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Authors: Dasha Kelly

Almost Crimson

BOOK: Almost Crimson
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“Dasha Kelly writes with equal parts sweetness and sadness about being a human. She writes about girls and women, family, friendship, and aching love.
Almost Crimson
offers a full teacup of emotions, past and present, delicately balanced on a wildly beating heart. This author, this novel–blessings to readers and storytellers alike.”

Leesa Cross-Smith
, author of
Every Kiss a War


“Dasha Kelly's
Almost Crimson
is a beautiful, poignant account of many lives, tremendous intersections, journeys to wholeness, and an exploration of love and community. This book rightly deserves a place alongside the works of Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Toni Cade Bambara.”

Samuel Thompson
, nationally-acclaimed

Afro-Classical violinist


“Dasha Kelly's novel
Almost Crimson
is almost perfect, its structural genius rivaled only by the depth and complexity of its characterizations, the candor and frequent beauty of its understated yet direct prose style, the simultaneous plausibility and unpredictability of its plot, and the importance of its message of survival, perseverance, and ultimate transcendence.”

Paul McComas
, Midwest Book Award-winning author of
Planet of the Dates
, and


“Dasha Kelly's
Almost Crimson
is a debut of rare power and grace. Beautifully written, moving, and wonderfully paced. This book is a must read.”

Rob Roberge
, musician and author of
The Cost of Living


Almost Crimson
is what happens when a storyteller with the deft skills of a glassblower takes something as normal as words and transforms them into intricate works of art. Dasha Kelly has spun a vivid and timeless treasure, as only few writers can do.”

Freddie Gutierrez
, screenwriter for MGM,

Nickelodeon and Warner Brothers


“This book drew me in with increasing power. I couldn't put it down. It's a story of survival and redemption, offering a spark of hope and poetic justice for all the kids that raise themselves from neglect and isolation, and those who dare to reach out with encouragement and generosity. Dasha enchants and ensnares the reader with wry wit, lush imagery, and measured cadence of a true storyteller.”

Asia Freeman
, Executive/Artistic Director of Alaska's

award-winning Bunnell Street Art Center


“Readers cannot help but root for CeCe as she struggles, hiding her pain behind grim determination and a strong habit of just putting one foot in front of another—walking onwards and upwards to new beginnings. Thumbs up to Dasha on this tour de force, coming-of-age novel! ”

Kimberly Graba
, librarian,

Wisconsin Department of Corrections


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except in the case of short passages quoted in reviews.


The stories contained herein are works of fiction. All incidents, situations, institutions, governments, and people are fictional and any similarity to characters or persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.


Published by Curbside Splendor Publishing, Inc., Chicago, Illinois in


First Edition

Copyright ©
by Dasha Kelly

Library of Congress Control Number:


ISBN 978-1940430485

Edited by Karen Craigo

Designed by Alban Fischer

Cover artwork by Mary Osmundsen


Manufactured in the United States of America.


for BabyCakes and SugarBug





CECE FELT HER HIP BUZZ. It was the third call. She knew her mother would start picking at that damn finger if she didn't answer one of these calls soon. The last infection was gruesome, and CeCe didn't want to deal with it again.

CeCe and her small team of coworkers stood in a carpeted intersection of their office suite holding what their boss called a flash-forward. According to him, the stand-up, bare-bones briefings saved them all from nearly four hours of bloated conference room meetings each week.

CeCe tugged at her purse strap as her hip vibrated again. She wanted to abandon this circle and escape into the elevator behind them, through the lobby, and into the downstairs diner. She needed to call her mother, and she needed a slice of cake. Now.

CeCe shifted her weight and tried to will a coworker into silence as she unwound a tangled ramble about missed calls, transposed numbers, keynote speaker contracts, and water chestnuts. CeCe tried to make eye contact with her boss to flash her impatience and annoyance. The blathering coworker was young and new and eager to counter every reality these truths might hold.

“Maybe we check out his booking fees through a different agency?” CeCe said, realizing no one was going to stop this child from speaking. Her boss was usually good at shepherding their small, nine-person team. He was being far too generous today, CeCe decided. “That way, we're on his calendar but not locked in to such a crazy high quote. Good thing you pulled those numbers early.”

The young associate beamed, nodded and was quiet. The group dismissed and CeCe slipped into the elevator. She waved to the pair of security men as she walked the expansive lobby, breezed through the open doors of the Golden Goose diner, and headed toward a booth in the back. CeCe sat down and pried away her shoes. Beneath the table, she wiggled her toes.

“Heya, CeCe,” her waitress, Misha, said from behind the counter. She wore long braid extensions this month, and her signature brilliant red lip gloss, which had too much blue undertone for her complexion. CeCe had tried lobbing cosmetic tips at Misha when she first started working in the building. Much of the advice had been new for CeCe then, too. She'd been eager to evangelize. Misha would always respond with enthusiasm and conviction. Four years later, Misha still sported homegrown experiments of quick weave, color streaks, iridescent makeup powders, and elaborately decorated nails. Like any new convert, CeCe got over herself and her newfound style scriptures and embraced Misha's good nature, red gloss and all.

“I'm good, Misha,” CeCe said as her cell phone rang again. She pressed the talk button and spoke into the phone. “Yes, how are you?”

As Misha poured a cup of coffee, CeCe mouthed her order. Cake. CeCe counted on an extra thick slice.

“I know, Mama. I was in a meeting,” CeCe said into the phone, digging in the small tray of sugar packets. “I'm sorry you worried.”

CeCe emptied two packets and stirred while her mother recounted highlights from her news programs. She had taken to calling CeCe with leading stories or curious statistics, in case the news of Prescott Public School closings, council meeting decisions, or book reviews might prove helpful in CeCe's work at the management consulting firm. CeCe often reminded her mother there were televisions at the office, but she remained undeterred. CeCe's best friend, Pam, had once pointed out that atonement arrives in many forms.

“Yeah, even Spencer voted for it,” CeCe said into the phone, pointing and nodding as Misha stood near the cake domes waving her hand above the pound cake like a model from
The Price Is Right.

CeCe's mother was asking if she was busy after work.

“What do you need?” CeCe said, and mouthed a “thank you” as Misha placed the cake in front of her.

CeCe switched the phone to her other ear, picking up her fork. Her mother was talking about the new knitting class. Or was it crochet? CeCe used her tongue to flatten the bites of cake against the roof of her mouth. She didn't suckle the rich flavor. She let them rest, feeling the sweetness of indulgence ink into her.

“It's fine, Mama,” CeCe said, sipping her coffee. She approached the golden edges of the cake, her favorite part. “Yes. It's fine. I'll get it. Yes. Don't worry about it. OK. I'll see you later. Yes. Bye.”

CeCe disconnected the call and tucked the phone back into her purse pouch.

“Whatchu goin' to get?” Misha teased as she refilled CeCe's coffee cup. “Something sexy for yo' motorcycle man?”

CeCe snorted at the mention of the bike, and gave a theatrical sigh. “Nah, my mother needs green yarn.”

Misha raised her dramatic penciled eyebrow. “Yarn?”

CeCe shrugged. “If green yarn will keep her off the ledge this week, then I need to get the woman green yarn. Everybody wins.”

Misha laughed. CeCe ate her cake.





AS A SMALL GIRL, CRIMSON would walk herself around the apartment, muttering rhyming words for the things she could name. Crimson, or CeCe, liked the way the letters sounded against each other,
couch . . . ouch . . . bed . . . head . . . key . . . see . . .

Rhyming words. Mrs. Castellanos taught her the rhyme game, and they played it in the courtyard all the time. CeCe wondered if her mother knew about rhyming words. CeCe had learned a lot of things from Mrs. Castellanos that her mother didn't know, like the alphabet song, the Berenstain Bears, and gingersnaps. CeCe had rushed inside one day to tell Mama about the rainbow color no one could see.

“If they can't see it, how do they know it's there?” CeCe had asked.

CeCe's mother, Carla, sat in their kitchen with lake-water eyes fixed on the table. She nudged her left shoulder into a weak shrug.

“They just do, CrimsonBaby,” her mother said.

CeCe couldn't remember when her mother became too weak to carry anything but tears. When the Sad started to come, pressing her mother to their bed, her mama cried slick, silent tears for a long, long time. Longer than a game of hopscotch. Longer than singing the alphabet in her head five times. Longer than a nap, even. The Sad made her mother cry all the time.

CeCe wasn't big enough to pry the Sad away from her mama. Instead, she started to remember for them. After the building manager lady fussed at Mama about their overstuffed mailbox, CeCe remembered to pull the letters every day, even though Mama seldom opened them. When she snapped the last roll of toilet paper on its rod, CeCe remembered to pull the bills with the 20s on them from the bed stand and tuck them in her shoe for her walk to the store. When CeCe could see the Baker family through their apartment window leaving in their dress-up clothes, CeCe remembered to gather Mama's underwear with hers and cover them with soap bubbles in the bathtub.

CeCe remembered to make sandwiches and open cans of fruit cocktail for lunch; she snapped rubber bands and barrettes around thick handfuls of her hair; she whisked their floor with the broom; she sniffed the milk; she wiped the dishes; and she arranged her small troop of dolls into their corner each night. 

CeCe's mother was slender with elfin features, to include a spray of cinnamon freckles across her light brown skin. She was not an animated woman by nature, but her density filled the house. When her mother was filled with air and words and winking, CeCe loved the way everything about her mother would soften. There were still exceptional days, like today, when her mother tickled and ate sandwiches with her. CeCe didn't hope for those days anymore, though. Hoping made her ache on the inside of her skin.

“I think there's extra sunshine out there today,” her mother said, pulling her hair into its usual ponytail. “Let's go outside to get some!”

CeCe hadn't noticed any extra sun, but nodded in agreement anyway. She watched her mother at first. Ever since the flowers started to push up from the ground in the courtyard, her mother's light might only last a few minutes, instead of the whole morning. Definitely not the whole day anymore. Sometimes, her mother wouldn't last for a whole game of jacks.

CeCe counted to a hundred, listening to her mother chatter while she floated about the apartment—bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, kitchen again. When she reached 101 and her mother was dressed in jeans and a button-down, CeCe allowed the giggles to spread down her elbows and knees. She kept smiling as her mother snapped two Afro puff ponytails on the top of CeCe's head.

They decided to drag their two kitchen chairs out onto the porch slab to eat Cheerios with 
 sugar. They watched the sun pull itself above the wall of their apartment complex. The residential building had been converted from a senior citizen community to low-income housing the year before CeCe was born. Some of the elderly residents remained, like Mrs. Castellanos, the second-floor widow who befriended CeCe. Most of the residents were young veterans, some with wives and preteens, some with screaming girlfriends, and many with only bottles and brown paper bags. 

The building was fashioned like an old motel, an open rectangle lined with all their front doors. CeCe had counted twenty-four doors on the first floor one day and twenty-four doors on the second floor. She knew a little something about the households behind every door. For some, she could peek past their curtained windows when she walked her imaginary pet dragon or chased a toy. Others she observed from their porch slab or the window. 

CeCe didn't know most of their neighbors' names, but she recognized all of their faces. Sometimes, the grown-ups said hello to her when they passed, but most had learned she would only reply with a stiff wave. She would have asked their names, but they were strangers. Speaking to them wasn't allowed. Waving, on the other hand, was different. 

Her feet swinging beneath her chair, CeCe scooped her cereal and listened to her mother coo about fresh starts and bright beginnings and healing wounds and buried shadows and such. CeCe didn't know what these words would look like, but her mother had been waiting for them to show up for a long time. She was about to turn up her cereal bowl and drink down the sweetened milk when her mother took the bowl from her hands and declared they were going to pick some flowers along the courtyard square.

“You walk that way, and I'll walk this way,” her mother said, standing. 

Between watching her mother flit along the other side of the courtyard and searching the sidewalk cracks for flowers Mama called “Danny Lions,” CeCe hadn't noticed one of their neighbors waving through the window. Mr. Big Mole on His Chin tapped on his windowpane to get her attention. CeCe liked Mr. Big Mole. He had thick auburn sideburns, sparkly eyeglasses, and the coolest bellbottom colors ever. CeCe thought there must be music playing inside his head when he walked, the way he bounced and bumped along their walkway. He didn't have children, but he did have a girlfriend who wore earrings so big, CeCe imagined them as Hula-Hoops. CeCe saw them kissing all the time. 

Mr. Big Mole had his thumbs tucked under his armpits, flapping in a funky chicken dance. CeCe burst into tickles of laughter. CeCe looked over to see if her mother was laughing, too. She had rounded her second corner in the courtyard and was moving toward her daughter. Her eyes were cast to the ground, but it didn't look to CeCe like she was looking for flowers anymore. As CeCe got closer, she could see the light in her mother's face being consumed, once again, by textured shadows. When their eyes met, CeCe saw no trace of the smile that had greeted her an hour earlier. 

The inside of CeCe's skin began to hurt again and the small clutch of “Danny Lions” seemed woefully misplaced inside her hand.

“Let's go inside now, CrimsonBaby,” her mother said. As CeCe took her mother's hand, she looked over her shoulder to wave good-bye to Mr. Big Mole. He waved back, but his smile and funky chicken were gone.

While CeCe placed her clutch of dandelions into a small a Dixie Cup filled with tap water, her mother retreated to their room. CeCe could hear the mattress groan its familiar embrace while she put away the kitchen stepstool. CeCe brought in their chairs, rinsed and put away their cereal bowls, played with her toys, made lunch, walked her dragon, and came back inside to settle herself on the couch with one of the picture books Mrs. Castellanos had given her. CeCe fell asleep there. When she awoke from her nap, CeCe saw her mother next to her, folded into their old armchair with damp knots of tissue scattered around her like spent bullets.

CeCe said nothing, just rose from the couch to wrap her small arms around her mother's neck. Her mother didn't respond to her tight embrace. She never did. Not this version of her mother. CeCe kissed her mother's hair and went into the kitchen. She began her evening ritual of dragging one of the kitchen chairs to the fridge, reaching into the freezer for two frozen dinners, and climbing down to spin the oven dial to 4-2-5. Pushing the chair back to the table, CeCe noticed tufts of yellow winking at her from the garbage can. CeCe's skinned ached again. There was their sunshine morning, tossed in the trash.

Sitting at the table, CeCe finished her dinner while her mother picked absently at the plate compartments. Her mother had begun eating less and less.

“Why were you sad today, Mama?”

“I just am, CrimsonBaby. I just am.”

BOOK: Almost Crimson
5.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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