamas the
doctors let him wear in the
hospital were folded on his
dresser and next to them was
a picture of us in a cardboard
frame he decorated with
uncooked noodles. I opened
the top drawer of his dresser
and his clothes smelled like
grass and crayons. The blue
bowtie he wore to his First
Communion a few months
earlier was tucked under a
storybook. I put it in my
dress pocket and pretended
Lucas left the room with me.

IV.

At the end of the wake my
mom told me to say goodbye
to Lucas. I held my breath
and counted his freckles like
stars in my science book.
There were rings around the
scrapes on his pastel skin like
the kind in the center of a
fallen tree. I traced my
fingers across the lines on his
forehead, over his eyebrows
and along his lips to leave an
invisible map for my heart to
follow to find his face again.

V.

My mom and I do the grocery
shopping. Lucas used to
come with us too. He would
drop things into our cart
when mom wasn’t looking.
Sometimes mom would catch
a box of chocolate cereal as
the cashier swiped things
down to her, ping, ping, ping.
She’d look at Lucas and
shake her head, smiling. Only
once she asked the cashier t
o return the mint chocolate
cookies Lucas hid between
celery and wheat bread and it
was on a night my father
forgot to bring himself home
for dinner.

VI.

I cried a lot when we all
stood around the hole for his
casket. Thinking of him alone
until one of us died made me
feel like I was underwater
without the strength of a
whale’s lungs to push the
water away from closing in
on me.

VII.

After the funeral, dinner with
mom, dad and my
grandparents, and a
goodnight kiss from all of
them—but before falling
asleep—I tiptoed into
Lucas’s bedroom and closed
the door. I stared into the
blackbead eyes of his lion
and wondered if I might
forget my brother’s face as
easily as I forget my times-
tables or state capitols. If I
forget what his face looks
like, will I forget how much I
loved him? I put the lion in
the valley of his pillow and
made a slow pirouette to look
around his room. I opened a
dresser drawer and hid the
bowtie under his rocketship
pajamas. Before leaving I
promised to all of his things,
“I’ll always love him this
much.”

Laura Pavlo is a graphic designer and writer working in New York. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in English, minor in Creative Writing and a B.A. in Graphic Design. Her short stories are published in a handful of literary journals and a few pieces have won awards. She conquered James Joyce’s Ulysses twice, loves all forms of art and media, and has lived in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Dublin, Ireland. While she enjoys writing about nonfictional experiences in her acclaimed and notoriously witty Yelp reviews, she will choose fiction first, always.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Seven”?

    “Seven” was borne out of a 5,000-word short story in Molly’s mother’s 3rd person perspective. After finishing that story (entitled “Limbs”), I felt Molly couldn’t exist solely as a background character in her mother’s story—she needed a voice too. I’m fascinated by child psychology and the whimsical and innocent minds of children. The column-organized formatting of “Seven” represents the sturdiness of a child’s thoughts; as a child grows up, the columns in their mind loosen and unravel, and margins are blurred. In regards to the number seven, in many cultures throughout history the number seven inherited an assortment of symbolism: the phases of the moon, luck, Shakespeare’s “The Seven Ages of Man.” In “Seven,” Molly’s experiences both align and contradict the symbols behind the number, similar to the way a person’s life unfolds and aligns and contradicts expectations. While writing this story, the centripetal force of the story was the number seven; everything had to add up to seven. The number defined many aspects of the story, the largest being Molly’s age. Keeping the final version under 600 words was a challenge. Ultimately, the compressed word count reflected the compressed columns.
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