The duvet drapes and billows from the backs of the dining room chairs to make a plush and lovely fort. All of Pearl’s dolls are lined up in front of tea saucers full of sliced green grapes and crackers. There is no place to go. The shadows stretch with the moving sun, the only indication that time is passing.
It is silent outside the windows. Pearl thinks that silence is not actually the absence of noise, that it is in fact something you make. At least it is today, as she and her mother create an entire world inside their small apartment in the quiet. It is New Year’s Day, the very first day of the year 2000.
Pearl’s mother starts to bake bread, wanting to make the smells more than to make something to eat. Pearl will want to take the crusts into the fort with honey and butter to spread.
Pearl helps by measuring the flour, the baking soda, and then Pearl’s mother realizes the yeast is old. The store, and all the city, is closed. It is so quiet. Quiet like snow. Quiet like eyelashes.
The young are still sleeping off their hangovers. The families sip their coffee perhaps letting their kids watch extra TV. Pearl and her mother step over a house of cards and sit down to continue the tea party. The grapes and cracker tea party.
All of Pearl’s dolls are there except for the one with the short hair, the one that Pearl tried to give bangs, but she couldn’t get it even, so she just kept cutting shorter and shorter, and now the doll has strange and spikey hair and Pearl doesn’t let her join tea parties any more.
Pearl’s mother decides to switch to baking cookies, no need for yeast with cookies, and Pearl starts counting out chocolate chips. She has 63 lined up along the windowsill. Pearl’s mom begins reading again. She is reading on the long green couch. She puts her hand across her face.
Pearl is wearing her mama’s silk nightie. She feels like a princess and takes the wooden spoon as her wand and dances around the room. She makes her mama smile and chuckle and scoop her up.
Pearl knows her mom is different than her friends’ mothers. There are lots of things that are different, like the shoes she wears and that they live in an apartment and not a house, and that when Pearl is at Morgan’s house the refrigerator is full of anything you could possibly want to eat, but when the ice cream truck goes by on their street, Pearl’s mom just makes silence and shakes her head, one quick ‘no,’ looking at the ground.
And Pearl knows the two big differences. One is that her mama doesn’t have a husband. The second is that she is a lot younger than the other moms. Pearl doesn’t mind the no husband part, it makes it so Pearl and her mom belong to each other, and she likes that.
Some days they go to movies and suck on milk duds until they are just balls of caramel and then stuff their mouths with popcorn to turn it into caramel corn. Pearl is pretty sure that if her mama had a husband to go to the movies with, Pearl would not get to make caramel corn with her.
They also fall asleep together in the nest of the futon with all the duvets and pillows circling around them. Pearl likes to rest her head on her mama’s tummy, and her mama pets her hair.
Pearl does mind her mom being younger than the other moms. And Pearl’s mom is not younger like Pearl is three-and-a-half and her best friend Morgan is four, but younger like Morgan’s mom is 40 and Pearl’s mom is 22.
Yesterday was Morgan’s birthday party. Morgan is Pearl’s best friend and they play the BEST games of kitty. They pretend that all the teacups in Morgan’s house are kitten saucers and they lap up the milk. But yesterday was her gymnastics party. Morgan turned four. Pearl is already four and now Morgan has caught up.
Pearl was jumping-jumping-jumping on the trampoline. Popcorn kernels popping with her friends. There was Morgan and Lucy and Margo and Emily and the gymnastics lady let them all sit on the trampoline while she jumped with her big big legs until they all rolled and bounced, laughing so much that Lucy peed a little and had to borrow the extra pants they keep at the gym. The pants said “All City Twisters” written with a marker across the butt. Lucy didn’t want to wear them because they were brown. And mostly boys wear brown.
Pearl was having so much fun she wanted to show her mama. She looked for her mama around the gym excited to show her how she was being a popcorn kernel. She saw the group of mamas. There were little brothers and a sister the mamas were chasing. They were laughing and the little buggers.
But Pearl knew her mama wouldn’t be there. Pearl always saw her mom try and talk to the other mamas, but they would raise their eyebrows and pinch their lips until she walked away.
When Pearl saw her mama alone at Morgan’s birthday party, she ran over and said ”let’s go” and so they left before the buttercream cake, and before Morgan got to open the fancy cat collars that Pearl had wrapped for her.
Later Megan came over to their little apartment. Pearl loved when Megan was over. Megan was Mama’s best friend like Morgan was Pearl’s best friend. Although Mama and Megan didn’t play kittens, they mostly talked, and laughed, and told stories to Pearl.
Pearl and Morgan liked to play baby dolls and carry their babies and feed them when they weren’t playing kitty. Megan didn’t have a daughter. So that was different for them too. The friends her mama had weren’t mamas and the mamas weren’t her friends, so it was like she either got to be a mama or a friend but not both.
Last night Megan was really dressed up. She looked like a fairy princess with glittery eye-shadow and shoes that sparkled. Pearl tried on the shoes and looked in the mirror. She tried on Mama’s silk nightie. She was like Cinderella with all that pretty stuff.
Megan could only stay for a moment—only a moment! She was going to a big fancy party. Megan put Pearl to bed, she sometimes did this to give mama a break and Megan told Pearl that where she was going all of the girls would be in gowns, and there would be balloons and dancing and that she might kiss a boy at midnight.
Pearl watched through the crack in the door as Megan hugged her mama a big big tight hug, but said she had to go, Megan said, she was already late. Mama smiled at her and told her to have so much fun, and thanks for stopping in, and happy new year dear dear friend.
Pearl’s mama closed the door behind Megan and then she started to cry, and it was the worst kind of crying, Pearl thought, because it was the quiet kind. Pearl knew that it took a lot more effort to make the silent cry, mostly your body just moved and breath came out.
And of course the tears. Pearl saw Mama wiping at her cheeks really fast and then she looked at the ground and put her fingers in the corners of her eyes, but it didn’t plug back the tears like a bathtub plug cause the tears rolled right over her fingers and landed on the lap of the pretty nightgown she was wearing.
The nightgown was the prettiest pink Pearl could ever imagine, it was like peaches, and when you touched it, it was soft like the outside of the peach. When the sun shone through it, it turned golden, like the color of hope. But now, where each one of mama’s tears landed, the soft pink color turned a dark color, and the color was brown. When pink gets wet with tears, Pearl saw, the color it makes, is brown.