Write On!

Renovation

In Uncategorized, Writing Prompts on June 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm

by Jen Strange

Nagged him about that kitchen: “Replace the cabinet doors, paint the walls, hang the blinds, order more tile for the backsplash, install cork floor (through the hallways while you’re at it), put up more cabinets and countertop. And when you’re done, let’s make the garage into an office!” He moved at a characteristically slow pace, which is why the nagging seemed more like occasional reminders than actual irritation. We waited.

I spent a lot of time during those months wishing for a kind of veldt to appear in our kitchen. If the walls couldn’t be completely tiled, I wanted a Bradburian magic there. Give the days a little excitement. Of course, things didn’t go too well in that story, and it’s not like I wanted the children eaten by tigers, so the daydreams didn’t last very long—the logic of the longing unraveled so quickly.

Meanwhile, the kids had an idea to bang out a wall. In that way that children do, they pulled down the closet rod and smacked a wall before they even realized they had taken a step on the road toward home demolition. Perhaps they had overheard my reminders to their father and thought they would help, if in another room and in a previously undescribed way. Perhaps they knew subconsciously that I was ready for change.

Laundry duties had me on the other side of the house one morning when I heard a wall-thwack from the back of the house. No one wailed, so I hoped that didn’t mean anyone had been knocked unconscious. No feet came padding down the hallway. I finished folding the towel in my hands and headed back, calling the boys’ names. Nothing.

When I entered their bedroom, I saw a doorway where a tall mirror had been. The space between their wide closets had featured a mirror from before we bought the house, and I had to come close to it this time—as the boys had so many times before, checking their reflections even as they pressed their cheeks to the glass—to make sure it showed something through rather than back. No reflection this time—just blue walls forming a new short hall. The closet rod sat on the carpet in front of the former mirror—the boys must have dropped it like a bat after it hit a home run.

I could hear my grandmother in my ears: “You’ll know. Jenny, you’ll know.” She felt sure that when my boys were older, I would finally understand the compulsive anxiety she thought all mothers experienced naturally. All mothers, she thought—or at least, all good mothers—were obliged to fear. So I fought back the scream and walked into that hall.

To this day, if you walk around the outside of our house, you will see behind the boys’ room a scrawny attempt at a peach tree and some pitiful bush surrounding an air conditioning unit that’s too small for our house. But that day, the boys and I walked into a room that should have flattened them all. The great library had chairs enough for us each to find one we liked, and when we sat in them, drinks that satisfied suddenly appeared on their neighboring tables. We read books separately, and then we read books together, and the boys found beds made into tents while I found a window that offered a new landscape every time I flipped the blinds.

Cheese and fruit and crackers and brownies appeared on a side table around what must have been noon, and we snacked until we were full. Then we made pictures and practiced letters in another corner where crayons and pencils and paper abounded. The wood panels and high windows told me to sit and rest, but the tables full of rich stuff told us to create and cultivate. So we did.

We spent the hours in busy quiet until a trio of instruments appeared. It had been a while for me, and never for the boys, but we made music: I on the cello, our older son on the violin, and our younger son on the piano. Like we had practiced these pieces together for years. And what improvisational harmony! We could have played a club, our prodigal group from the veldt.

But we heard clock chimes at some point, reminding me to make supper and reminding the boys to want supper. So we found the short hall again and walked back through their bedroom all the way to the kitchen before we realized we hadn’t even paused. The boys ran back first, to grab their drawings, and when I stepped into their room a few paces back, I saw them staring at their own reflections in that mirror. They looked up at my eyes in my reflection, but none of us could say a word. We saw each other fresh, and turned back to the kitchen. To pasta and pesto and fish and apples.

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