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First place winner of Bookshop's annual short story contest, 2014.
This story will also be published in our 2014 Summer Newsletter.


by Clifford Henderson

You sit in the airy classroom with its colorful drawings and maps, your chubby knees tucked under your metal and wood desk. There is a banana, carved by some third grader before you, on the top right corner of the hinged lid of your desk. But you are not looking at the banana; you are looking at the palm of your hand. You should be working on your math assignment, which is really more like a quiz only the teacher didn’t call it that. She called it an “assignment to gauge our skills” as if her skills needed gauging too. The assignment/quiz has to do with subtraction, which you hate because the carrying over of numbers makes no sense to you, so you look at the palm of your hand with its roadways of creases and mountain of fatty pillows. You are thinking about being white, because that’s what you are, white, although you’re not really white. You’re more like the color of the sponge your dad uses to wash the car, but you can’t really go around telling people that—that you’re the color of a sponge!—so you settle on white and everyone seems to know what you mean.

In the desk next to you sits your classmate Alphonso, and he is definitely not white. He is the color of the whole spoonful of blackstrap molasses your mother makes you swallow on those mornings when you slump into the kitchen yawning and stretching and pretending to have the sniffles so you won’t have to go to school. But Alphonso has a secret, one that the first time you saw it made you fall instantly in love with him. The palms of his hands are pink as a sunrise. Only you’d barely know it because his hands are always in fists—not for fighting, more like he’s trying to hide his fingers, which are long and tapered and have beautiful nails at the tips.

Alphonso is also very shy so it took you a while to learn that the inside of his mouth is also pink. You learned this the day the school nurse talked to your class about oral hygiene. She made everyone open their mouths really wide and there were his pink pink gums and his white white teeth and you’d wondered to yourself what it would be like to kiss a mouth like that, and to hold the pale white palm of your hand against the secret pink one of his.

You feel yourself go pink just from thinking about it.

All this before your teacher claps her hands and says: “Time’s up! Pass your papers to the right.” You look down at your assignment/quiz and realize you haven’t written down a single thing except your name. And the paper, it really is white.


Clifford Henderson is the author of three award-winning novels, The Middle of Somewhere, Spanking New, and Maye’s Request. Her fourth, Rest Home Runaways, is due out in 2014. When not writing, Clifford and her partner of twenty years run the Fun Institute, a school of improv and solo performance where they teach the art of collective pretending. Contact Clifford at