Melissa Greenwood

Colored Pencils

I’m seven years old, and I’m in the middle of giving my Barbie a new do—the one with the brown hair who’s not as pretty as the blonde one. I’m bad with scissors, but I’ll never get better if I don’t practice, so here goes. Snip, snip, sn—I think I need sharper scissors because now there’s brown hairs caught in my kid’s pair. Sorry, Barbie. The rest of your haircut will just have to wait.

It’s a Saturday morning, and so far, I’ve already eaten my cereal (Corn Chex with nonfat milk), watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and played grown-up time with the prettier Barbie and Ken, which is when I take their clothes off and press them up against each other and make smooching sounds, but that got boring fast. The house is quiet because Mom is out catering, and Dad is still sleeping. I like pretending it’s just me who lives here, but the sound of my little brother turning my door handle reminds me that I’m not an only child.

“What do you want, Sean? My door was closed for a reason.” Doesn’t he know that naked dolls need privacy too?

“Can I bough-woah yo cull-ahed pencuuuls?” he asks. He’s five years old but still talks like a baby. My parents send him to speech therapy at UCLA, but it isn’t working.

“I’m sorry,” I say, even though I’m not, “but no—you can’t. I was just about to use them.” That’s a lie, but I pull the 12-pack out from my top desk drawer anyway, along with a sheet of paper. “Hmmmm, what should I draw?” I ask loud enough for him to hear. I hadn’t actually planned on coloring, but now I’d better follow through. Because it’s fun to annoy him, I make a show of slowly opening the white, metal case and taking in the crayon-like smell, before admiring the pointy tips of each color in the set. Meanwhile, Seany’s still gawking at me as he stands sadly by the door, his lips open like a betta fish blowing bubbles.

“Pwease, Masa?” he begs again in a soft, high-pitched voice that sounds like a squeak. He can’t say Melissa or please.

Grinning, I copy-cat my brother’s—“Pwease, Masa”—just like a parrot. Teasing him is so easy that I sometimes can’t help myself.

That’s when he runs off crying to wake up Dad, but Dad never comes in to yell at me or make me share, so I keep doodling, even though I’m as bad at art as I am at cutting or being a big sister. My people either look like snowmen or stick figures. They have no hands or fingers—just nubs. Their eyes are dots or circles, but at least the sun in the sky is always smiling. Everyone knows that I draw the way Sean talks—like a baby.


All of a sudden, I hear the grumble of Dad’s old Mercedes pulling up in our driveway. He must have left while I was listening to my Phantom of the Opera or Into the Woods cassettes. I like CDs because of how shiny and slim they are, but I don’t have a CD player in my room yet. I’ll have to wait a few years until they’re less of a novelty item, as Mom puts it. She’s the one who always buys me these soundtracks on tape, so I’ll know the music when she takes me to see the musicals in-person, which is fun because I love to sing.

We live on a safe street up a steep hill in a sleepy city called Sherman Oaks, and—like I already said—I’m seven, so I’m old enough to stay home alone for what Mom calls short stretches, like from the time we get back from school until she gets back from work. Two hours, tops. That’s why it’s no big deal that Dad left for a while, probably to buy himself some grocery store sushi from the market down the road to take with him to the office later. He owns his own business and only has Sundays off, so he’ll be leaving again as soon as Mom gets back, or maybe a little before that.

But then my door handle rattles, and, suddenly, Dad’s in my room. “Doesn’t anybody knock?” I ask, turning around in my swivel chair. With a scrunched-up forehead and the toss of my arms, I’m doing my best impression of what my first-grade teacher calls exasperated. But Dad doesn’t even notice. His face is red and mean, and he’s holding something square and leather in his hands that looks sorta like a briefcase and not at all like lunch.

“Do you see this?” he asks, waving it around in front of me like I’m blind or something. I have the same big, blue eyes that he has, so of course I see it. “I was just at Kit Kraft, and this is a deluxe $200 art set. It comes with 100 colored pencils and this gorgeous leather case, that zips,” he says—pausing for emphasis.

The zippy case is pretty neat. It’s the same creamy brown as the seats in a BMW, which I know because a lady in our carpool drives one. “Cool,” I say. “Thanks”—wondering silently to myself if the case smells as new as her fancy station wagon does.

“Oh, no. Don’t misunderstand,” Dad says. He didn’t go to college or even graduate from high school, but when he’s lecturing me, he uses bigger words to sound smart. “This set isn’t for you, Melissa.”

In my periphery, I can see Seany lurking shyly in the doorway for the second time today. I suck in air, waiting for Dad to get it over with already: my punishment. “Witches don’t get gifts,” he continues. “This is for your brother,” he gestures to the deluxe set again, “and he’s under strict orders to never, ever—under any circumstances—share even a single, solitary pencil with you. Isn’t that right, Sean?” he asks, looking over at Mr. Tattletale himself.

But Sean doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t even breathe.


Melissa Greenwood who writes CNF (essays and flash), book reviews, and poetry, has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She has been published—both under her real and pen names—in Brevity, The Los Angeles Review, the Los Angeles Review of BooksThe Manifest-StationSledgehammer Lit, and the Jewish Literary Journal, among others, and she has been nominated for awards by Meow Meow Pow Pow (best small fiction award) and Kelp (best of the net), where her work has also appeared. Melissa lives with her Canadian husband in LA, where she teaches Pilates (and also sometimes blogs about it), and he teaches elementary school. In her free time, she can be found reading, writing, singing, or watching a show on one of the streaming platforms—but always in her uniform of stretchy pants. Importantly, she is Team Dark Chocolate. Colored Pencils is her second appearance in Longridge Review.