Susan's Blog

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Orange You Glad?

Another excerpt from my new novel-in-progress. Remember, Nick is the autistic kid, Nat is the mom. D*** is the guy Nat is having an affair with, and Todd is her husband.

Art was next on his schedule. Nick was breathing easily because art did not have words in it, or numbers. Or people. Margaret put the brush into Nick’s hands and gave him a color choice. He liked that: “Do you want red or orange?” And not, “What is your favorite color?” He did not know how to answer that. He knew there was a right answer to every question but that most of the time he did not know it. He hated words and the way they lumped together in front of his eyes.

The brush in the orange paint was smooth and beautiful. The paint was wet and glided all over the paper, turning white into orange. Nick dipped and stroked over and over, watching the tiny drips of orange dry and harden on the paper, watching the orange grow bigger. He wanted to do more with it, so much more, but soon the timer went off and he had to go to the next thing on his schedule. The hard knot in his stomach came back and he felt his hands squeezing. He saw an arm nearby, smooth and soft and close, and pinched it hard. Then there was a little yelling, which made him want to cry, but then he had to sit by himself for a while, which was very good. He almost forgot the orange. Almost. But when Margaret came back she had ugly bandaids on her smooth arm and her eyes looked at him too hard.

“I know you liked the painting, Nick, but we have to do other work now. If you do a good job, we can do more painting, okay?” As she spoke the hardness left her eyes and he could breathe again. He had heard what she had said, about the orange paint, and he was able to say the right thing back, “Okay, yes.” He rocked a little and squeezed the air, and waited for Margaret to give him his work.

Nat had finished dressing and was getting ready to call D***. It had been days since he’d left his voice mail. She did not know what to say to him, or what to do about their strange relationship. And there was Todd to consider. And Jim, now. At least Jim was unattached. She really had not wanted to speak to D*** until she knew how she felt, but no clarity had come to her in all these days.

The phone rang, startling her. She waited for the Caller I.D. to come up. “Ford School,” Nick’s teacher. She picked up. “Hello?”

“Hi, Nat? It’s Margaret from Nick’s classroom.”

“Oh, hi!” Her anxiety level jumped. A call this time of day from the school was never good, no matter which of her sons it was about.

“Hi. Nothing’s wrong. Just wanted to let you know there was an incident today.”

An incident. The school’s banal way of discussing difficulties that arose with the students.


“Yeah, it happened just as he was finishing one thing and was asked to transition to another part of his schedule. He aggressed with a teacher.”

Nat knew there was little point in trying to get more details from her; the staff was extremely careful at maintaining confidentiality and what they considered to be professional neutrality from their students and the families. But she had to ask anyway, “Who was it? Did he hurt anyone?”

Margaret hesitated. “Just a staff person, no, it’s fine.”

Nat felt that it was Margaret herself who’d been hurt. She always wished they would tell her and make Nick apologize, make him have normal consequences, rather than autistic ones. Rather than treating him like a set of behavioral problems to be decreased or discouraged. Nat also wanted to know what were the activities he had been doing at the time; was there a reason behind his aggression, other than what the school saw as autistic stubbornness? Maybe he merely had liked what he’d been doing. Whatever it had been. And if there was something Nick liked that much, she wanted to know what it was! “Can you tell me what he was doing just before he aggressed?”


“Uh-huh. Did he like it?”

“Um, I guess so. He stayed on task admirably. Covered an entire sheet of paper with orange.”

“So he likes orange?”

“Well, I guess he does. He was offered a choice of orange or red. He picked orange.”
Nat wondered what would have happened if he’d been offered more than two pathetic colors. Nat liked Margaret but she sometimes could be a little too crisp, too professional, and things usually worked much better for Nick if is teachers were sloppier, and more in love with him. She wondered, what else did Nick like and want that he was denied? Her heart twisted in pain for her silent son.

“Okay, well that is all good to know. I hope the rest of the day goes better.”

“I’m sure it will,” Margaret said warmly.

As Nat hung up, she told herself to remember to buy a set of paints this afternoon.

She zipped up her boots and decided she would call D*** a little later. Right now she had to get to a showing, the Pearls again.

The condo they were seeing was in The Farm, a historic section of town that was extremely desirable and difficult for most middle class people to afford. But, she figured, maybe the Pearls had some undisclosed source of income, so who was she to judge?

As soon as they pulled up she knew she had a sale. The look on Mrs. Pearl’s face gave it all away. The neighborhood had all the signs of pedigree that Mrs. Pearl craved: tasteful black or silver Mercedes, Audis, and Volvos were parked outside on granite block driveways. The gardens out front were small but well-tended, with neat gravel or winding brick paths. Black wrought iron or stone balustrades edged properties and terraces. It was a 1.5 million dollar two-bedroom, but every square foot was polished and perfect. Mrs. Pearl tried to restrain her Cheshire cat grin – she was already trying hard to fit in here – but every few feet she let out an “ooh,” or “aah.” Nat didn’t like her, but she couldn’t blame her, either. This was a pristine, beautiful showplace.

They walked through it and within fifteen minutes told her they wanted to make an offer, before anyone else did. Nat smiled. “Sure, let’s go back to the office.” Hah, D***, see? She thought. I may not be a real estate wiz, but I know people.

Nick settled himself into the middle of the white couch. Mommy was nearby, so he crouched over, covering his face with his hands so that he would not have to look at her. Most people’s eyes hurt him, or scared him. They glowed outward from faces and pressed into him, making all the words in his head whirl around or disappear.

Mommy moved into the playroom. He heard rustling in there, but no talking. He felt the breath come out of his throat again, open again. He opened and closed his hand, and felt the air stir around his fingers. He thought over and over about the orange paint at school. The orange had filled up his head and burned in front of his eyes, but in a happy way, like music. He had wanted to sing while he painted, but he knew that he couldn’t do that in school. Someone was always saying, “Quiet” to him, except when they wanted him to talk. He did not understand those rules either.

But the painting had no rules. There was just the liquid fire on the soft page. The perfect furry black brush, soaked exactly right with orange. He almost cried remembering the orange, but like the way he almost cried when Mommy made fudge. The taste filled him up, blocked out all noise. This was what orange did.

“NickIhavesomepaintforyou!” Mommy came crashing into the livingroom spouting loud words. Nick covered his eyes harder.

“Nick,” Mommy said quietly and slowly, “I have some paint for you. Like at school.”
Nick popped up his head. “Yes.” He stood from the couch. Mommy p
ulled out a rustly white bag and dug around. She produced four brushes of differing thickness, and five fat jars of bright paint, two of which were orange.

Nick stared at all of this for a moment, smiled and turned away.

“Oh, Baby Delight,” Natalie whispered, calling him his very first nickname that she and Todd had thought of, because of the way he would turn away from them as a baby when he was especially happy. She handed him the bag and watched him run upstairs to his room, a tearful joy on her face, knowing that she really had gotten it right this time.


Just beautiful writing, I can’t say more, but I will. You have captured so much in just that one passage. The feelings of Nick, the pain and pleasure. The pit in my stomach when I get a phone call from my son’s school; the joy when I truly figure out something that brings his pure happiness. This book will be wonderful b/c you understand.

— added by Sam's mom on Thursday, April 27, 2006 at 12:18 am

I like the description of Nick’s response to the color. I’m glad there wasn’t a big ugly scene at the school. 🙂

— added by Camille on Thursday, April 27, 2006 at 1:14 am

Okay – I am hooked. I hope you post more. Elaine

— added by elaine on Thursday, April 27, 2006 at 10:28 am

The Nick segments – seeing the world from his perspective – are just remarkable… almost luminous.

— added by TwoBusy on Thursday, April 27, 2006 at 4:32 pm

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