the colouring-in book

Marty went to the fridge and pulled out the last cold beer from the bottom tray. He replaced it with a six-pack that was warm with the summer heat and a day of bustling kitchen activity. Before he had a chance to close the door Phoebe stuck her slender arm in to pull out the apple juice.

“Isn’t it time for presents, Phoebes?”

“Dad’s not dressed up as Santa yet. He can’t find the beard.”

“Get him to hurry up, then!”

Everyone was sitting around the tree and talking, the kids sprawled out like cats on the carpet, as close as they could get to the heaped, brightly wrapped gifts. The television was talking, too, though nobody was listening to it. Seats on the couches were snapped up as soon as they were evacuated; Marty lingered in the doorway, sipping at his drink.

“Hey,” he called out. “Quiet everyone! Here comes the big man!”

“It’s Santa!” squealed Emily as her uncle bustled in, bellowing “Ho, ho, ho,” and adjusting his felt beard, to the laughter of all the children.

“What did you get, Ems?” Marty said, poking through his daughter’s cotton sack, which was filled with chocolates and plastic-wrapped toys. “Looks like you got the best stuff out of anyone.”

“I got two Barbies.”

“I can see,” he said. “Anything else good?”

“Yes, some horses and a colouring-in book! What did you get?”

“Socks and undies,” said Marty. “Same as always.”

“Oh, poor dad,” said Catherine, coming up behind Emily and lifting her on her hip. “What a complainer.”

“I like socks and undies,” said Marty.

“Come on, you two,” said Catherine. “It’s nearly dinner time.”

The kids were upstairs, and Emily was already asleep in her makeshift bed on the nearby couch. Everyone else was lethargically sitting around the dinner table. Catherine had her hand cupped around a full glass of red wine and was looking at it intently.

“I just don’t see why we should have to support that. Why should I have to support that? That’s their decision.”

“Listen, John. It’s not… It’s not a fucking decision,” said Catherine. “It’s not a fucking lifestyle choice. Don’t start to say it’s a lifestyle choice.”

“Well it is. Really. It is.”

“It’s not,” said Catherine. There was a long pause. She fingered the rim of her glass. “It’s not like, I don’t know. Like some religions refusing treatment. Or, or… I don’t know, but it’s not like that. It’s not a fucking choice.”

“Honey,” said Marty, rubbing his wife’s back. “Let’s not start on religion now, hey? Or else we might be up all night.”

“Why don’t you go and make us some coffees,” said Catherine.

“That’s a terrible idea,” said Marty finishing off the last sip of beer before pulling out from the table. “Alright, alright. Coffee? Tea? Everyone?”

“Em got spoiled,” said Marty.

“Mmm,” said Catherine.

“Did you see that colouring book?”

“No? Why?”

“Oh, nothing.”


“It just seemed like an adult book. Like. An ironic colouring book.”

“Like… porno?” asked Catherine, rolling over to face him. “Who gave it to her?”

“No, God no. Not that kind of adult. I think it was from Jed and Kate. Ah. Forget it. We can talk about it later.” He reached over to click off the bedside lamp. “I can never get to sleep on this bed. What’s with the pillows? I hate these pillows.”

When Emily got home she spread all of her presents across her pink-dressed bed and started to organize them. She pulled the Barbie dolls out of their boxes and set the chocolates to one side and arranged the stiff plastic horses on the big toy chest in the corner. She took the colouring-in book and slipped it into the bookshelf, where she forgot about it for a little while.

“Mummy,” said Em, climbing up a stool to the bench, where Catherine was cleaning away breakfast. “Can I have a purple pencil?”

“We’ve got lots of pencils, sweety. Isn’t there a purple one?”

“They aren’t right.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re not the right purple.”

“Well they’ll have to do.”

“They won’t do,” said Emily, and let out an exaggerated sigh.

“Can you wait until we go shopping tomorrow night?”

“No,” said Emily.

“Well, they’ll have to do.”

“Hey kiddo, I’m home” said Marty, leaning into his daughter’s doorway. She was on her knees and hunched amidst a mess of crayons, pencils and markers. “What ya up to?”

“-cee dee ee eff gee. Nothing. Haitch eye jay kay el em en oh pee.”

“Is that your colouring-in book? Can I have a look?”

“Okay.” She stood up with the book, careful not to disturb the piles around her.

“Who gave you this one?” Marty took the book and rifled through the pages. They were movie posters.

“Uncle Jeddy. What’s wrong with it?”

“No, nothing. That’s… it’s really good, Em. You’re staying inside the lines and everything. Can I show it to mum?”

“It’s not finished yet.”

“Well I guess you better finish it.”

Emily sat back down on the floor and spread the book out in front of her. She spent a while flicking through the scattered pencils for the right one, then started filling in a white space in the top corner.

“Ay bee cee dee ee ef gee,” she sang.

“They’re just movie posters, Marty. Right?”

“Full Metal Jacket? I don’t think, I mean, they’re not really just movie posters. The Exorcist? Did you see that? It’s not right, Cath.”

“Well we can’t just take it off her. What do you want me to do about it? She doesn’t understand.”

“It’s the colours, though. Those colours. They’re spot on. I don’t know if I could even get them right like that. I’m sure I couldn’t.”

“She’s probably just seen them on the telly. Or on the computer. Stop stressing about it. Kids pick up things.”

“I know. Still…”

Under the bedsheets, Catherine pressed her knee up between Marty’s thighs. He rolled away, onto his back.

“Fine. I’m going to sleep,” said Cath. “Turn the light off when you’re done reading. Or whatever.”

Marty’s book lay flat against his chest for a long time. When he finally got up, he closed the bedroom door before switching off the light.

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