Fragments in Color
WHEN A KID I KEPT running away from home to see if Mama still wanted me. Never far and always to the corrugated camp near Sunset. I drank chicory with Maggie and chalked pink flamingos on the concrete. Tall yellow legs, long feathers with curved necks turned right. Beaks dark as the tarpits. Maggie called them beautiful and said they would keep my place. But the birds usually slipped away before I returned.
“Why don’t you paint more?” my lover asks. The question floats inches above my head so I step aside. Her palm slides over my back, stopping to rub where my strap left its trace. Her fingers move slowly as I watch the wall melt—sandy brown running down then seeping through the floorboards and uncovering a glare of canvas for me to fill. I pull a box of earth colors from the closet. The door squeaks shut. I sling burnt umber across remembered eyes and wash the room in eggshell.
The breeze is cool but the pavement radiates its captured heat. My legs sweat beneath black yoga pants. I read in Harper’s that an hour’s walk for every three hours of work stimulates the endorphins so I hike to Point Dume Beach where the tide splashes my feet. Will I be able to paint again? Painting is like love. When you hit a dry spell, you think you’ve lost it all. No more love. No more art. And she is the only lover who ever said, “Don’t lie down and die. Paint.” Then she left and hasn’t called. If I were a goddess, I would make it impossible for her to live without my scent.
Two weeks later I clear out my mattress, headboard, chest, and lamp. Leave my clothes in the closet. Raise both windows until the cloudless blue sky appears, the backdrop on a stage. Any minute now the door will fly open for twenty couples of homeless flamingos to walk to the center and tuck one leg under their plumes—waiting for me to start.
Mini-interview with Chella Courington
HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?
CC: In high school when I read Mrs. Dalloway, I thought the language was gorgeous and complicated and reacted similarly when I read Beloved. At first the layered meanings washed over me though I was in awe of the linguistic beauty.
HFR: What are you reading?
CC: O Fallen Angel, Kate Zambreno; The Hunger Saint, Olivia Kate Cerrone; Head Off & Split, Nikky Finney; Magic City, Yusef Komunyakaa, and almost all fiction and poetry in The New Yorker.
HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “Fragments in Color”?
CC: I’m in love with flamingos. Four flaminglets and a flamboyance of flamingos (fifteen couples) live in the backyard under the ornamental apple tree and among the roses. Ten years ago I watched a middle-aged woman chalk a lovely pink flamingo on a sidewalk at a chalk festival in Burbank.
HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?
CC: Though I’m always writing poetry and some short fiction, I’m finishing the first draft of my first novel. Because I’m a poet at heart, I find it difficult to stay with a longer work. But during the last month, I’ve devoted two hours almost every morning to the novel and have noticed progress. By October 1 I plan to have this draft ready for my first reader/editor, my partner Ted Chiles who’s also a writer.
HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?
CC: What’s with everyone using the word guys when addressing females? Guys is not a gender-neutral word. Feminists spent a lot of time and energy trying to convince the public that he is not a gender-neutral word. Once the public accepted the argument for using she for females and he for males, the word guys appears and often it is unneeded. You works fine. Why you guys? An article in The Atlantic (“The Problem with ‘Hey Guys,’” Joe Pinsker, August 2018) does a fine job of analyzing the issues.
Chella Courington (she/they) is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, X-R-A-Y, and New World Writing. With three chapbooks of flash fiction and six of poetry, she recently published a novella-in-flash, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing), featured at Vancouver Flash Fiction. A Pushcart, The Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net nominee, Courington was raised in the Appalachian south and now lives in California.