Chapter 3: LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA (Part 2)
“What’s going on?”
“What?” I say to Samantha, who has been at my elbow helping me store our purchases in the refrigerator, but invisible to me in the different dimension of my constantly straying mind.
She points into the refrigerator. “It’s not what we usually have on school nights.”
“An old friend of Daddy’s is having dinner with us tonight,” I answer.
“Oh,” she says, and glides away.
The day has been too much for me and I decide to nap, or else I will not live through the evening. I lie on our bed listening for the girls in their rooms. Emily bangs around; Samantha, I image, turns the pages of a book. She’s a big reader, which is heartening at least to me, for Richard seems indifferent to her academic bent.
As I listen, I watch the late afternoon shadows flit across the ceiling. The ceiling is white, arctic bright, and in the deep yellow and burnt orange of the afternoon, it appears particularly reflective, like an old black and white cinema screen, beaded and iridescent. In between the shifting colors, I’m observing the past. Each remembrance is short, like a bad commercial that interrupts your favorite program, irritating, but arresting too. Bobby drives down my street in his battered Belair, brakes in front of my house, raises a grease stained finger to my window in front of which I stand looking down on him. He is a rude bastard, and a jealous one too; he’s fingering me because I have stolen Richard from him. I turn away and Bobby and his Belair are parked in front of Creek Falls High. He’s talking to Richard, whose back is too me, unaware of my presence. Bobby sidles up to Richard and flings an arm over his shoulder and says something directly into his ear, close and intimate; and as he does, he stares at me with eyes that glare with delight and menace, and challenge me for possession of Richard.
I blink my eyes and roll my head in the direction of the clock radio on the bedstead. It’s a few minutes before five. I’ve slept but my sleep hasn’t refreshed me; on the contrary, it has worn me so I rise tired. I stand in the middle of the bedroom transfixed by weariness and indecision. Shower and dress or go downstairs and start the meal? I ponder the question for a long time. I suppose I should get things moving, the salad and the side dishes, check the hardly used best glasses for dust and stains and wash them if necessary, and it will be necessary; it always is. Even sitting around, unused, neglected, everything gets soiled; in this world, just doing nothing is dirty business.
I enter the kitchen irritated. The effort of it, the effort is under my skin like a wicked, deep itch, more pain than tickle. I’m putting forth effort for what? For Bobby McFarlane? And he’s a doctor now, a surgeon? I find both unfathomable.
I have the lettuce on the counter and I’m shoving leaves into the salad spinner more forcefully than needed when it strikes me: I’m not in my kitchen. I am in my kitchen, but it can’t be mine. I twirl, scribe a circle on the floor, and make myself dizzy. No, something is very wrong about the kitchen I am in. This kitchen has blue walls, horrid sky blue walls. My kitchen, the kitchen that I should be in, has white walls. White. When we had the house painted, before we moved in, I insisted on white kitchen walls. I had grown to love our house in Cranbury. Richard and I were happy in it, for a while. I had Samantha and Emily while we lived in the house in Cranbury. The house was a lovely white colonial on the exterior, and my kitchen was white, bright in the winter, cool in the summer. Everything in Rancho Bernardo is tan, tan and identical. When we moved, I wanted a piece of what I had loved with me. I had insisted on white in my kitchen. And here I stand in a sea of blue.
And yet, it can’t be blue. Something has occurred that I cannot comprehend or explain. My kitchen has changed from the morning to now, transformed while Emily and I shopped in Safeway.
“Samantha,” I call, “Samantha, come in here, please.”
Minutes pass before she saunters in, her body disjointed and face expressing the deliberate insouciance of someone on the brink of teendom, previewing for me my next several years.
“Look at this kitchen,” I urge, gesturing at the ceiling, walls, everything blue that should be white.
Her eyes roll and wander.
“Look, Samantha,” I implore.
She does. “What am I looking for?”
“Okay, now, does everything appear normal to you?”
“It’s our kitchen. Can I go now?” she says, almost escaping before I can latch onto her arm.
“You’re hurting me,” she protests, wiggling.
“Sorry, but, please, take a good look. Nothing’s different to you?”
She indulges me. “It’s our kitchen, all right?”
“But, Samantha, isn’t our kitchen white? We have a bright white, cheery kitchen.”
It must be the expression lunatics confront on the faces of those forced to visit them: revulsion peppered with fear that maybe the madness is catching.
“It’s blue, Mom,” she says. “It’s been blue since we moved here. And you’re scaring me.”
“Okay,” I say, “go back, go read.”
She readily obeys, leaving me to contemplate the possibility that I reside in bedlam.
All right, I command myself, calm down. Obviously the kitchen is blue. From its appearance, it’s been blue for a while. I’m probably just confused. Who wouldn’t be short hours from once more seeing the guy you have always hated, have always been glad to be rid of, never expected to see again? And to reconnect with him as a successful doctor, no less.
But I am right and I can prove it, I tell myself, as I storm to the front door. In the vast desert of Southern California tan, of unremitting conformity so intense big house numbers are absolutely essential, I had insisted the painters apply white to the window trim and the front door. I would have a distinctive house even if white and tan were a peculiar pairing.
Samantha must have consulted with Emily, because when I blow out the door, they are yelling behind me, “What’s wrong,” thumping after me, as if escaping a horror, like a fire. Outside they watch me stand and stare at our house in bewilderment. The trim and door are as blue as the perpetually blue sky.
“It can’t be blue,” I cry, “it can’t. It’s white, like back home.”
Samantha holds Emily’s hand. She asks, “What’s the matter? Are you sick?”
I say, “No, no. But, girls, wasn’t our house in Cranbury white?”
They shake their heads. “No, Mom, it was blue. Blue like this,” says Emily, touching the door.
I stare hard at the blue on my house, a feature that makes it appear odd on a street of numbing uniformity. I feel my eyes bulging and drying in their sockets; I don’t blink so bedazzled am I by the blue, the mysterious blue that seems to have materialized almost instantly.
I must be a scary sight, for Samantha comes to me and tugs at my hand and drags me back to reality. “Are you okay, Mom?”
“Oh sure, honey, sure,” I reassure, grasping her hand, holding it without looking at her, fixed still on the house.
She tugs again.
“Sure, sure,” I say, the spell finally broken, “let’s get inside. We’ve got a dinner to make.”