Pink A short short story
By Sande Boritz Berger
I’m a girl, snuggled under the covers listening to the wind howling around the air conditioner my father recently installed behind my bed. When doing this, Dad had no idea that he’d blocked all chances for me to spy on Philip Burns ─ the quiet boy, next door, for whom I carry a curious fascination. No matter how often I’ve waved to him over the years, Philip never once waved back. Instead, he would peer outside his window as if he were looking into a vacant lot. I was a tree to Philip Burns, nothing more. I always wondered whose privacy he was protecting each time he yanked the plaid shade down, keeping me from studying all the sharp angles of his terribly studious face, while he sat at his desk hunched over his microscope.
A cold draft pushes through the wooden slats of my headboard, and I slip lower beneath my covers. In a few weeks, I will turn sixteen. I am really excited by this, so excited that it is hard for me to think about anything else.
Today, as a treat for my upcoming birthday, Aunt Shirl, Uncle Ray, and my cousin, Franny, are driving me to the city to see a matinee of “My Fair Lady”─ my first Broadway show. In a minute or two, I will have to drag myself out of this comfy bed and step onto the frigid linoleum floor, and head to the bathroom where the worst shower in America awaits me. It will take forever for the water to warm before I can enter the torture chamber where the pressure is like our lawn sprinklers.
My pink clock-radio reads 10 a.m., and I strain to hear the usual sounds of Sunday morning: Dad’s scratchy Mantovani records, burnt butter sizzling in the frying pan, my mother’s furry mules scuffing along the kitchen tile. But this morning I hear none of these things. What I hear instead is the sound of shattering glass, maybe a lamp breaking. This followed by my mother's shouting. I sit up in bed like a cadet obeying a command. More shouting.
I run down the hallway to peek inside my younger brothers’ bedroom. I’m greeted by the sulfurous smell of their cap guns that they fire at one another all hours of the night. But they are sound asleep on the Castro convertible they share, corduroy pillows creating a barricade between them. I move toward them checking for blood, afraid that maybe, this time, they went a little too far in their sparring.
Standing at the top of the stairs, I am afraid to breathe. If my mother is not shouting at my brothers, a common occurrence, then she must be shouting at my father, something I've never, ever, witnessed. I grip the railing and tiptoe halfway down the staircase.
"I don't believe you, Nate!" My mother screams.
"I didn't do anything, just one lousy dinner, I swear,” my father yells back. “Lenny's a liar. Maybe he slept with her, but I didn't. I can't believe you'd believe him over me.”
"Liar, don't you dare touch me." There is metal colliding, probably the stainless flatware from the breakfast table. My father's voice travels closer, so I pivot on the staircase, nearly tripping over the hem of my flannel nightgown. I walk sideways up the stairs and fly back under the covers, my heart heaving like a trapped bunny. I lay under the lump of blankets until I hear my father again.
"Sande, are you awake?" He calls out my name in a voice so unfamiliar I'm afraid there’s a robber lurking at the foot of my bed.
"Daddy, what is it?" I sit up tall, pressing into the headboard. I wish my bed would travel backwards into the wall, through the air conditioner, and out into the March wind. Without hesitating, my father throws himself face down on my bed and begins to sob. I watch him, this tall handsome man of flannel hats and pin-striped suits. He looks ridiculous surrounded by all this pink─ a color I will refuse to wear again until I'm old.
Dad’s spine moves to the rhythm of his sobs. My arm lifts. One hand stretches out in slow motion, as if testing the heat on a stove. My fingers rest on the crown of his head, and for the first time ever, I comfort him, my father, with nothing more than my touch. Not the way he has always comforted me, with clever words pointing to swift solutions.
Later that afternoon, I sit slouched in the darkened theatre with cousin Franny and her parents listening to Eliza Doolittle sing: "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?" The craziest thoughts weave in and out of my head. I imagine running onto the stage and disrupting the entire production─ taking over Eliza’s role. If I do, maybe I could stop worrying about my parents and what’s happening at home.
When I’m dropped off, later that evening, I practically jump from the car, giving no one the chance to escort me to the door. I’d mentioned earlier that my mother had a bad cold. Somehow I know that what I’d heard in my house, this morning, is nobody’s business. While this leaves me feeling like a brick is pressed against my chest, I know it is part of acting mature what it means to be sixteen.
The front door has been left open for me, and when I enter, I’m surprised to find my father reading the newspaper in the living room. Except when there's company, no one sits on the plastic, slip-covered couch in our living room. My father doesn't look at me, the paper shielding his eyes from the intensity of my gaze.
"How was the show?" he asks in a dull monotone.
"Great, really great, so where's Mom?" I'm out of breath, and have to pee badly, but I don’t want to miss anything.
"Honey, she’s home," Dad yells down the hall. I can hear my brothers' feet stomping upstairs, above my head. A sound so normal I almost burst out crying. My mother opens the door to her bedroom, and steps into the mauve light of the hallway. She is dressed in a silky robe, and her hair is brushed back behind her ears. Her face is flushed, and her bow lips look full and puffy, as if from too much kissing.
"Good?" she asks.
"Yes, very." I answer without coming closer. I glance over my shoulder to my father, who lowers his newspaper to look at my mother while she addresses me.
"Hungry?” she asks, smiling.
I shake my head no, look back at her, then at Dad, once again playing some strange new version of "Monkey in the Middle."
I am hardly sixteen. I am more like a desperate child hoping to catch a look, anything, to say I shouldn’t worry, that everything will be okay.
Later that night, wrapped in a cocoon of covers, I cry for what seems like hours. No matter how hard I try, I can’t fall asleep. I stand up on my bed and gaze toward Philip Burn’s bedroom window, but thanks to Dad’s patchwork carpentry all I see are splinters of orange light. That’s when I decide to ask God to make a visit to my room. I give him what I believe is a very fine choice. He can either rest on the edge of my canopy bed or take a seat at my pretty new desk. The one my parents painted, together, last summer, in a very pale shade called seashell pink.