Issue Forty-Three - Winter 2024

Pink Night Sky

by Jane-Rebecca Cannarella

I sat on a cement wall in Rittenhouse Square; the pebbly gravel under my bare thighs caused twinges of hurt. The biting night was grey in texture; the hollows next to the wall were filled with leafy green plants, the name of which I will never know.

Anger is a fusillade: shots of sound with gestures magnified with the stretching noise. I swung my legs and bounced them against the cement while John yelled. His eyes were bright and green: lime juice seeping into the cuts where I’d bitten my cuticles.

The fire licked at me, brilliant with bitterness.

A special date is what he had texted.

I met John at his bar when the sun was still a golden disk. I found him waiting outside, flush-faced, and when I went to kiss him, his mouth smelled like the expensive beers he sold. The scent shaped an acid pocket in my stomach; the climbing tendrils of anxiety grew out of the pit and stretched to strangle my tongue.

Anxiety is a living creature that tries to protect you from saying something that will accidentally anger others. After 16 months of eruptions, I had learned the smell of impending bombs like dogs who search for explosives. The sweetness of the sorrys that came after convinced me to stay. Maybe one day, all the grenades will have detonated, leaving nothing but sugar in the wake.

We walked to the restaurant he picked a few blocks away, the square rugged shapes of Center City enveloping us. John held my hand as we walked, mine slick with sweat, and I stumbled over a nick in the sidewalk and tripped as he continued to hold my hand and walk faster than me. The night smelled like the fetid blossoming spring trees whose white flowers stank of cum. The air was hazy with pollen.

At dinner, John was angry that I wasn’t talkative. Tallish with baseball biceps, he hunched over the restaurant’s outdoor table. He asked what’s wrong in a way that didn’t invite a response. I studied his Lord of the Ring tattoos and tried to figure out which would make him less mad: if I ordered two tacos or an order of nachos? But when the waiter came to the table, John ordered for us: quesadillas, beer, wine, and two shots. I struggled to find the magical combination of soothing words as he checked his phone and came up with how was work? But that wasn’t the spell to break the tension.

I already told you how work was. You never listen to me.

We ate in silence. I pushed the food around in my mouth; the heartburn hurt from swallowing around the anxiety, and I tried to think of stuff to discuss. The sun melted behind him, and the sky was as rosy as a palette of fake plastic toy blush I had as a little girl: Barbie pink. It sank around the brutalist structure behind us, a grey box of a building, and made a highlight around John’s body curled over his plate. His eyebrows furrowed, and I avoided eye contact and stared at the ebbing day. The thought of being as cool as the dolls from my childhood helped ease the thumping of my heart—smooth, cool, plastic people.

The only words spoken during the rest of dinner were to the server when John asked for the check in an overly animated fashion. Would you like a box? The server asked while gesturing to my full plate, mice bites taken from the edges. I shook my head.

We walked with tension hanging above our heads; the fog of it settling into every pore of my body. John’s rigid spine and fast walk sped us to the open mouth of the park. I jumped on the concrete wall, trying to replicate the easy movements of my youth, swooshing out of the pool in a fluid movement using only one arm. It did not work the same above ground, and I fumbled into a seated position. I glanced at John’s pinched face, and a sharp pin popped the balloon when our eyes met, and he began to yell. You love to embarrass me!

Fights in multiples a month, the consistency of the painful words almost felt like a friend — a relief when the flood finally occurred.

Anger grows when fed, so I sat in silence. You’re so manipulative. I’m not falling for this act. The words flowed over me, but I thought, we can still salvage the evening.

Wave after wave; one time as a kid, I tumbled in the roll of the ocean, and even though I couldn’t breathe, I stayed in the cylinder until it spit me out.

I looked past his broad shoulder, over the green baseball cap’s brim, and into the crowd of people who passed us. A woman with a high blonde ponytail carrying a blue yoga mat signaled to me with a little wave; she mouthed are you okay? I nodded, and the motion made John spin around to see what was happening. We both looked at the retreating back of the young woman. He turned back to me.

The last streaks of daylight closed across the sky; I wondered if Barbie allowed people to yell at her in public.

John let his held breath out, a stretched cloud pulled out of him. I didn’t meet his eyes. Instead, I looked at the night sky and searched for any remaining pink.

Copyright Cannarella 2024