The Pink-Hatted Goddess

July 8, 2008
By Jane Doerflinger, Summit, NJ

I’m eating soggy Wheaties when the doorbell rings. It’s the old-fashioned kind, the mechanical kind with an actual chime, and the sound echoes against polished wood and plaster walls. My house is too big.

I leave my bowl and my spoon and my paper ― I must be the only kid my age who reads the paper ― and walk through my museum house to the front door. I stand on my toes and peep through the peephole, and there’s a bed of parted hair under a pink hat. For one reason or another, there’s a girl outside.

I undo a latch and a bolt, but there’s one more lock, and the key’s in a bowl in the kitchen. I kneel down and open the mail slot ― and now I’m looking at some shaved knees ― and say, “I’m sorry. Just a minute.”

So now I’m half-running back to the kitchen. I check the grandfather-clock ― the one my mother’s always talking about, the one in the living room ― on the way. It’s two in the afternoon, and I’m just eating breakfast. And I’m thanking God that the one day I get dressed is the day there’s a pink-hatted, shaved-knee-bearing goddess at my front door.

For a second, when I see my breakfast alone on the table, I worry it’s going to get cold, but that’s just because I’m an idiot.

The key bowl is on the counter by the refrigerator, and it’s made of hand-blown glass, so it probably cost more than it was worth. A few beads, a nail, and the keys are in there, and there’s a ring of dust around it, because nobody ever moves it to clean. It’s a fixture.

So, with the keys, I go back to the front door, my footfalls noisy in the empty house.

It takes a minute for me to get the lock undone, just because the door’s so old and my palms are sweaty. When I open the door, she’s sitting on the stoop ― or maybe it’s not called a stoop if it’s just one step ― but she’s sitting there like she’s been waiting for a while, and I hope she doesn’t already hate me.

“How are you?” I ask.

She turns around and smiles at me. This is a girl who goes to my church. I’ve seen my mother talking to her parents.

“Um…” She stands and dusts off the back of her skirt. Her whole outfit’s pink, and I wonder if she planned it like that, or if it was an accident. “…sorry to bother you, Frank, but your mom told my mom she had something to give my mom, so I came by to pick it up.”

She knows my name, and I don’t know hers, and I have no idea what she’s talking about. I open my mouth like I’m about to speak, but just a little ulp of confusion comes out.

“I think it was jam, or something. I don’t really know.”

And now I remember. My mother’s been talking about it, a case of jam she bought when we were in New York. She gave it all away to her friends as Christmas presents. If she’s just offered it to this girl’s family, they must not be very close. “Oh, yeah, um, do you want me to just go get it? Or do you want to come in? Or….”

She looks down at her pink shoes. “No, I’ll just….”

“Oh, okay.”

“No, I mean…” She looks up again, and she seems a little annoyed, but her voice sounds happy. “…yeah, can I come in?”

“Sure,” I say. “Sure. Come in.”

The door closes, and the gloom doesn’t seem to suit her as well as the sunshine did. The house seems even bigger when it’s just the two of us in here. Her pink shoes clack against the floors as I lead her to the kitchen, and the minute I see my breakfast, I know she knows what a loser I am.

“Can I get you something to drink?”

Her head is slightly bowed so that her hair brushes against her collar bone. “No thanks.”

I feel like I’m supposed to say something to her, but instead I nod and go to the pantry, wondering how long jam is supposed to keep.

When I put the jar in her hand, she says, “Thank you.”

“It’s no problem, really.”

She makes a little oh-I-see noise and nods.

I lean against the table, putting myself between her and my cereal.

“Can I see your clock?”

And suddenly, I’m terrified. “What?”

“Your clock. I mean, I don’t know. Your mom told me about it.”

“Oh my, you want to see my….” I laugh, mostly from relief. “Sure. You want to see it? It’s right in here.”

Her arms are crossed when she follows me into the living room. It’s a grandfather clock, taller than I am, with a special disk behind the face that shows the phase of the moon.

“It’s pretty.”

“It’s been in my family for seven generations.” The words come out automatically because I’ve heard my mother say it just like that a million times.

There’s silence for a minute while she thinks of something to say.

“It’s probably the biggest clock I’ve ever seen.”

“Not as big as Big Ben, though.”

She turns to me, and there’s a crease between her eyebrows, like I’ve said something dumb. “Who?”

“It’s, you know, that big clock in Eng―”

“Oh.” And her eyes turn back to the clock before her head does, since it’s easier to be looking at a clock than a person you don’t really like that much. The minute hand moves a tiny notch along the face, and I’m thinking that it’d be funny if people had hands on their faces, the way clocks do.

“Um,” she says, and her eyes are on her shoes again, “I’d better go now.”

“Yeah, okay.”

We go back to the door together, and we don’t talk. Back in the sunlight, she looks like the kind of girl who wears all pink without planning.

She smiles a little. “See you at school.”

We go to the same school? “See you.”

The door closes behind her, and I fumble with the lock and sigh. The Wheaties are still waiting in the kitchen.

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