It was Friday night bedtime. The moon was rising over Moose Mountain, glittering on the snow-covered fields. I’d just begun to doze off, dreaming of skiing, when Mother spoke up.
I should have known she’d do something like this. She’s the living proof that humankind abhors an equilibrium. Pandora is her patron saint, and her watchword, “Never let sleeping dogs lie.” That, in this case, meant me.
“I want to get this bedroom painted this weekend,” she said, as casually as if she meant to change the kitty litter.
The notion was clearly ridiculous; repainting a room is not a one-day job. So I drifted off to sleep chuckling. Next morning I was off to work before she’d even awoken.
But when I came home at noon, there was a paint chip on the kitchen floor where I’d be sure to see it, and a note: “Get 2 gallons flat latex, 2 quarts low enamel this color exactly. If can’t match, go lighter. If you want to show you love me, start painting ASAP. Will be home soon.”
Well, the paint man and I couldn’t match the color. So we mixed up one a little lighter, and I took it home.
Now, to Mother, painting a room is a matter of pulling the furniture a foot from the walls, throwing down some newspaper, and starting to paint — using one of those little triangular plastic-mounted sponges. “Saturday Morning Specials,” I call them, the cheap handguns of the amateur painting crowd. She paints like the television commercial: lunch in the green room, dinner in the red room. I knew she planned to sleep in the blue room that night.
I first remove all the furniture, cover the whole floor with drop cloths, and mask the carpet with tape and newspapers. I remove all the hardware and electrical plates. Then I fill nail holes, repair popped nails, and plaster any cracks. When it’s dry, I sand and wash it down with warm water. Let it dry again. And finally I’m ready to begin.
So when she came home, the dressers were in the hall, the bed in the family room between the stove and the humidifier, her desk in the bathroom, and the contents of the closets on the couch. “What are you doing?” she cried.
Well, I suppose I could have been conciliatory or apologetic, but I was feeling neither. “What do you mean, what am I doing? You want me to paint right over these cobwebs?” This last delivered with heavy irony. She left to dig out her painting clothes from under the piles on the couch.
Then a cry from the kitchen. She’d found the paint. “Why didn’t you match the chip I gave you?”
“I couldn’t. You said to get a lighter shade if we couldn’t, so I did.”
“I don’t know. It looks awfully blue to me.”
At eleven that night the joint compound still wasn’t dry enough to sand. So we slept in the family room — on extreme opposite edges of the mattress.
After church on Sunday, I sanded and wiped my patch job. We were ready
Sunlight streamed in the windows. She smeared away on one wall, and I rolled along on the other. I’d have time to ski that afternoon, and we’d have the furniture back by bedtime. I hummed happily at my work.
“Stop painting,” she said. “Just look at that blue! How could you do it? Looks like a circus wagon!”
Well, I had to admit that it was a little bright. So we stopped. Monday she went herself to get the color the way she wanted it. Maybe next weekend, if we’re lucky, we’ll be done.
Meanwhile, we’re sleeping in the family room and using the couch as a closet. Evenings, we paint a little and then go to bed between the humidifier and the stove. It’s like living in a rain forest on the side of a volcano. Paul Gauguin would have loved it.
This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.
–Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.