Colors You Keep Home
On the days when Mom looks like roughage, she doesn’t go to the office. I turn seven slow circles on the red kitchen stool as she cradles the cell phone and speaks in her outside voice, the one with ridged fence edges. I spin and spin and ask what happened.
Mom says she called in Nauseated. She closes the phone and says certain colors are not attractive in public. Some colors you don’t want to get caught wearing.
When I ask what color she’s wearing, she blows up her bangs, says: Eggplant. We giggle at the funny color name, the silly vegetable. Mom tucks me close and rubs her lips across my forehead. I know when to laugh and not to cry. I know the colors you keep home.
When the field around her eyes turns gray and yellow car-melted crayon, Mom says it’s Squash. One ought never parade Squash in public. She calls in to report car problems. Colors you keep home don’t wash off with soap and water. Like when you dye your hair the wrong shade and get stuck warm blonde, actually orange.
I sit on the couch and watch fancy ladies kiss serious hunks on television. Mom doesn’t have a car because she doesn’t have two jobs because she doesn’t have time to do both. One is chase her dreams. Two is be a good mother.
She finds time to buy me a bright orange kite instead. We fly it from the back porch, away from busy street. Bus stops are not safe they have Daddies. Mom has an order against Daddy but it’s only paper and not police so anything can happen.
Mom knows magic and miracles. She’s seen mermaids and lightning strike a tractor in a field. She doesn’t trust paper because Eggplant and Squash. For a year, she kept a collection of papers called Coupons. But paper isn’t money though money feels like paper. In a hand. Crumpled.
At the mall, ladies in tall heels and tiny curls stand in booths. They ask if Mom wants a Make-Over.
Mom squeezes my hand tight like it’s windy and we might blow away. She says no thank you. She says no thanks. The handsome man in the police uniform is her personal make-up artist. On the weekends, he is Daddy. Mom says it’s a secret. I curl my pinky, fist my face, imagine being as strong as the giant dam down the road that holds back the lake where I learned how to swim.
About the writer:
Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with her partner and four small mammals. A Pushcart nominee, she is the author of Objects In Vases (Anchor & Plume, March 2016), Letters to Arthur (Beard of Bees, August 2016), and Ipokimen (Anchor and Plume, November 2016). Her first fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the 2016 Brighthorse Books Prize. Currently, she is serving as President of the Alabama State Poetry Society and doing readings for her poetry collection, Stories to Read Aloud to Your Fetus (Finishing Line Press, October 2017).
Image: “Sunlit Glint” by Susan McCollum. Mixed media construction. Susan_mccollum_art