The Collapsar publishes new poetry, fiction, and nonfiction every other month, and new culture writing weekly.

Red by Maggie Sullivan

  Photo by Megan Stearns


I cannot pull off red lipstick. I am not confident enough. Mom

When I was younger, I couldn’t decide what my favorite color was. I knew I liked pink, but that was too generic. All the other girls I knew liked that kind of fuchsia pink. I liked blue, purple, red, but couldn’t decide on the one color I wanted to have around me all the time. I asked my mom what her favorite color was, she said red.  I said, me too.

Mom sponge painted our old kitchen on Homewood Road vermillion red. She bought two scarlet, leather chairs for our den in Buffalo, and when there’s a fire they glow sangria red. I make sure that there is always something red in my apartment. My maroon sheets are warm and seductive and make me want to lie on them naked in the morning.

Mom had a pair of red, strappy heels in her closet when I was little. Clearly worn out, they held love affairs in the cracked persian red leather. I dreamed of wearing them when my feet grew bigger, when I would fall in love. They disappeared before that happened. I am still looking for perfect red heels to wear on the nights I go dancing with the man I have fallen in love with.

Mom chose the color of my car: red, fire hot red, fire engine red, red hot red.

Mom’s nails are usually red. Crimson red, coral red, carnelian red, or venetian red. I watched her sit at the dining room table, meticulously painting each nail stroke by stroke. They were blood and burgundy and shiny. She can pull of red lipstick.


When I felt a bump on the fourth toe of my left foot, I walked to the bathroom for my nail clippers, cut it off. Blood painted the grooves of my toe prints, left it on my clothes, on the dusty white porcelain of my sink. I saw red blood, thick and circular and sticky. When I wiped it from my skin, red still pushed through. It was demanding and loud. I have sucked on my own blood before and it was sweet on tongue, salty on skin. I have bled for unnecessary reasons: peach pits, my own fingernails, paper, when I can’t stop picking, the pavement of streets and sidewalks when I falter on my feet. I’ve found blood spotted tissues in my purse, rimmed in rust red, and I don’t know if it’s mine.

I saw my first corpse as a junior in high school. He was white and pasty, frozen, saggy skin on the cold, silver gurney. Others covered their mouths and left to breathe fresh air. I stayed still, unphased. I found him fascinating because of the science he was providing. I also found him sad because his skin was gray, his organs brown, and all of him was drained of the life and love his body had experienced. I wanted to look at his blood, more than his body, and see if I could tell the kind of life he lived.

When I was four, I remember falling through the rung of a wooden ladder at the daycare my mom owned. The jagged wood sliced the top of my knee cap off. There was a thick, sluggish trail of red rolling down my leg toward a pair of white, frilly socks inside my black patent leather Mary Jane’s. I felt coarse brown paper towels against my small leg, pushing the blood back up. My mom says this never happened. She tells me I dreamed this red dream at the “red center”.


I want a red colored wedding. I want to wear the perfect red shoes I have yet to find beneath the white dress I will wear. I want to have it in the summer. I want persimmon red accents everywhere. I want my day to be in flames. Maybe on that day I will pull off red lipstick. I want a sexy, deep red bra with matching underwear that won’t cause a wedgie on my wedding night. I want to marry alizarin red, crimson red, poppy red.


... MAGGIE SULLIVAN lives and writes in Chicago, IL. She is currently a Nonfiction MFA Candidate at Columbia College Chicago where she also works as a first-year writing instructor, the Creative Writing Department Nonfiction Events Assistant, and a Graduate Writing Consultant. She was also an Assistant Editor for South Loop Review and currently reads for Hotel Amerika. Maggie has also been published in 3Elements Review.

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