My Goddamn Pink House
by Kaya Dierks
I live smack-dab in the middle of Nowhere, Ohio: twelve square miles of bobbing rooftops
and soggy fold-up lawn chairs wrapped in sticky ribbons of interstate. My town’s like a city
stretched and pulled into distortion — houses and trailers dotted across an endless highway.
It’s a place made of tar roadways, hot and tacky like bad black licorice. Of rusty bitter water
and grimy plastic garden gnomes. Greasy windows, crinkled metal. Fried chicken that comes in a
Ohio’s like molasses — syrupy, slow. People just get stuck.
“Eddie,” Kimberley calls. “Get plates.”
She’s making breakfast, smearing floppy bacon around in fat and flipping doughy pancakes.
Her cigarette dangles out of the corner of her mouth, smoke curling into her hair.
Kimberley’s my sister. She’s nineteen, and she’s the one who remembers to buy the toilet
paper. She works at the Payless, tucking scattered shoes into mashed cardboard boxes.
“We’re out of plates,” Edward says, stealing a bag of chips. “And you shouldn’t smoke
“Ed, you can’t eat crap and then talk about health.”
My brother’s full name is Edward John George Baker — you know, like a bunch of British
kings mashed together. He’s frumpy and kind of chubby and a huge pushover, and the only
resemblance I see to royalty is that he sometimes stutters like George VI. But Kimberley says the
name fits him. He’s going to get out of here.
“Taylor, have some eggs.” Kimberley flops scrambled eggs into a pink plastic cup. “We’re out
of plates. Get a fork from the bin.”
“I don’t want any eggs.” Taylor rubs her lips together, coating them in matte pink. She checks
her reflection in a spoon.
“Eat the eggs.”
Taylor’s the youngest. She just got platform heels and she’s been hobbling around all summer.
Like she doesn’t know how to use her legs.
“Kathy,” Kimberley says to me. “Take a plate to Momma.”
And then there’s me — Kathy. Katherine. I’m the kind of girl you forget about. I’ve got
straight brown hair and sun-stained reddish freckled skin, little nicks littered across my forehead
from where I’ve picked at my pimples. I’m tallish and steal Edward’s oversized Star Wars
t-shirts because they hide my breasts. And I like Fritos.
“Kath,” Kimberley nudges me. “The plate.”
“Make Edward do it,” I say.
“Hey, I thought we didn’t have any more plates,” Taylor whines, a piece of egg stuck to the
corner of her mouth. “I ate dinner on a Tupperware lid.”
“It’s for Momma,” Kimberley shrugs.
“You’re stupid,” Taylor huffs. “Look, you even gave her the best bacon.”
“Taylor…” Edward sighs, picking up Momma’s plate.
“It’s not like she’ll even look at it,” I snort.
“C’mon, Kath. Shut up.”
With my Momma, there’s no nice way to put it: She’s been dead for five years.
As in, she’s still here. Still fat and meat and bone, still blood and flesh. Heart still jumping in
her ribcage, fluttering in her wrists, creaking in her chest. Still made of muscles shifting under
skin and sour breath.
But trust me. She’s not alive.
“Let’s paint again today,” Kimberley decides.
“It’s dry?” I sigh.
The painting thing is Kimberley’s project. Momma loves flamingoes, so Kimberley has been
repainting the whole house pink. Not a blush pink, either, but this bright fluorescent color that
looks like highlighter barf.
I don’t really get it. Like, a neon house.
“Make Edward do it.” I rub my sweaty palms down my jeans.
“Alright, alright. I’m coming.”
Kimberley peels open tubs of gloss hot fuchsia. The paint’s the cheap stuff, moldy and
clumpy. It smells of sour milk and hand sanitizer mixed into a soggy puddle.
I smear the paint onto the roller, then glop it over the wood. In a few hours, the surface will
fracture, gloss crinkling like aluminum foil. The paint keeps bubbling and peeling, cracking over
the wood, so we keep having to start over. But Kimberley doesn’t care. She rolls her paint on
smooth, covering the splintering edges.
“Oh, get over it.”
On Sunday, Kimberley decides to go out and get a Denny’s steak for Momma. It’s thick and
reeks of butter and blood. It’s even got a little lump of potatoes sitting on the side. Kimberley
pays for it with her last, crinkled, ten dollar bill.
“Taylor, take it to Momma,” Kimberley says, pressing the styrofoam box into Taylor’s hands.
“She likes you best, God knows why.”
Taylor walks up to Momma’s door, resting her fingers over the brass knob. Pauses.
“I don’t know,” she whispers.
“Go on,” Edward says. “It’s alright.”
She pushes the door open. The hinges whine. Momma’s laying on the bed, turned away. I can
count the brittle knobs of her spine through t-shirt. The television is on mute, pixelated screen
flat and flashy. The images flutter like butterflies over Momma’s glassy, open eyes. Yesterday’s
breakfast sits on her bedside, cold, the bacon soggy from congealed fat.
Momma’s so thin that her bones look two sizes too big, her delicate skin barely stretched over
her skeleton. Her shoulder blades are sharp under her shirt, prominent like angel’s wings. Her
eyes bulge like grapes, too fat for her starved skull. It’s like her insides have been scooped out,
and she’s just left as a shell, a carcass.
Taylor strokes a greasy clump of hair from Momma’s face, her fingers gentle. I’m careful to
breathe. Like Momma could just blow away. I squeeze at the fat of Edward’s arm, digging my
nails in, feeling his tendons pop over his bones as he squirms. I can feel his pulse shuttering
under my fingers, alive.
“Ouch, Kath,” he whispers.
“Hey, Momma,” Taylor says, laying a hand on her bony shoulder. “We’ve got some food.”
“Is that my Miracle?” Momma’s voice is rusty and wispy, broken. “Taylor, Taylor.”
“Momma, eat,” Taylor places the styrofoam package in her hands. “You must be hungry.”
“Oh, my little Miracle. You know you’re Momma’s little Miracle? Yes, you are. My Taylor.”
“Momma, please. We got this for you. Denny’s. Please. You loved steak.”
“Know why? Because — everyone said that — that it wasn’t possible. That I was too old. And
I said, I said to your Daddy, ‘Let’s hope for a miracle.’ And here you are.” Momma pets Taylor’s
hair, her knuckles swollen yet boney. “Taylor.”
“Momma, please eat,” Taylor whispers, forcing a fork into Momma’s limp hand. Momma’s
muscles are like uncooked dough, the fork flopping through her fingers. “Eat.”
“Taylor, when you were born, your Daddy said, ‘Oh, Suzanna, it’s a God-Damn Miracle
baby.’ Jus’ like that, a God-Damn Miracle. Oh, Taylor,” she sighs. “I miss your Daddy, I do. But
he’ll be back — he’ll be back, see, because he needs to see his Miracle Baby. He just has to.
He’ll come back in no time, see, because a Daddy like that, he just can’t – won’t ever leave
without seeing his little God-Damn Miracle.”
“Please, Momma. Just a bite.” But Momma’s gone now. “Please, for me.”
“Your Daddy’s just a little lost, but he’s searching for his home. Right by his Taylor.”
Momma smiles, her chapped lips cracking. “He’ll come back! I know it, he’ll come!” Momma
squeezes Taylor’s knuckles together until they turn white. “Promise me, God-Damn-Miracle,
promise that you’ll stay until he comes! You gotta — because he’s commin’ for you!”
“Don’t worry, Momma, I’m not going to leave,” Taylor mumbles, dropping the fork and
slumping. She places the food on Momma’s bedside table, sighing. “We’re not going anywhere.”
It’s hot outside, the summer fat and heavy. The heat seeps into my joints, curls in my lungs,
presses into my skin. The air hangs, unmoving, thick as cheesecake. I’m stuck painting again,
drops of sweat rolling between my breasts. Sunburn is splashed over Kimberley’s nose and neck.
We’ve only done a little bit of the painting, and have been covering the wood in random
rectangular patches, so our house looks like it’s wrapped in a strange sort of pink quilt.
Kimberley’s next to me, half-dried paint peeling off her hand. My Dr. Pepper is sweating in my
hand, tears of water condensing on the can’s sides.
“Hey, Kimberley?” I ask. “Why are we doing this?”
“Because.” She puffs on her cigarette. “I want a goddamn pink house.”
“Momma won’t ever see it, you know.”
“Shut up and paint, Kath.”
Kimberley struggles with her lighter, her hands fumbling over the catch. Her fingers slip once,
“Here,” Edward says. His fingers are sure as flicks the switch. He presses the dancing flame to
her dangling cigarette. Kimberley puffs lazily.
He sighs. “You should quit.”
She blows smoke in his face. “Shut up, Eddie.”
“He’s right,” I whisper. “He just doesn’t want you to die, Kimberley.”
“I’m not going to die,” Kimberley huffs, shifting her weight. “Smoking can’t take me down.”
Kimberley started smoking when Dad left. She went out for a bit and came back with mint
toothpaste and a pack of Camels. I don’t know who’d sell cigarettes to a fifteen year old wearing
a frayed Bobcats baseball cap and cherry flavored drugstore lipgloss.
“Kimberley, would you ever let me smoke?” Edward asks, quiet. Kimberley chuckles,
scuffing her shoe against the ground. “I’m serious.”
“No,” Kimberley says, crossing her arms.
“So why? Tell me. Why are you—” Edward exhales, shaky. “Just tell me.”
“Because,” Kimberley says.
“I might as well live my life how I want to,” Kimberley says, staring at the half-pink house.
Her eyes are glassy, shaded.
“You want to die? Just go one random day?”
“What does it matter?” Kimberley chuckles weakly. “I don’t have a future.”
“Kimberley, that’s.” Edward sighs, running a hand through his hair. “That’s not. True.”
“Oh, Ed,” Kimberley breathes. She smiles. Tiny, sad. “You’re so sweet, you know that?” She
takes a last puff, smoke curling artfully over her ears. She grinds the smoking butt into the
ground with the tip of her sneaker. “So goddamn sweet.” She flips open her pack, pulls out a
fresh cigarette. Sticks it between her lips. “Now give me a light, would you?”
I just stare at her. She’s got straight brown-blonde hair, her skin tanned to a permanent,
crinkled crimson. Eyes a hazel like confused mud. There’s a gap between her two front teeth, big
enough you could slide a penny through it.
Dad was going to have it fixed for her.
“Any year now,” Kimberley says.
I grip the lighter, flick it. Watch the little flame flicker in the crisp sunset air. Press it to
Kimberley’s cigarette. She inhales, long, holding for a few seconds before slowly exhaling, eyes
pressed shut. Smoke drifts between her lips like a whisper.
Today the paint is like mucous — sticky, clumpy, runny. Kimberley clamps down on the
cigarette between her teeth and sucks in.
“Kath,” she breathes, looking up and squinting. “We’re almost halfway.”
I look up. The pink is practically radioactive puke: It’s hideous.
“Yeah. I guess we are,” I say.
Kimberley traces the paint, where the gloss shell is splintering. “Momma’s gonna love it.”
“You think so?” I stare at the dripping paint. “You really think she’s gonna come out here and
“Kath, I don’t just think.” Kimberley exhales long, smoke drifting out of her mouth and
resting in the hot air. She grins. Sincere and small. “God, I know so.”
Momma is getting worse, and nobody knows what to do.
Kimberley brings the food in today. She opens the door, holding a floppy styrofoam takeout
steak. Momma just stares right through her, like she isn’t even there.
“Momma,” she whispers. “It’s time to eat.”
“Is that my Miracle?” Momma asks, unmoving. “Taylor?”
“No, Momma, it’s me,” Kimberley says, shifting closer to her. “Kimberley.”
“No, Taylor’s in her room.”
“Oh.” She pauses, then stares at Kimberley, eyes milky. “My Taylor.”
“Kimberley,” Kimberley corrects. She opens the takeout box and unfolds the napkin, placing it
on Momma’s lap. She presses a plastic fork into Momma’s fist. “Eat.”
“My Taylor,” Momma says. “My miracle.” She pets Kimberley’s boney hand, empty eyes
staring into the paint of the wall.
“Momma, I’m Kimberley,” Kimberley argues, voice strained. “Kimberley. Not Taylor.
“Everyone said that — that it wasn’t possible,” Momma mutters. “That I was too old. And I
said, I said to your Daddy, ‘Let’s hope for a miracle.’ And here you are. My Taylor.”
Kimberley sighs, closing the takeout box. She pauses, pressing her eyes shut.
“I know, Momma,” she whispers, defeated. “I know.”
It happens on a Saturday.
I get home from my shift at Happy Joe’s, apron hanging off my neck, greasy bag of takeout in
my hands. I push the door open and shuffle through.
“Kath?” Taylor asks, looking up from her homework. “Do you have food?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Here.” I slide a soggy burger over, slouching into a seat. We sit, chewing in
“Death of a Salesman,” Taylor announces, “has got to be the stupidest thing ever written.”
“Yeah, maybe.” I steal one of her fries.
“Like, a dude just offs himself. It’s plain stupid.”
“Sometimes stuff isn’t supposed to make sense. That’s just life.”
Taylor stares at me, Coke halfway to her lips.
“You know what, Kath?” She frowns. “You’re pretty smart, for a stupid person.”
“Shut up, Taylor.” I grin at her. “Take some of this to Momma, okay? ”
“Fine.” She grabs the bag and walks down the hallway. I hear the door creak open. And then
— a shriek, raw and red, terrified.
“Taylor?” I ask, jogging towards Momma’s room, pushing open the door. “Taylor? Taylor,
what’s happen—Oh, God.”
“Kath,” Taylor’s eyes are red. “Kath — she’s. She’s —”
The funeral is small. We stand under a blue tarp tent, priest sweating in his robes and
scratching his stiff collar. A dog won’t stop barking.
Momma rests in a coffin, her broken body contorted, pained features smoothed over by
foundation. She’s like a doll, painted, primped, posed. I imagine her body under the layers of
deodorant: muscles exhaling, fat liquidizing, heart rotting.
It’s over quickly. That’s because it was cheap.
“Should’ve gotten insurance,” the priest jokes.
Once we get home, I steal Kimberly’s box of cigarettes. I tap one out onto my palm and stare
at it: a little paper worm stuffed with sticky tobacco. I roll it between my fingers, then slip it
between my lips, my hands shaking.
“Give me a light, would you?” I stand opposite of Kimberly, the cigarette dangling on the
edge of my mouth.
Kimberley walks up to me and flicks her lighter on. She pauses.
“Your teeth will get really nasty, you know,” she says.
I inhale deep, the sharp smoke curving into my throat and burning. I exhale, smoke spiraling. I
watch it curl into the air, then vanish.
After the service, Kimberley pulls out the paint.
“We,” she huffs. “We are going to paint this house pink, goddammit.”
It takes hours. We glop clumps of paint onto walls, windows, jeans. Kimberley climbs onto
the roof and almost falls off. Edward picks at his fingers until they bleed. Taylor cries silently,
And then the house is done. We stand on the street and stare at it: neon paint falling off in
clumps, porch curving with age, brittle wood splintering.
“Look at that,” Kimberley says. “Our goddamn pink house.”
The sky cracks open and a shard of sunlight dribbles onto the porch, the gutters, the roof. It
sets the color aflame, the gloss pink like a thousand flickering fires, the slivers of scraggly wood
like burning butterflies.
“God,” Taylor whispers. “It’s so beautiful.”
The world comes to life around our house: The sun falls and fades, fingers of light reaching
over the pink roof. Grasses breathe with the wind, flirt with the spilling sunshine. We stand there
together and watch the sky bloom, purple and red watercoloring into a blurry mess at the
horizon, veins of ink seeping through the color.
“She’d have loved it,” Edward sighs. “I just know she would’ve.”
“Yeah.” I feel my lips cracking into a smile. “Yeah.”
This is my Momma’s legacy:
A soft dead body, the four broken kids huddled around it. A room in our house, door closed,
bedsheets still rumpled. A smoking habit. A thousand wasted steaks, a God-Damn Miracle. And
a neon pink suburban house in the middle of sticky, slow Ohio.