The Trouble with Pier

“Where’s Pier?” her father asked one morning while eating breakfast in their new home. Pier’s mother replied, “She’s outside, marching around the perimeter again.”

“Oh, leave her alone, Kitty Cat, she’s just getting used to things,” said Pier’s father, as his youngest daughter walked through the kitchen door, nose lifted as she caught the smell of brown-sugared oatmeal.

“Out doing your routine?” asked her mother.

“Yup,” said Pier.

“If you were a dog, you’d be out there wee-ing on the trees, Pier,” laughed her father, “marking your territory.”

“Woody!” exclaimed Pier’s mother, “Hush now!”

“And let’s not encourage her,” she added more quietly.

“Mom!” cried Pier, her brow furrowing. She marched over to her chair with her arms crossed. Why does Dad always say things like that, Pier wondered, and what’s so funny? She adjusted the bulky phone book that served as cushion, then climbed up.

Pier’s oatmeal had two raisin eyes, one prune nose, a smile of exactly eight raisins, and a dusting of cinnamon across its nose and cheeks. Pier used to like seven raisins for the breakfast smile, one in the center with three raisins curving up on each side, but now she liked eight. Pier smiled back at her oatmeal.

“We’ll be going shopping for school clothes tomorrow, Pier,” her mother remarked. Pier stirred her oatmeal very quietly, curving her spoon around, dragging a faint cinnamon trail. This feels like painting without having any paint, Pier thought. She didn’t want to think about clothes. They were a tricky subject between Pier and her mother.

Pier’s older sister, Alexandra, quietly hoped Pier would throw her usual fit so Alexandra could go shopping instead.

“I don’t want any clothes from Sears, they’re all too scratchy,” said Pier.

“Eat your oatmeal, Pier.” replied her mother.

“No!” Pier shouted, running out of the room and up the stairs, slamming shut her bedroom door.

“I hate those stupid, scratchy, ugly-as-sin clothes,” Pier fumed.

“Ugly as sin,” she repeated again, trying out a new phrase she’d heard a grownup recently say.

Crossing over to her bedroom window, Pier lifted the sash and climbed out onto the porch roof. After a quick pull-up to the upper roof — with Pier noticing how strong her arms were only two weeks after her first climb up on the roof — Pier settled herself on the far ridge. From here, Pier could easily look over and see the next-door neighbor’s pool.

Unknown to Pier, she was also quite visible to the neighbor watching from across the street. This neighbor was the mother of twins, a quiet boy and a quiet girl who stayed inside most of the time.

“Never seem to have much gumption, those two,” was Pier’s mother’s opinion.

The neighbor grew alarmed because Pier was “hanging precariously close to that 50 foot drop,” she would later say.

“That drop is no higher than 20 feet,” Pier’s father would scoff.

“That’s not helping,” Pier’s mother would add.

Pier, meanwhile, was swimming in her imagination up on that roof, deep in the neighbor’s pool, her mermaid scales matching perfectly the little top she’d bought at the mermaid boutique at the bottom of the pool.

Vaguely, she heard her mother shouting for her. Pier thought about answering but didn’t want to. She didn’t want new clothes. Not any that scratched, anyway.

Suddenly, Pier heard the sirens.

She saw flashing lights coming right up her street, and her sister running up the driveway. The twin’s mother from across the street, was shouting at Pier’s parents, gesturing wildly.

Pier thought she’d better head back to her bedroom. She crossed the upstairs roof ridge and was starting to shimmy down to the porch roof when a fireman, climbing out of her bedroom window, startled her. He grabbed Pier by the waist and set her down on her feet while Pier shouted over and over, “I can do it myself!”

“Honestly, Pier! You had us all frightened to death. We didn’t know where you were,” Pier’s mother said, her head poking out the bedroom window.

“You got that lunatic neighbor all worked up,” added Pier’s father from behind her mother, while Alexandra stood silently behind him making faces. “She called the firemen. You can’t go scaring everyone like that, Pier.”

“It’s not safe, your father means,” Pier’s mother said. She gave a pointed look to her husband that he pointedly ignored.

“You aren’t a monkey, you know,” she went on, “the roof is too high for you to be climbing on.”

“She was perfectly fine. Pier has exceptional balance,” Pier’s father said.

“Exceptional balance,” Pier repeated to herself, quietly.

Pier’s father headed downstairs, saying he’d make sure the lunatic neighbor got calmed down.

“Not too much charm,” Pier’s mother said.

“Now, now, Kitty Cat,” soothed Pier’s father in his deep, honeyed voice.

In silence, Pier’s mother turned back to her youngest.

Alexandra finally saw her chance, “Why don’t we skip Sears and go shopping at the mall?”