First Page Challenge 2021—1st place winner: "Pink Houses"
By Claire Nuttall
Our house fell off the cliff in 1985. It was August, so all the mustard grass and poppies that held the ground in place had burned and died, leaving the earth loose and vulnerable to the kinds of rains that came that last week of summer.
I left for the grocery store around noon with my windshield wipers on high. Rosalie wanted limes and rosemary and elderflower liquor for gin and tonics, and I wanted to see which parts of the roads the mud had washed out. I loved a good old-fashioned California disaster: a wildfire, a flash flood, an earthquake. The empty sidewalks and dark skies felt urgent, forbidden. The grocery store was nearly empty except for a couple clerks and a teenage boy with a mop walking the maze of aisles like a snail, leaving a wet path behind him as went.
There was a lime shortage that year, so the little green bodies were bruised and yellow and three times their normal price. I filled a paper bag with twenty and paid in cash. When I pulled up to the place where our house had been, my hair was wet from the rain. I don’t remember dropping the grocery bags, but I can still see the delicate bottle of St. Germain shattered on the concrete and the twenty limes, yellow and bruised, rolling down the driveway and filling the gutters.
If someone called 911, it wasn’t me. I was busy scrambling down what was left of the stone staircase leading to the water, busy cutting my hands on broken glass and stray nails, busy looking for what was left of Rosalie in what was left of our house. I found her under the couch, the antique settee upholstered in pink velvet where she lounged in a muumuu and smoked joints and made crass jokes every afternoon. The couch’s legs were snapped in half and so were hers. She was naked, so I wrapped my sweater around her body.
She was still warm against me, still warm when they found us, the neighbors we never spoke to and the police that’d been called when our parties got too loud and the paramedics and the news anchors and the cameras and the bikers and the pedestrians and the tourists and the strangers, a whole city on the cliff where our house had once been.
Claire Nuttall is a fiction writer, ghostwriter, and editor from Southern California. She writes novels and short stories about mental illness, domestic drama, and queer love. Her work has been published in Mid-American Review; Pink Houses is her second unpublished novel. She is currently earning her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Florida in Gainesville where she lives with her kitten, Lucie.