Iowa Writes

REJEANNE DAVIS ASHLEY HANKINS
from Gray


A small, frail boy with ashen skin sits on the floor of his father's house. He is dressed in handmade blue corduroy overalls with buttons that look like the face of a clock. He wears a small engineer's cap on his head, which makes him seem like a miniature train conductor. In front of him are three coloring books and a 64-crayon box of Crayolas with a built-in sharpener. He leans forward and picks one of the books.

Leafing slowly through the pages, he settles on a picture of a woman holding a kitten. It reminds him of his mother. She walks through the living room as he starts to color. He studies the dress she is wearing and decides to color his picture the same way. He picks up his green crayon and colors her skirt. He is careful to stay in the lines. He picks up his yellow crayon to color her blouse.

A small, frail boy with ashen skin sits on the floor of his father's house. He is dressed in handmade blue corduroy overalls with buttons that look like the face of a clock. He wears a small engineer's cap on his head, which makes him seem like a miniature train conductor. In front of him are three coloring books and a 64-crayon box of Crayolas with a built-in sharpener. He leans forward and picks one of the books.

Leafing slowly through the pages, he settles on a picture of a woman holding a kitten. It reminds him of his mother. She walks through the living room as he starts to color. He studies the dress she is wearing and decides to color his picture the same way. He picks up his green crayon and colors her skirt. He is careful to stay in the lines. He picks up his yellow crayon to color her blouse.

His mother walks through the room again on her way to the kitchen. He asks her what color her hair is. She tells him it is brown. He picks the gray crayon out of the box and carefully fills in the woman's hair. He uses the same crayon on the picture of the kitten. When he finishes his picture, he writes his name slowly at the top of the page and tears the picture out of his book and tapes it on the refrigerator. Then he puts his crayons back in the box and puts his books back in his room.

He takes out his Matchbox cars and very quietly drives them around on the squares and circles of his rug. When he gets tired, which he does very easily, he stretches out on the floor and falls asleep. His breath is labored, and the tips of his fingers are as blue as the veins visible through his delicate skin.

***

The day after his operation, I wake up early. It is still gray and quiet in the house. I am in my brother's bed. I look out his window and I can still see the moon—a light gray orb in a dark gray sky. I know my grandmother will be up even though she stayed up late last night talking to my parents as they waited in the hospital. I'm wearing pajamas with feet because the floors are still a little cold in the morning. It is the middle of March. I walk out toward the kitchen, following the smell of sausages cooking. As I pass by the couch in the living room, I see my mother lying out flat. I am surprised to see her. Her hands are covering her face and her body is shaking. I step very quietly toward her and touch the couch near her face. The red fabric is soaking wet. I pat my mother on the arm. She shudders and draws in a deep, strangled breath.

My grandmother hears her sob and peers in the room. She sees me there, wide-eyed and panicked. She crosses the room quickly and scoops me up and carries me into the kitchen. Her eyes are puffy and red. I put my thumb in my mouth and start twirling my hair. She puts me down and offers me a hot buttered biscuit. I can't eat. I point to my mom still sobbing on the couch. I don't know what to ask. My father comes into the kitchen and swings me up into his arms. He takes me for a walk outside, zipping me inside his leather jacket to keep me warm.

***

Thirty years later, my mother gives me a box of photographs and letters and drawings to sort through. The photos are mostly black and white—photos of my brothers and me by the swings in the back yard, photos of us dressed up like ghosts for Halloween, photos of us holding kittens and cats.

At the very bottom of the box, folded into a small square, is the faded page of a coloring book, with the picture of a gray-haired woman holding a gray-haired kitten.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


REJEANNE DAVIS ASHLEY HANKINS

Rejeanne Davis Ashley Hankins moved to Solon, Iowa, from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, with her husband in 2005. She is an editor, writer, and communications consultant; she also enjoys painting, drawing, making bracelets, cooking, and gardening.

This page was first displayed
on June 19, 2006

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