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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Shades Of Flamingo

 

by Nancy Stebbins

 

  

  

After school, Marta cleans erasers for her teacher. When she bangs them together, they release puffs of white dust. They sound like gloved hands clapping. She picks up bits of paper from the classroom floor, and all the while she talks. She wants to say, My mother wears lipstick the color of flamingos. She wears shoes like stepladders and underwear transparent as rain water.

 

"My mother got married," she says.

 

"You have a new father. How nice." The teacher pulls a pair of mittens from the desk drawer. She leans forward, says to Marta, "Let's go home, okay?" The words sound so cheery that, for a moment, the girl believes they are an invitation. Her teacher has one mitten on already.

 

Marta wants to say, Sometimes the two of them get so twisted up together, I think they won't be able to untie themselves. She drops some scraps into the trashcan and says, "His name is Frank. That's what I call him--just Frank. But my mother calls him, 'Oh, Frank! Oh, Frank!'"

 

"Oh…Frank…yes." The teacher flicks the tab on the wall map and the world rolls up on itself, disappears.

 

Marta stares at her. "Sometimes she calls him 'Oh, Frank, yes!' How did you know?"

 

At home, the overflowing ashtray looks like a papery millipede, but up close Marta can see that some of the cigarette butts are flamingo-stained, others are bare. A fine spray of talcum powder has settled on the floor and the cat has tracked a path to her mother's bedroom. Two sets of shoe prints lead to the room, but only the cat's retreat again. She wonders how long the creature waited outside the closed door.

  

      ***

 

Marta meets a man named Fred at the university. The two of them share secrets, spend nights, eat breakfast on top of his bedspread, which is the color of an April sky. He brings her pink carnations. She puts them in the crystal vase that was left behind when her mother moved with Frank to Florida.

 

Marta's roommate says, "I never see you anymore."

 

Fred wants children, lots of children. Four, five, six. "The more, the merrier."

  

Marta wants to be merry. The promise of it makes her blush. She says, "Oh, Fred! Oh, Fred!"

 

      ***

 

Marta lowers the lid of the ancient copier. The machine whirrs, and a square of light flashes at the edges. Page by black-and-white page, duplicates are born. A coworker sticks her head into the room. She is wearing coat, hat, scarf. "Time to go home, Marta." 

 

"Just a few more things to do," Marta says.

 

Another half an hour, and she slips into her trench coat and ties it at the waist. The sky is a slab of gray marble. On the highway, a hot pink car pulls in front of her. Through the misted windshield of her Pontiac, its color seems to bleed like chalk on a wet sidewalk.

 

She lets herself into the house, takes off her coat, parks the umbrella. She peeks into the family room, holding her breath. On the couch, her children and her husband lounge tangled like so many otters, watching television. Here a green sleeve, there a red canvas tennie.

 

She says, "I'm home."

 

Four pairs of eyes flicker briefly in her direction then turn back to the television.

 

"Can we stay up late tonight?" the youngest child asks Fred.

 

"To bed with you this instant," Fred teases.

 

The child pleads, "But it's Friday."

 

"How merry," Marta whispers. She steps onto the back porch and tucks a stick of spearmint gum into her mouth. The cat, which has been absent for three nights, crosses the yard towards her. He's missing tufts of fur. The mockingbirds in his path take flight, their wings softly clapping.