Short Story

Mountains Are Hard to Overcome – Brooke Safferman

The box of crayons lay on the coffee table, stains from early-morning espresso tattooed on the mahogany. Leona rose upon her four-year-old legs and waddled her way over from her napping mat to empty out all of the colors from the Crayola carton: Cerulean, Yellow Green, Green Yellow, Fuschia, Purple Mountain Majesty… Purple Mountain Majesty. Leona asserted her dominance over the crayon, pressing with as much force as her pudgy hand could muster until the tip shrunk away into dullness.

“Nice picture, Leona! I’ve never seen a purple person before in my life, but you’ve done a great job. Is that a tutu on him?” her father exclaimed. “Huh! Maggie, come look at Leona’s work!” Leona’s mother clacked across the marble floor in practical heels that were the perfect companion to her equally-practical pinstripe pant-suit.

“Oh, Leona!” Maggie’s voice echoed upwards thirteen feet to the ceiling. “Tell Mommy and Daddy about your pretty picture. James, go grab the video camera! We should save this.” Leona’s father galloped out of the room, searching for the Sony camcorder. Maggie peered over Leona’s shoulder to get a better look at the drawing. She bit her flawlessly manicured cuticles when she saw. “JAMES. You didn’t tell me that Leona drew… this! Come back in here right now. We need to talk about this!”

When he returned four minutes later, he pressed the “RECORD” button despite his wife’s displeasure, and Leona began her artist’s statement. “Purple Mountain Majesty is my most favorite color. It’s my favorite because it’s very pretty and so is the person I drew. He is a princess, because both boys and princesses are my favorite, too!” Leona giggled, kissing the princess.

James’s eyes widened as he whispered, “Should I keep recording?” Maggie bit her lip. Nodding her head, as making quick yet sound decisions was a talent of hers, she sat down on the burgundy leather couch and patted the cushion beside her. Leona loyally clambered up next to her, waving her picture in her mother’s face.

“Leona, aren’t people white or black, usually? You know people aren’t purple, right, sweetheart?” Eyes locked between mother and daughter. James puzzledly attempted to zoom in with the camera with no avail.

“You can’t tell if a person is good or bad if they are white or black. That’s why I picked Purple Mountain Majesty, because that is a color I love. So, I know this person is nice.”

Maggie flipped open her pocket mirror and applied her “Perfectly Passionate”-hued lipstick, which she always thought demanded attention. She turned to her husband. “James, shut the camera off.” James fervently shook his head in protest. “James, I mean it. Turn it off. Now.”

“No way, Maggie. Let her keep talking. Ask her more questions.”

Maggie blew a forceful breath out of her nostrils, and shut her eyes. “Fine. So Leona, honey, why on Earth did you make such a pretty princess be a boy for, huh? Mommy knows you love both boys and princesses, but princesses can only be girls!”

James finally turned off the camera. “Maggie.”

“What? It’s true! You want her to think that boys can wear fairy tutus and princess crowns and prance around as they please? I’m doing her a favor here, James. I’m doing us a favor.”

At that moment, Leona scrambled off the couch and plopped down next to her nearby arts-and-crafts box. She unscrewed the cap to the pink glitter, and poured the entire tube onto the form of the princess. James and Maggie’s eyes flicked back to meet each other’s glances.

“Spreading hatred is the opposite of doing us a favor. Let her do what she wants.”

“No! I will not have my little girl confused about the way things should be. Boys cannot be princesses, and people are not purple. End of story.” Maggie stood up, reaching for her structured leather briefcase. The cross-body style was practical, something Maggie not only adored but also used to rationalize paying $1,258 for it at the local Neiman Marcus. She was home for the afternoon only because her sister was coming into town. “And Jenna will be here any minute, and I expect you to be nice this time.”

Maggie clacked off into the master bedroom to change into something less office-ready, leaving James standing in the family room by himself. His brow furrowed. There’s nothing wrong with princess boys! Lee-Lee’s just a little kid; she can do whatever the hell she wants. Maggie needs to stop being so strict all the time. He kneaded his stubble a little too forcefully as he contemplated, leaving a red spot along his jawline.

Leona dumped the glitter off of her picture. It was only sticking to the tutu because she had squeezed some glue onto it, an action unnoticed during her parents’ mêlée.

“Maaaa-gieeeee!” Maggie’s twin, Jenna had the type of voice that made a guy wish he magically had earplugs lying around in his pockets. James stifled a groan.

“JENNA!” Maggie scurried across the floor, assaulting her sister with a hug. She had put on jeans and a cardigan, which although more casual than her pantsuit, were still very sensible.

“Hey, Jenna,” James mumbled. If Jenna heard him, she didn’t show it. The 28-year-old sisters compared everything constantly – careers, love lives, manicures. Competition was the norm with these two, and it gave James a tension headache. He shuffled into the bathroom to worship the Excedrin gods. Leona, on the other hand, worshipped Jenna.

“Leona, look how pretty you are! And my God, so grown up! You’re going to drive all the boys crazy with desire.” Jenna stroked Leona’s fine strands of strawberry blonde strands hair as her gaze drifted to The Drawing.

“I drew a boy right now, too!” Leona’s smile, lacking front teeth, was enchanting enough to cause Jenna to accept that there was a purple boy that looked like a princess waving around in her face.

“Can I get you some coffee.” Maggie didn’t wait for an answer because it wasn’t spoken as a question. She hurried into the kitchen and began fumbling with the Keurig.

Jenna reached out and held Leona’s paper in her hands, running her index finger upon the sticky glitter. “Leona… Oh, Leona, you did draw a boy, didn’t you?”

James emerged from the bathroom, massaging his temples. “She did a good job, Jenna. Purple Mountain Majesty is a great color. It’s a color of inspiration. Mountains are hard to overcome. You need a lot of strength, especially mentally, to climb them.”

“I know this. I think it’s beautiful, James. It might not be Maggie’s cup of tea, but I am a big fan of the arts. Can you get us some tape?”

Jenna took Leona by the hand and together they strode out of the room. That lady is so damn high and mighty, James thought. He soon joined them, tape dispenser in hand. Jenna pressed Leona’s drawing up to the girl’s bedroom wall with one hand, and gestured with the other to James for him to come over and help her out.

“There!” He smiled, smoothing the tape against the wall. Leona clapped her hands, her giggle frolicking throughout the room.

“NO.” Maggie stomped in, brusquely setting the coffee mug she was holding on Leona’s dresser. She made her way over to her daughter’s offending wall décor.

“Stop, Maggie!” Jenna tried to pry her sister’s hands off of the picture but with a final tug, Maggie obtained the purple-hued male princess in her well-groomed clutches. Jenna could only stare, unable to disguise the hurt in her eyes.

James stood back, raking his fingertips through his hair. If they were going to start arguing, he was not going to stay. Leona looked up at him, her rapidly blinking eyes wet with confusion.

“Come on, Lee-Lee. Wanna do something fun? Let’s go get you some ice cream!” Nodding, Leona locked an arm around her father’s leg, and wiped her nose on his jeans. He didn’t care for them much because they were a little tight in the seat, but Maggie insisted they looked great. They were from True Religion.

“James, wait.” All eyes shifted to Maggie. “Don’t go.” She looked. Her husband and little girl were going off to have fun without her.

“Why not? So I can watch you teach our daughter to buy into all this hatred and bullshit we’re force-fed to believe!?” He was next to his wife now, pointing one shaking finger at the paper in her hand.

“No,” she whispered, gazing down at Leona’s masterpiece. She began gently swabbing away tears with her thumb.

“Why, then?” he asked softly, placing his palm on the small of her back.

“I need more tape.”

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