In the Pink
[ Issue 45 ]

Emily Bronto clearly approves of In the Pink

For your reading pleasure Bikwil gives you In the Pink

In the Pink

In the Pink by Diane Dees is a short story about an ankle injury and its after-effects.
 

He was at the quarry, gathering his tools and his personal belongings and leaving for the day. He had stayed late in order to clean and polish his picks and shovels, and as he walked toward his truck, he tripped over a pick half-buried in the ground.

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Bats in John Bull’s Belfry — Tony Rogers

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The orange-pink sun cast neonesque rays through rose-streaked clouds, illuminating the already pink ridges of rhodonite on Vancouver Island. At times, the entire landscape appeared pink. Those who worked in the quarry, who gathered pink for all the world to see, occasionally had the good fortune to experience this display. The tourists who wore the stone around their necks or later admired the tiny pink bears and eagles on their bookshelves were less likely to experience the rosy spectacle.

It was during one of these pink evenings in Lake Cowichan, right before dusk, when Peter had the accident. He was at the quarry, gathering his tools and his personal belongings and leaving for the day. He had stayed late in order to clean and polish his picks and shovels, and as he walked toward his truck, he tripped over a pick half-buried in the ground. Peter fell over, tumbled down the hill, and rolled into a ditch. When he tried to get out, he felt pain, then knew he had sprained or maybe broken his foot.

Peter’s cell phone was in his pack, but he had dropped it somewhere between the quarry entrance and the ditch. He lay in the ditch and waited for the swelling in his foot to subside. It didn’t. Pinkness was fading fast, and the last birds of daylight had already flown to their roosts. He tried to hoist himself out of the ditch. If he could do that, then he could crawl to his pack and use his cell phone. But he couldn’t move his arms. Fearing the worst, he began to breathe harder, and tried to focus on getting free. Perhaps he could roll down the length of the ditch until he found a shallower area, and then hoist himself up. If he weren’t paralyzed.

About this time, without forethought, Peter lifted his hand to swipe at a bug hovering near his face. Relief coursed through him as he realized he had been in shock. Now able to use his arms, he hoisted himself out of the ditch, then fell to the ground in pain. He rolled, slowly, like a doodlebug, back toward the quarry entrance, but it was dark, and his pack was nowhere in sight.

Finally, exhausted, Peter rolled himself back into the quarry, instinctively finding the smooth path the workers’ feet had worn over the years. In the dark, he was aware of the smell of rhodonite. It was a pink smell, a smell so much a part of his life that he had forgotten about it. He placed his palms against the stone walls and felt the cold. Peter then maneuvered his aching foot against the stone, letting his swollen veins merge into the narrow, cool veins of the rhodonite.

Peter spoke.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!”

The sound reminded him of programs he remembered from listening to his crystal radio when he was a boy. Like they were coming from a tunnel, yet clear at the same time.

“‘Quoth the Raven, nevermore!’”

“‘Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.’”

Then he sang.

“‘It’s up . . . To . . . you . . . New York, New-oo York!’”

“‘The phan-tom of the op-e-ra is there inside . . . Your . . . mind!’”

Following an extensive David Bowie medley, Peter fell asleep.

He woke up at dawn, startled to discover himself lying in the quarry; then, emerging from his alpha state, he remembered the accident. He tried to get up, but his foot, now swollen to a frightening degree, wouldn’t move. The pain was so bad, he had no idea how he had slept.

He rolled out of the quarry opening, lay on the ground and looked at the sky: an orpiment orange canvas streaked with pale pink. A bird — he didn’t know what type — flew over his head, then gently landed on the rock near him and spoke to him.

“Whit-wheet! Whit-wheet!”

“Whit-wheet!” Peter called back. “Whit-wheet!”

The bird cocked its head and flew off. An entire flock of them flew over him, then quickly disappeared into the streaked sky. Peter looked to his left and saw a grove of birches, their bark tingling with pink-silver, their leaves bright against the orange-rose of the horizon. A gentian-striped lizard hurried past.

When the workers arrived at the quarry a couple of hours later, Peter was still lying on his back, softly humming a song from some early Joni Mitchell album. He had his hands crossed over his chest, and his breathing was strong and even.

“Hey, Peter!” someone yelled. “Peter.”

“Hey, look at his foot! He’s hurt!”

One of the workers picked up Peter’s pack, which was about ten feet from his head, and carried it to him, then called an ambulance.

Peter was taken to the hospital, where an emergency room doctor spoke the good news: the foot was sprained, not broken. She gave Peter a shot, and a couple of bandages later, he was released. He took a taxi to his house, where he limped to the bedroom and lay down. The throbbing was still present, but the shot had taken the edge off the pain.

He fell asleep, and while he was dreaming of large birds flying out of carmine caves, the phone rang and woke him up.

“Calling to see if you’re okay.”

It was Johnston, the quarry supervisor.

“I’m okay. Fine. Didn’t break anything. Can’t walk, though.”

“I’ll send Doris over with some food.”

“No. It’s okay. I’m sleeping.”

Johnston hung up. His wife, Doris, was known for her cooking, and Peter wished he hadn’t told Johnston not to send her over. He fell asleep again, but a half hour later, the doorbell rang, then the door opened. He must have forgotten to lock it.

“Peter? May I come in?”

It was Doris. He called to her to come into his bedroom.

She walked slowly, stopping to take in the shelves of books and the imposing collection of sound equipment. She smiled as she stepped into Peter’s room. She was wearing jeans, a white shirt, and a necklace of the local jade. On her ears were square rhodonite earrings. She was carrying a picnic basket, the type of basket Peter imagined a woman from the past carrying to the mines so that her starving husband would have a hot lunch.

“Are you okay? Does it hurt a lot?”

“I have pills. They help.”

Doris sat at the foot of the bed.

“I have tomato soup, baked chicken and rhubarb pie. Would you like to eat now, or should I put it in your refrigerator?”

Peter breathed deeply. Not since Susan’s death had a woman been inside his house. He had spent the last two years alone with his books and music, and especially with Beethoven, who, like Peter, heard most clearly the sounds in his head.

“I’ll eat now if you’ll eat with me.”

Doris smiled. She rose from the bed; the bedside lamp shone on the rhodonite on her ear, and Peter was startled by a desire to touch the earring, to feel the coolness of the stone on his fingertips.

“It’s very kind of you to come here, Doris.”

“We were worried about you. I’ll be right back.”

He heard her opening cupboards and gathering silverware, and though he tried to resist it, an image of Susan appeared. Susan in her fleece robe, making breakfast on Saturday morning. The sound of the toaster popping up, the smell of his favorite Brazilian coffee, Susan’s dancing to the rock station on the radio while she spread butter on the toast.

“May I put on some music?”

Peter smiled a teary smile, then realized someone was talking to him.

“Sure. Anything you want.”

Doris put on some Vivaldi, then appeared in the bedroom with two trays. She set them on his dresser, walked out, and reappeared with a chair. She propped pillows up behind Peter so he could sit up and eat. She gave him a glass of water and a glass half filled with white wine.

“I didn’t know if you could drink the wine. I mean, with the pills.”

“It’s okay. I haven’t taken one in several hours.”

Peter realized he was starving. He tasted the soup and felt its sweet warmth course through his body. He suddenly remembered that he had taken his pants off before climbing into bed, and he tried to recall what color boxer briefs he was wearing. Susan used to tease him about his colorful underwear.

“This is delicious. I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”

Peter and Susan had once gone to a party at the Johnstons’ house. Doris had cooked enormous amounts of food, all presented elegantly, and what Peter remembered most vividly was Johnston’s failure to remark on his wife’s talent and hard work. He ate and drank, talked about the mines, and behaved as though his wife weren’t in the room.

“How are your children, Doris?”

“They’re doing well, Peter. Thank you for asking. Marty’s on the track team, and David is in a science honors program. They’re good kids. Sometimes I wish you had some kids, Peter, you know, so it wouldn’t be so hard.”

She hesitated. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said —”

“It’s okay, Doris. I think the same thing. We were going in that direction when the accident happened. She would have been a great mother.”

Peter ate everything on his plate, and Doris offered to get him some more. When he refused, she went into the kitchen to make some coffee. When she returned, Peter had put on his pants and was sitting at the foot of the bed. He asked to see one of Doris’s earrings, she took it off and handed it to him, and he held it up to the light.

“Not from our quarry. Not enough veins. Probably from somewhere farther north. Maybe not even on the island.”

“I’ve had them for years. Someone gave them to me for my birthday. I don’t know where the stone was mined. Do you ever get tired of looking at it?”

“No. It’s funny. You’d think I would. But it isn’t just the stone, it’s the entire setting. I mean, the scene around the quarry. Listen, when I had this accident, it was like I saw it all with such . . . clarity. The sky, the tree bark, the light. Have you ever looked through a stereopticon? It was like that. Frozen, like a slide show up close, only I was in the show.”

Doris smiled at him.

“You think the pills are talking, don’t you?”

“No, Peter. No, I don’t.”

He handed her the earring. When she took it from him, their fingers touched for the briefest moment, and Peter felt the same melting comfort he had felt when he swallowed the creamy reddish soup. She put the earring on, gathered the trays and went back to the kitchen. He could hear her rinsing and loading his dishwasher. The lilt of Vivaldi had ceased.

Doris bade him goodnight and made him promise to call her or Johnston if he needed anything.

A week later, on a cloudy day, Peter returned to the quarry. There was no bright light to reflect the pink stone, no orange streaks splashing through the birch limbs. But without the sun, the dew had lingered, and the dampness itself caused the rhodonite to shimmer in counterpoint to the soft clouds — shiny pink below folds of white fleece.

Peter lifted his pick, still shiny from its last polishing, and entered the mine. He touched the wall, sliding his hand against the wet stone, and thought of Doris’s lightly veined earring. He was glad to be back, glad to be surrounded by the pink stone that enveloped him. Fortified with the permanence of its beauty, he unearthed a gem of truth within the cavern of his psyche: He was a lonely man, and it was time for him to emerge from the quarry.

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