The day of the Christmas party Brenda spent all day cooking while her daughters Barbie and Blanca cleaned.
“Metan todo lo que puedan en el closet,” she yelled from the kitchen.
Her husband Beto called her una loca for wanting to have a party in a one bedroom apartment days after Christmas.
“We barely fit in this shithole. Where you gonna put everyone else?”
“It doesn’t matter. Lo que importa es que estemos juntos,” she said and waved him away. “If you’re not gonna help, then go.” And so he left.
Brenda put el pino in the corner of the living room closest to the window. Barbie and Blanca slept there and until the Christmas tree was gone they’d have to share a couch. But they didn’t mind. They liked the lights.
The party came and went. Tios and tias stopped by with gifts for their young nieces. The aromas of the pastelitos, and the tamales, and the arroz welcomed vecinos y vecinas. Even Beto showed up. Someone brought coquito. Someone brought aguardiente. Someone brought Tecate. Brenda danced and laughed all night.
On New Year’s Day Barbie and Blanca woke to the banging and scrapping and shuffling of furniture being moved around them.
Barbie rubbed her eyes, “Mami, what’s going on?”
“Nena, we’re going to paint the walls today!” Brenda leaned a ladder against the front door.
Barbie helped Blanca up as she asked, “Why?”
Barbie looked around and saw that the dishes from the party were still stacked high in the kitchen sink. Garbage spilled over. There was clothes everywhere. The side tables had been moved into the kitchen.
“Porque I need more color in this place. Aunque este lugar este pequeño, we’re going to make it pop.”
Barbie didn’t get it, the walls were already colorful. Shortly after they moved to their one-bedroom apartment in Harlem Brenda painted one wall red, another orange, another pink, and another yellow.
“Hay que celebrar la vida, hijas,” she said to her daughters. And after the walls were painted they walked around the neighborhood searching for discarded furniture. They dragged side tables with missing drawers and a bookshelf with missing shelves back to the apartment. Brenda spent so many hours entranced in scouring the pieces with ajax and pinesol that eventually Blanca had to pull her away and ask to be fed.
Brenda continued to move furniture around. “Let’s go, girls. Help me move this stuff away from the walls.” Barbie and Blanca did as they were told.
“Primero, we have to paint the walls white y luego we can add the color. We need a clean canvas. A fresh start.” Brenda didn’t look at her daughters.
“Si, mami.” They’ve seen Brenda act this way before. She’d spend hours and days on what she called her “special projects” like painting the apartment or retiling the bathroom or she’d take the girls out of school for “secret adventures” like going to the beach in the middle of winter because it’s less crowded at that time of year. But then she’d spend the following days in her room sleeping or crying.
After a few days, that’s what happened. Eventually Beto put everything back in it’s place. But the red, orange, pink, and yellow walls were left half painted in a white that refused to cover the brightness of the other colors.
Barbie asked Beto to leave the Christmas tree up. And he did, even though it was already mid-January and the pine needles were mostly brown. Barbie and Blanca continued to sleep under the pino pretending the lights were stars.