It all started with that girl in the dress, a starburst yellow thing, filling my door with it like a raw slit of light. It was beautiful so I trusted her—she looked so cold in it and a little mean. Could you, if it wouldn't be, do you mind, I'm so sorry but? I didn't hear most of it. She was bleating about something but I was overcome, by the vicious morning, by the scent, by the queenly fact of the colors she had brought inside. The yellow dress and mauve fingernails. A deep green. A burnished copper and palette of peaches and a blue vein—all of these I used to have, too. I gave her a long meaningful look of approval but she didn't notice. She was smiling and apologizing reflexively like a fool. It was clear that the poor dear had no idea who I was.
"Over here," I said, waving a limp hand toward the phone. Then I went back to my nest of blankets on the couch. She was lovely from this angle, like a root, wonderfully knobby.
The whole time, she kept her head very straight, not daring to look at any of my photographs. My, but she had charming hands. She refused to sit, gritting her little teeth at me whenever I caught her eye. I had Telley bring out a tray of tea and treats. "Have one dear." I held out a long arm so she could see it jiggling in its dish.
"No," she said, flat as a coin. "Thanks." She looked at the ceiling and kept the phone receiver cradled in the crook of her neck.
"I wish I had such charming hands," I said wickedly.
My boys must have heard us; they all came bounding into the room. Oh. Haha. Oh! They bounced joyfully. They were streaming in now, the others, from under the desk and beds, scratching the floorboards, across the sofas, scratching up her shins like her face was a cat. Oh! It was like a riot or community dance hall or Sunday shopping spree, the floors shaking, hilarious voices, complaints. The little ones shrieking. I felt happy as a fresh egg. She stood there for awhile, the poor dear, still bleating and smiling too wide, then puckered her little face up and made her exit. It was the best time I had had in a long while.
The next day while sitting at my table composing a letter to the yellow girl—it contained all of my feelings and an invitation to dine—I heard a powerful knock down below. There was a man at the door. He wore a white uniform with green piping that matched the truck in the street. There was another man in the same pantsuit on the front lawn. He was squinting intelligently up at the parted curtains of my window. They hadn't wasted any time. Did they think I was stupid? I was already at the second floor window with my Winchester cocked. You are not taking my boys!
I knew they would be back.
I dressed my boys in their best corduroy, then herded the small ones into the back of the station wagon. The big ones would have to follow behind on foot. We went in the middle of the night. I drove slowly so my bigger boys could keep up. We went straight down the yellow line. We had the turnpike to ourselves. We were not going far.
Claudette Bakhtiar is presently completing a MFA in fiction at Columbia University. She received a NYFA Fellowship in Fiction in 2004 and served on the fiction judging panel in 2008. Her writing has appeared in Literary New York and Time Out NY.