Melissa Chen | Art by Ronald Sit
We had a little house in the backyard which we rented out to vacationers every year. It used to
be Dad’s art studio, but we—or rather Mom and Aunt Lil—changed it after he moved out, scrubbing the
splotches off the walls and driving the strong, but not unpleasant smells out. None of it was really
unpleasant—not before, or after. Through it all, everybody’s face hardly rippled, except that night his
headlights retreated into the dark, reflecting off my window as he passed, and illuminating him for a
moment. I thought about putting up a fight over Mom throwing out his yard chair and then his creaky
easel, but I decided to stay down at the beach. When it was done, it was neat. The house was tidy and
clean, split into three rooms: a small bedroom, a sparkling little bathroom, and one main room just large
enough to cook in one corner and eat in the other, with windows facing east and west so there was
always the warm sunlight streaming in. All the walls had a pristine coat of pale, baby egg blue that Mom
and Aunt Lil painted themselves.
I learned later it was Aunt Lil who knew her family next door, and had let her watch all the
renovations and even help sometimes, and that was how she came to wander there a couple weeks after
it was all done.
I was kneeling in front of the wall, a couple buckets of paint at my feet. The sudden intruder
seemed harmless enough, a girl my age with a purple jacket and roller shoes.
“What are you doing?” she asked, pausing at the door in proper astonishment.
She crossed her noodly arms. That was a stance I’d become familiar with.
“You know, you really shouldn’t.”
I pretended I couldn’t hear her.
I could feel her standing behind me, hear her deliberative breathing. Then her footsteps, echoing
away. The door swung.
“Wait!” I turned around, brush still in my fist. “Are you gonna tell?”
She was standing at the door, just staring.
“Don’t tell. I advanced on her with my brush, and she took a step back. As if I would have tried to
hit her with it. I wasn’t scared of the confrontation, but I had an amazingly non-violent streak, even living
with two brothers. Besides, now, standing up, I was sure she was a good couple inches taller than me.
“I’ll draw something for you.” I waved my brush and pointed it at her with a fairy-godmother-like
flourish. “If you don’t tell. I’m very good, you know.”
She smiled, a one-hole-gaping smile, and closed the door. I would have run after her, but there
was something in that smile that told me I didn’t need to.
The next day passed. And the next day. And the next week. I had already forgotten about my
wall. Then one morning Mom and Aunt Lil went to take a couple down there to show them around, having
me come with them. I suddenly realized what a yelling I’d be in for. I was getting too old for an antic like
that. Or maybe they’d all like the wall? I kept my head down during the walk there.
Until we stood right smack in front of the main wall.
And my drawing wasn’t there.
I was sure I had made it on the big wall in the main room. I blinked my eyes. Was it another
room? But as I trailed behind Mom and Aunt Lil and the chatty couple, it was truly nowhere in sight.
Later, I lingered behind and crawled up close to the wall. I ran my hand over it. Nothing. The coat
of paint was smooth…and blank. Frowning, I stood up to go back in the house. But right next to my foot at
the edge of the baseboard, a bit of red caught my eye. Just the tiniest spot, smaller than my pinkie nail. A
spot someone had missed when going over everything steadily with pale, baby egg blue.
So we painted the first strokes of our friendship together.