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It was early in the morning on April 23rd, not even two weeks after they moved in next door, that Frank Tillman and Sophie Zeigler set three pink flamencos out in the front yard, checking their position carefully, from many angles, and adjusting them until they were just right. They had come out with flashlights as the sun was rising, cut the bolt that the previous owners had left on the shed in the back yard, and rumaged around for a while, emerging eventually with the garish lawn ornaments.
This task done, Frank then packed the kids into the car as he always did and drove them down to the corner, where he waited with them until the school bus came, and then proceeded on to his office. Frank's a pediatrician. Sophie left about an hour later, hiking down the street to the train that would take her into the city.
The next morning, again just as the sun was rising, they pulled the pink flamencos down and dragged them back to the shed, padlocking the door when they were done.
“It's weird,” I told Helen, after she'd woken up and come down to the living room for a wake-up hit. But who am I to say? I have tie-dye batik curtains in my windows.
Helen looked up from the bong, holding her breath and then exhaling. “When was the last time you slept?” she asked.
I couldn't remember.
She shook her head and handed me the bong. “Stick to something gentler. That shit'll kill you, and then where are Eric and I gonna stay?”
And when you're doing as many drugs as I was, someone putting out pink flamencos in their front lawn for a day is far from the weirdest thing you experience, so I promptly forgot about it. Until a year later. I'd straightened out a bit by then, shedding a few habits, or at least replacing them with less dangerous ones. There was a banging on the bedroom door, and Eric's ritual call: “Wake and bake!” Helen stirred next to me and we dutifully crawled out of bed and fumbled our robes on before stumbling, zombie-like, to the living room. Two scents mingled, one Columbian and one Ethiopian, drawing us forward.
“'Mornin', wife,” Eric said through an exhale, holding the Columbian out to Helen. He only said that when he knew I was listening, and when he thought Kelly wasn't.
“'Mornin', huzbund,” she replied, accepting the bong and the lighter with practiced obliviousness.
Me, I followed my nose to the Ethiopian, which was still dripping through the filter. Impatient, I pushed a cup under the filter and poured myself a hot, black cup of consciousness, allowing that first sip to perculate through my veins.
Eric took another hit off the bong and then rushed around, gathering his books and shoving a stack of graded tests into his briefcase. I couldn't blame him. I'd need to fry my brain every morning too if I had to teach seventh graders about Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire, at eight in the morning, at that.
I raised my cup to him as he dashed to the door. “The Empire never ended,” I said, as I did every morning, confident that he'd never lower his literary standards enough to even know what I was talking about. Hell, the ritual had started so long ago I don't even remember what we were talking about when I'd first quoted that line. It didn't matter anymore.
“What the fuck does that mean?” he asked, closing the door behind him before he could see my lazy shrug, pretending that I wasn't mocking him. It's not easy being Eric.
Helen shook her head. “Fucker. I should divorce his ass.” She watched his car pull out of the driveway, and then said, “hey, those things are back up.”
And they were. Three pink flamencos, two female and one male, standing proudly in the yard next door. As far as I could tell, they were in the same positions as the year before.
“What things?” Kelly asked, emerging from the bathroom, her hair wrapped in a towel, and Helen rolled her eyes. Eric was convinced that Kelly's lack of propriety in front of me was her way of making him jealous, to keep him in line. Helen's sure that it's purely to piss her off. Me, I got no complaints. I make no assumptions, and I make no judgements, and I keep my fantasies to myself. That's the safest thing.
“Those things,” I said, pointing, but not looking, out the window.
“Huh,” she said. “I'm getting dressed.”
Wryly: “Good plan.” It wasn't me that said it.
I finished my coffee while we waited for Frank to pack up the kids for school and for Sophie to leave. Then the three of us went next door to inspect the lawn ornaments a little more closely. They were actually very well done, not cheap plastic like your standard pink flamingo. No, these guys were made of wood and, it appeared, hand painted. A certain amount of bas-relief enhanced the figures, giving texture to the ruffles in the women's dresses and the swell of their busoms, to the man's upraised hand and tight buttocks.
“I want one,” Kelly said.
“We'll dress Eric up,” I suggested, and Helen snorted.
“Very funny. I still want one.”
“Check on eBay.”
“Yeah yeah. Let's see what else they have in that shed.” Kelly walked toward the back yard. But the shed was padlocked. “Shawn,” she called, “pick the lock and let's see inside.”
“What makes you think I know how to pick a lock?”
“Didn't you used to be a drug addict?”
I shook my head in disgust and walked away from her.
I had an overnight shift at the datacenter that night and when I rolled in the next morning the flamencos were gone. Frank and Sophie and the brats went on vacation for a week right after that, and by the time they got home, life had progressed and we'd all forgotten all about the Pink Flamencos of April.
Until the next year, that is. Eric banging on the door for the morning ritual, which after a few years had become really, really fucking annoying, especially when some of us worked sysadmin hours. But what the hell.
“'Mornin', wife,” Eric said. Kelly wouldn't hear. She was in the bathroom upstairs being sick; we'd heard her on the way down.
“Fuck,” Helen responded, accepting the bong and lighter.
I poured myself some java and put the tea kettle on the burner, pulling out a chamomile-lavender-ginseng teabag and the honey jar for Kelly. I listened for Helen's long inhalation and poked my head around the corner to watch as she contentedly exhaled. There was something about the soft curl of her lips and the lazy pleasure in her eyes as that first hit flowed through her that never failed to arouse me.
Eric continued his morning ritual, scrambling to gather books and keys and all this teacherly things, and as I poured Kelly's tea I thought about taking Helen right there on the sofa. Kelly came downstairs, bleary-eyed in flannel pyjamas covered with dancing pandas, short, black hair sticking up in all directions, rubbing her belly gently.
“Hey, you,” she said, giving me a hug before accepting the tea. She smelled good.
“Hands off my girl,” Eric called from the doorway.
“The Empire never ended,” I responded.
“WTF,” he said as the door closed, before he could see my casual shrug. Clever, that.
Kelly waved sleepily at Helen with the sleeve of her pyjamas. “'M goin' back to bed,” she said.
I sat next to Helen and cuddled close to her, breathing in her scent and the pot's through her hair. “When are you guys getting divorced?” I asked. “She's starting to show.”
Helen pushed me away. “When the paternity test comes in.” Then: “Hey, those things are back.”
And they were. Three pink flamencos, proud as peacocks. No, wait, there were four this year; a third woman in a ruffled dress stood near a flowering shrubbery. And I noticed that their positioning was all different this year, as if the introduction of a new element had changed all the equations.
When Frank and the kids came out, Helen and I were ready. I stepped out from our front door and called out.
“Hullo, Shawn.” Frank seemed a little surprised. Guess I'm not up and about that early. Up maybe, but not about, by any stretch.
“I know you're busy,” I said, “kids and all, but I had to ask. What's the deal with the flamencos?”
Frank grinned as he got the kids piled into the back seat. “It's International Technocolor Pixiecrat Day. You can celebrate it too, just look where you don't expect.” And he got in his car and shut the door before I could ask: What the fuck is International Technocolor Pixiecrat Day?
Which is probably good, 'cause the kids are, like, young 'n shit. Virgin ears and all.
But he was right. We only found two of them that year. One was under the sofa, a magnificent Spanish woman in a pink dress, highlighted with red and black. The man, glorious and matadoresque with his flowing cape, had apparently been behind my headboard for years. We dusted him off and propped him up in the front yard, facing the woman. We named her Esmerelda. We were going to call the man Cervantes, but Kelly dubbed him Esmer, and it stuck.
Eric's long gone, skipping out on his child support payments, sticking around only long enough to brand the kid with his name. Kelly and Sue bought the house next door when Frank and Sophie moved out, and little Eric and our Jennifer are playmates. I still make cracks to Helen about the divorce, but all she says is she doesn't care what the paternity test said, little Eric has my eyes.
Esmer and Esmerelda come out every April 23rd, and all up and down our street, half the yards are filled with pink flamencos. Kelly and Sue gave their male to a neighbor as a starter. “We don't need him anymore,” Sue told me. And I'm starting to see them around other neighborhoods, and the local pharmacy had pink flamenco decorations up this year.
So Happy International Technocolor Pixiecrat Day.
Whatever the fuck that means.
Ya know, he does have my eyes.