by Anne Tourney
In the photograph from that summer I am dressed in white dotted
Swiss, dirty hands sunk deep in the ruffles of my princess skirt. Dirty
hands, dirty heart -- perversion of a Sunday school hymn. I peer out of
box-like frame of a Dutch boy haircut. I am ten years old.
At night I dream of twisting staircases built in mid-air, of string
and vertical paths of stepping stones. In my grandmother's library, I
book of dream interpretations. Dreams of stairs indicate an
quest for physical gratification. I reel in a vertigo of
though I don't understand all the words. An unwholesome quest for
physical gratification.Wasn't that why Eve was driven out of the
I'm standing on my grandmother's left-hand side. She cradles my baby
in her right arm. The baby's long gown drifts like a surfeit of
My grandmother is a stocky woman, but she seems to tower; it's her
and the length of her outdated Victorian skirt, that create the
height. Brown--everything about her is brown, except for her snowy hair
the two pink disks that the photographer painted on her cheeks. We all
those pink spots, me and my grandmother and the baby. Pink means
things to all of us. Prosperity. Fresh promise. Shame.
The baby's name is Richard Cooper Brandt, shortened to "Dickie." I am
Elizabeth Cooper -- no middle name, no diminutive. I live in my
house. In the dining room, in the car, and in our family portraits, my
is at her left.
In the background, tinted a toasty pink-brown, is the back wing of my
grandmother's mansion. An oleander hedge shields the high wall.
poisonous oleander, a glory of salmon, coral and pearl. Its luscious
blossoms are as tempting as fresh cakes or swollen lips.
Someone wrote the date on the back of the photo, in ink that has faded
dun: June 22, 1921. Nana with Dickie and Elizabeth. The summer
and dry; relief will come in December floods. It is a year of bizarre
weather. Snow falls in Hollywood in January. The aurora borealis appear
the first time over Los Angeles. Then a drought, followed by furious
rains. Miracles and disasters tumble helter-skelter from the mountains.
That summer I was trying to decide whether to become a whore or a poet...
Pink Oleander is now available in the new "Best of the Online Journals" award book,
E2Ink-1, guest-edited by Pam Houston, and in honor of that we have temporarily removed the story from our site in the hope that you will continue to help support literary writing on the Web by purchasing the book.
©2001 by Anne Tourney