No one thinks to buy a pink house. It isn’t even all that pink. It’s just the shade of the brick-like sandstones sourced from the Kansas Flint Hills: a bumpy façade of taupe turning to mauve, burnt red fading into sand. No one brick is the same, but the overall sense when you look at the place is the peachy-pink of a 100-year-old country cottage.
In America, we call this a one-and-a-half story Tudor. We call it the dream house, where young families sprout and grandchildren come to play. I call it the Pink House, and it was ours for a little while.
Residing on a corner lot, the Pink House is detached and quaint, nestled within a generous front garden. Along its side, tall grass stretches the length of the house, cluttered with an unruly bed of rosebushes in need of some attention. There is no man to tend to these things.
Lilac bushes, thick and sweet, offer a privacy shield from the main road, and mature trees form a canopy over the sloping roof and dormer windows. The previous owners leave the gift of a rope swing, perfect for two girls, aged 6 and 9.
From the kerb, a footpath splits the large lawn in two, ushering your eye towards the front of the house where a bed of peonies settle along the front steps. They’re pink, too, but a harsh, vivid hue.
We pick the peonies for my mother every summer, and every summer we forget about the tiny ants hidden within. She pretends not to notice the journey they make from vase to kitchen counter. The perfumed-bloom is short, after all. What are a few indoor ants, anyway?
A square patch of cement doubles as a front porch surrounded by black wrought iron curves. The mailbox is iron, too, with a rusting white metal flap and two hooks jutting from underneath, waiting for tomorrow’s paper. And next to it, a painted door hosts a picture frame of glass inlaid at eye level. Clear but faceted, images beyond it’s threshold appear broken and marred.
From here, memories collide like the mishandled shuffling of a stacked deck, aces and jacks flying everywhere. Summers where the white-chipped-paint door of the Pink House never closes. Suntanned girls run in and out, swimsuits dripping, hair slicked back, voices bouncing off hardwood floors.
Our mother boasts of the original working fireplace and twenty-four wide-paned windows invading the ground floor with a glowing, warm light. Her grand piano fills a third of the living room with its mass and the whole of the house with its notes of Chopin and Debussey. We complain for lack of air conditioning, lack of cable, lack of freedom (though we’ll never be more free than we are here).
When tornadoes threaten, we hide in the hallway at the very centre of the house, perched with a tiny television. The basement is horror-movie-scary, ensuring we take our chances up top. As thunder crashes, we cower in the eerie green air.
When blizzards hit, we gather every blanket in the house and a spare mattress or two, creating a makeshift sledding hill out of the attic stairs. I bruise my tailbone in the first of many stair mishaps. We leave a mess lasting all winter long.
And when the rains come, we place buckets and bowls in what would be the formal dining room, watching with fear as rain trickles down the walls in mushroom patches. Sour-smelling plaster tumbles rudely on a linen tablecloth.
Asleep inside our Dublin semi-d, I can still feel the poky stones of the Pink House. In my dreams I walk through dust motes revealed by the sun. Thirty years are gone and I sit atop the eaves counting stars. I play with my sister in the attic; anxious kittens prick our skin with newborn claws. I swing from the trees, lilac twigs tangled in my hair.
I clear away plaster and offer my mother the dry corner of a tablecloth. Together we wipe away rainwater and tears.
I had forgotten that a friend of mine had said she might like to read this story when I shared of its inclusion in Pen to Paper, an anthology of work from a group I'm involved with. I'm republishing it in full because I can. :) This piece actually came about from a writing course I took. The assignment was merely to describe a setting in detail... I maybe went overboard.
Anyway, a few dozen or so of those books reside under my desk -- I am a very poor bookseller -- so do let me know if you'd fancy a collection of Irish short stories, poetry and prose. I promise you won't be sorry.