She's born into a room of fluffy pink; pastel pink on the walls, pink pillows and blankets, a white teddy with a pink nose that sat in the corner of her crib. Sheila went overboard with the pink. The doctors say it's a miracle, say Karen is a gift from God. Eddie prays twice as hard every Sunday for nine months, but he's too pussy to actually witness the birth, and then Karen comes home to a room of pink. Their miracle.
Sheila takes her to the park on Saturdays, watches her build sandcastles and then tear them down vengefully, but never lets her on the monkey bars. She says Karen's too small, too breakable.
When Sheila isn't looking, Karen leaps high into the air, holds on tight with both hands, and swings from the bars like she's been doing it for years. She learns her lesson when Sheila catches her and screams bloody-murder, causing her to fall and scrape her elbow, warranting a trip to the emergency room and a Hello Kitty band-aid.
Karen makes sure Sheila never catches her again.
Eddie takes her to church on Sundays. She doesn't really get it, but she likes the look on daddy's face when she mumbles the prayers and the songs, and so she never complains.
Eddie grumbles about immigrants the day that Sheila comes home, ashen white, wailing about a robbery at the bank. She hides in her room, doesn't come out for days, then weeks, then months. After a year, she freely walks the house, but when Karen suggests they go back to the park, Sheila's eyes get distant and misty and she says, "Not today, sweetie."
The first guy is someone she knows in the sixth grade; it was a dare. He comes in like, six seconds, and then cries about it because he promised his mom he wouldn't until he was married. Karen sits there and pats his back sympathetically for an hour.
But it feels good, the power. The knowing that she's desirable. The look of pride on Eddie's face at church has lost its luster, and Sheila still hasn't left the house, so this is something that Karen can do. This is something she can manage.
It happens again, and again, and again, until she loses count of all the guys she's blown and all the times they tell her how fucking great she is.
And it's still not enough.
Sheila makes a promise to show up to a parent-teacher meeting, to see how well Karen is doing in English class, to read the essay she wrote about symbolism in Lord of the Flies that Mrs. Watson says is the best one she's read all year.
Karen ends up waiting outside the school for an hour after the late buses have trudged off, clutching onto the flag pole with both hands and swinging precariously to pass the time.
She walks home and finds Sheila huddled under a sheet and trembling in a corner, and Eddie watchingSeinfeld on the couch, like nothing even happened.
Lip is one of the coolest guys she's ever met. She's always so jealous of him, because he manages to be super awesome and super genius at the same time, and he looks at her in the eyes when they're fucking and acts like it means something, and when they're not fucking he still likes to hang out with her, still calls her his best friend, buys her concert tickets and holds her hand.
This is the closest thing Karen'll get to a real thing. Lip doesn't care if she does other guys, or he pretends not to, and Karen suggests a threesome more than a couple of times. It works for her. It works for them.
She doesn't fall in love with him right away, but it happens, like shit tends to do.
Eddie hates Sheila. Karen knows this. He knows that they haven't been in love since ever, since before she was born, or maybe since her room was still pastel pink. Sheila is fragile — Karen knows this, too. She won't be able to handle Eddie leaving her, won't be able to handle being alone.
For her sake, Karen wants him to stay. Wants him to love her again. For mom.
Suddenly, Karen is very, very old, and very, very tired, and Eddie spends a lot more time at work than he used to.
Eddie leaves, because shit happens, because Karen isn't good enough at being a daughter. She's too promiscuous, too abrasive. She doesn't think Eddie loves her anymore, wonders if he ever did; wonders if he stopped loving her the moment she was old enough to talk and stop praying and start sucking cock.
Karen knows it's her fault. But she's not gonna fucking apologize for her dad being a prick. She knows her place, knows what she does right and wrong, and Sheila doesn't blame her but they both know the real truth.
She's lost count now. The guys she's blown and fucked and the guys she's ruined and destroyed and broken. Lip is the only one who gets it, like he knows that she likes pleasure, that she likes sex, that she likes knowing that other people want to fuck her. Because it helps, that knowing. A secret that she keeps to herself.
Lip holds her hand, smiles into her wrist, kisses each knuckle twice. "I'm sorry about your dad."
He means it. Karen doesn't hate him for it, but wishes he didn't, wishes, wishes, wishes. She rolls her eyes at him, calls him a prick, but lets him kiss her and swallows his puff of laughter like a promise.
There's a thing growing inside of her.
Karen is used to having things inside of her. Dildos and cocks and fingers and tongues. She's used to that. But there's a living thing, a growing mass of cells becoming a tiny little person in her stomach, and Karen is freaking the fuck out.
Is it Lip's? She doesn't know. She doesn't fucking know. She wants it to — no, she doesn't. She just wants it to be gone. She wants it out of her, but she can't handle an abortion, can't handle sucking that piece of her out of her vagina, can't handle it. Dad told her it was a sin. It's more than that.
Lip thinks it's his, and Karen knows the probability of the notion, but he's the only one who holds her hand and kisses her when he's not balls-deep inside of her and gives her smiles when she isn't even looking, so she takes him with her to the meetings, lets him hold her hand and kiss her and smile at her.
There's a thing inside of her, and it's not just the baby. It's fear and anger and more fear, a darkness, a growing shadow that she can't cough up.
The books said it was gonna hurt. Karen knew it was gonna hurt. That's why she signs up for a C-section, for that heavy dose of morphine and sleep, so that she can be knocked out when they remove it from her body and put it in a crib and shove it into the arms of its new parents. Simple. Easy. She won't even have to look at it, won't even have to know if it's Lip's kid.
But she's wide awake when they shove it in her face, when they ask her if she'd like to hold her defective child, who is most definitely not Lip's. She says no. She wants to scream it. No, she does not want to see it. No, she does not want it. She wants it gone, she wants it out; if she had it her way it would be dead.
And Lip's accusing eyes. And his trembling words. The way she never told him it was his, the way he kept hoping it was to the point of lunacy, to the point of delusion.
She doesn't look at him again.
Afterwards, Karen sits on Eddie's grave. She still hates him. She misses having him around, just as an outlet for her hate. Without Eddie, she hates too much and all the wrong people, takes out her anger on people who don't deserve it, on herself, on Sheila, on Lip. Eddie used to soak it all up. Now he rots below the earth.
"I didn't fuck up my life." Eddie can't answer, of course. Karen feels bile rising in her throat at the engraving on his polished rock. Loving father. A fucking lie. Devoting husband? Karen wants to scream her hatred because she can't keep it bottled up.
She stands up, brushes off her knees, wipes at her dry eyes. She hasn't fucked up her life. She hasn't fucked anything up but the people around her, and they're disposable. Jody is disposable. Mom'll get over it. And Lip'll —
Suddenly Karen cries, her face going all red and blotchy. She's not an attractive crier. Ugly, fat tears roll down her cheeks and smudge the dirt on Eddie's grave.
Karen expects Sheila to give up the thing. She expects her to give in to the cops, meekly and quietly, like she would have years ago. But Karen knows, secretly, that Sheila's had eyes for the baby ever since it popped out of her. That Karen is expendable. The baby is a fresh start, a clean slate. Sheila knows she fucked up with Karen and now she's starting over.
It's Karen or the baby, but Karen isn't stupid. She knows before Sheila says it, already feels her feet inching towards the door before a real answer.
Karen turns and walks away. She doesn't stop walking until she gets to the train station, and doesn't stop crying until she's miles and miles away, alone in a motel room, already thinking about how her room is going to be turned into a nursery. The pink replaced by blue. Her crib being taken down from the attic. Her bed-sheets tucked away in the basement.
Karen flutters, a flightless bird. Expendable. Disposable. A blemish of pink.