Thursday, February 2, 2012

Short Story: Self-Destruct

Dejected and fuming, I sit at my own kitchen counter absorbing the silence. I hate it in here. But does she listen? No.
“Peach would be such a lovely shade for those mahogany cabinets,” she’ll say.
“I’m tearing those out,” I’ll respond.
“What? Why? They’re perfectly charming and were original to the house!”
“Oh come on, Mom, the old owners put them up in 1970 along with the brown and orange striped contact paper on the inside. I’m tearing them out.”
“Sweetie, that’s such a waste! They’re perfectly fine, you only see that paper when you open them up!  We can put up some new contact paper! Oh! And I saw the PERFECT handles for them at Wal-Mart the other day! I’ll just pick them up so we can see how they look before you throw your money away! Just wait, you’ll love it!”
Mom is the kind of woman who talks in exclamation points.
I, in fact, did not love it. Nor did I love the peach curtains or frothy peach paint that somehow ended up on my walls. It just appears to have made my walls angry, patches of the original celery shade seeming to eat their way through the new color wherever the sunlight hits. Luckily, thanks to those heavy peach curtains I “love”, sunlight isn’t much of an issue. I suppose this is what happens when Wal-Mart has a special on Paradise Peach Paint but not on primer.
I had said I would handle it. I had worked my way up from nothing to get the job I had now, so I could afford to splurge after so much effort, so much time, spent being responsible and penny pinching. After paying off student loans, car payments, and other such tedious things, I was still in a comfortable place financially. And now I was a home owner, something I had always dreamed of after years of apartment living. I had told her that I liked Pottery Barn. William Sonoma. God, even Target. I didn’t need to bargain bargain shop. I could do this, handle this. On my own. Without her.
The ringing of my cell phone interrupts my thoughts, irritating me simply by breaking my brooding silence. I snap open my cell impatiently, “Yes?”
“I didn’t do it,” Marshall says immediately. I can’t help but smile in response which was no doubt his intent.
“Sorry, long day,” I say, sinking back onto a stool. “Mr. Varner, well he was trying to be thoughtful-”
“Jess, no! I refuse to eat anymore of the Sinfully Soy product as market research! I am pretty sure that's what gave me that arm rash thing and-”
“No more soy, I promise,” I quickly assure. I work for an up and coming health food company and, on the road to becoming vice president, I had to push a lot of my organic goodies on my unsuspecting loved ones. “He just said he wanted me to stop trying to be everywhere at once and ‘delegated’ another one of my projects away. More efficient or…something.”
“Again? To Stacey Whatever?”
I can’t help but sigh. “Yep, to Stacey Whatever.”
“Floozy. I’m sorry Jess, that sucks. Since stupid Varner is president of the company, I guess that’s up to him. I thought you were handling it all very well though, and I know every project you start is important to you.”
“What a good supportive boyfriend you are,” I say as I beam at his small praise.
“Thanks, it’s a trial but, I do what I can,” he replies on a laugh. “Sorry you had another bad day at work.”
“Even worse then that,” I add gloomily, once more getting up to pace the room, “She was here again today, Marshall. And apparently that new tan upholstery she was talking about worked 'perfectly!' on our stools. I am telling you right now-”
“Aw Jess, come on-”
“Don’t ‘oh Jess’ me! She is destroying our kitchen! My mother is totally-”
“Sweet and just trying to be helpful. Jessica, look at it this way, at least your mother cares about our place. My parents haven’t even bothered to look at the pictures I sent them, let alone come by our place.”
“That’s unfair, you don’t know that they never checked out the pictures. And they sent you those boxes of family stuff for the house.”
“Fine, I don’t know that and fine, they did send us some nice pieces and heirlooms for the place. But that’s not the point. The point is-it’s not that bad. It looks…kinda nice. Not our style, sure. But nice.”
“Well, you’re right that it’s not our style.” I rub at my eyes in frustration. How can I be the only one who sees this? When Marshall had seen how our kitchen was evolving, he had simply smiled his goofy lopsided smile and told my mother how much he loved it. Thrilled, she had taken him by the arm and pulled him to the various points in the kitchen while I sat at my counter and sulked. Oblivious to my sulking, she had continued trilling and pointing out the complimentary shades of peach, the way we had saved the tile by scrubbing, how the new hardware perked up the cabinetry. While her eyes glowed with joy, he made eye contact me and mimed “Be nice, look how happy it makes her”. The traitor. My glare had messaged back a pouty “But look how unhappy it makes me!” And when he had shrugged and continued to try for best-future-son-in-law, my darkened glare added “I hope that Lazy-boy you had insisted on having in our living room is comfortable tonight.”
“Jess, just give it some time.” He says soothingly. I want to pull at my hair in frustration.
“This isn’t an issue of time, both of you keep saying that, I just hate this room. Okay? Hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it!”
“Okay, okay,” says Marshall with a chuckle. I glare at the wall.
“It’s not funny.”
“Never said it was,” he replies easily. “ Just was wondering when my beautiful, mature, and oh so sexy girlfriend gave the phone to a four year old. Do you mind giving the phone back to her, little lady?"
"Ha ha..." I mumble.
"Okay, my lovely health goddess. You’ve had a rough day, how about I pick up a big, greasy, pepperoni filled, and simply OOZING with cheese, Giordano’s pizza? How does that sound?”
“Mmmm,” as my mouth begins to water for my favorite comfort food, I can’t help but smile at the bribe. “That sounds great. Perfect even.”
“For a health food exec, you are such a junk food addict,” Marshall laughs.
“Do you WANT me to make Broccoli Brie tortes for dessert?” I tease in response. I can practically hear him shudder in fear and chuckle once more. “You’re on your way home then?” I ask, inwardly thrilled at how casual the phrase ‘home’ has become between us.
“Yep, I’ll grab the pizza and be there in about forty minutes. Love you Jess.”
“Love you too,” I reply, smile still in place. Cheerful, I click the phone shut and turn to go change when I find myself once again facing the mutant peach walls. The joy seems to spill out of me. There is nothing redeeming about this space.
Sitting in my garage is the bright green I had chosen previously for the kitchen. The grassy shade is warm, and young, and perfect. However, when I had painted a paint sample on the wall, my mother’s eyes had rolled up into her skull before she had come over, pat me on the shoulder, and clicked her tongue, saying “Don’t worry, we’ll fix this.”
Sitting here now, staring at my mutant walls in the dark cavern my kitchen has become, all the while knowing there are blue skies and sunshine somewhere past the curtains, I can’t help but wonder if Marshall has a point. Maybe it’s just my need for control. Maybe it’s really not bad in actuality. And sure, fine, as Marshall has pointed out, I could just be projecting. I tap my fingers on the dark counter tops, searching for any redeeming qualities in the space. Something. Anything. Click-Click-Click. The hollow, artificial sound of my fingers on the counter tops fills the silence but no positives come to mind. In disgust I stand up and shove the stool back in place, noting additional scratches on the old brown tile that I “simply couldn’t replace!” Anger begins to swell along with the bitter resentment. She likes it, he doesn’t mind it. “Give it time” they both say. I grind my teeth. How patronizing is that? I want to change it now, I will want to change it later- there is no point in waiting to change it. So why can’t I? It’s my kitchen, damn it!
I rush to the garage and back again. Turning toward the wall, I hold the bucket of my fabulous green paint in one hand and a paint brush in the other. Carefully, I put the brush into the paint, raise my arm, and am inches from the wall when the ringing of the phone startles me, causing me to jerk back guiltily and plop the paint brush back into the can. I put a hand to my racing heart and stare down at the paint and paint brush in my other arm. Figures. Setting the paint carefully down, I rush to the house phone. “Hello?”
“Hey sweetie, I’m in Wal-Mart, and they have these lilac dish towels that I-”
“What? Mom, no, I have decided that I am going to go back to the original color scheme I had in mind. Remember the green? And I’m going to tear out the cabinets.” I glance back into my kitchen and cringe. “And the brown flecked Formica counter tops. And the brown tile.”
“But wait, sweetie, WHY?! That’s such a waste financially! We did such a good job and put in so much hard work, time, MONEY, into it already-”
“-Yeah, but-”
“-and it looks so lovely! It’s REALLY a dream kitchen for a lot of people sweetie, you don’t want to seem ungrateful.”
“Good, I think you just need to adjust to it Jess, these things can take time.”
“Well, good then, I need to run! I may stop by with these dish towels on my way home, we’ll see. They’re so cute, you’re just going to die!”
“Mom, no, please don’t get the towels…”
“Oh come now, I really think you’ll love them! Don’t worry so much, it’s bad for your body to carry around so much stress at such a young age.”
“Mom, I don’t stress my body out! I'm really focused, sure but I don't-”
“Fine, fine, SORRY, of course you don’t. These towels though-”
“Isn’t lilac too feminine a color for a kitchen I share with a man?” I ask, grasping at any straws I can think of to prevent this purchase from happening. No more, please, God, stop the abuse of pastel!
“Well normally perhaps but, Marshall simply loves the peach! I am sure he will appreciate how the softness of the purple brings out-”
“Mom! Don’t demean Marshall! I mean, come on, real men can’t have purple dish towels!”
“Oh Jessica, don’t be silly. Real men don’t CARE about dish towels.”
“Tell you what, I’ll just hold them up one more time and see what I decide. But, I’m late. Maybe I’ll see you later, Love you!”
“Love you too,” I mutter to the dead line. Shoulders slumped, I walk back over to my perfect green paint and pick it up to put it back into the garage. I feel the bitterness evolve into rage so quickly that there is no where, NO where, for it to go but out. Without fully comprehending my actions, green paint is flung directly from the can onto the peach walls. I splash it against the walls once more, ignoring the small splats hitting the curtains, window panes, and counter tops. Grabbing a roller, I hastily smear it over the majority of the wall, green speckling my skin, the dark tiles, everything within reach. Breathing rapidly, I throw the roller down on the unprotected tile floor and tear the door off the nearest cabinet. The flimsy, worn, faux mahogany doesn’t slow me in the slightest. Pulling out the microwave safe, “very sensible”, Tupperware dish set and dumping it into a puddle of green paint that has formed on my floor, I begin tearing at the versicolor contact paper hidden inside. Dust is stinging my eyes, my lungs feel like bursting with the overwhelming paint fumes and dust particles completely filling them, and still I rampage. Uncontrolled, all I can think is “out!” as I keep seeking vengeance against the evil done to my kitchen and, more importantly, done to me.
“Oh my god!”
I freeze as I am, almost stunned to find a cabinet door in my hands. Slowly turning, I take in the green paint smeared across the whole of the space, the thick curtains in piles and shreds on the floor, along with the contact paper, and piles of plastic dish sets. Among the dumped out drawers and green splecks and streaks is my mother. Standing in the doorway, at a loss for words, she is silent for what is surely the first time in years. I clear my throat and gently set down the door.
“I decided to go for it,” I say suddenly. Anything to fill the silence. When she looks at me incredulously, I fight to stop giggles and repress the defiant joy. “I, um, like it better this way.”
My mother steps lightly over the new debris, eyes still bugging out in shock, before reaching the kitchen table where she delicately places the Wal-Mart bags. “I cannot believe you did this,” she says softly, still looking around the room as if trying to absorb the mass destruction one tiny disaster at a time. “I cannot believe you did this,” she repeats, finally turning toward me. I am shocked when I see sadness in her eyes rather then her easy temper, and for the first time I feel the bile of regret rise within me. “We worked so hard on this together,” she mumbles to herself. Immediately I start towards her but she puts a hand up stopping me in my tracks. “No, you stay over there,” she says quietly. I now see the anger flashing behind the moisture in her eyes and find myself relieved- at least this emotion I can deal with. Wringing my hands nervously I clear my throat and begin trying to smooth things over.
“Mom, I’m sorry if I ruined what you saw as our mother-daughter project but-”
“It wasn’t a craft Jessica, I was trying to help you build your home!”
“But, you weren’t listening to me! Everything I wanted for my home you brushed off, it’s like-”
“You were being impractical! I was merely trying to save you some money for when you and Marshall decide to get married. A little moving around money, maybe for you to start a family?”
“Oh, that’s just great Mom. If I had promised you grandchildren would you have let me paint my walls green?”
“They’re your walls! Obviously you can paint them whatever the hell you want!”
“If you had just seen that sooner then we could have just painted them green to begin with!”
“You consider this painting?!”
“No! I consider it desperate rebellion by a daughter sick of being pushed around by her overbearing, controlling, helicopter mother!”
“Oh REALLY? Because I see this as the immature, frankly, CHILDISH tantrum of a grown woman who couldn’t simply TELL her mother what she wanted!”
“She did tell her! Her mother didn’t listen!”
“Is that what you think? I didn’t listen? Maybe you were too busy REPRESSING-”
“Oh, we’re going to talk about repressing? How about you completely ignoring the fact that Marshall and I have moved in together and aren't married? Hm? How’s that for repressing?”
“I am not repressing that! I love Marshall! I just said I wanted you two to get married, he seems perfectly nice and God knows he makes enough money-”
“Oh, so we’re back to the money again are we? Should we be struggling like you and dad had to when you were our age?”
“Oh don’t be ridiculous! I simply think that no matter what you make, it’s ridiculous to waste your money-”
“That’s the thing Mom! To me, it’s not a waste and, frankly, we can spend our money however the hell we want! If we want to plate the damn kitchen in gold then, we should be able to! Without a friggin' comment from you!”
“Well, FINE!”
“FINE!” she screams again, turning on her heel to storm out of the room. I turn in exasperation, slamming down another plastic dish set just for the hell of it. I feel my head pulsing and am suddenly exhausted. Rubbing at my eyes, trying to will the sudden headache away, I am surprised to find my mother hasn’t left yet when I turn back around. She’s kneeling down and picking through the contents of a poured out cabinet, eyes solemn, mouth set in a grim line.
“Mom,” I say, starting over toward her, the apology already coloring my tone.
“Where did you get this china set?” she asks pointedly.
“China set?” Confused, I walk over to the dish pile as well. Upon seeing the delicate blue trim all the blood drains from my face.
“What? What is it?” she asks, her tone colored with concern to match my panic. “Oh no,” she says softly as it dawns on her. “This isn’t-”
“The family china set from Marshall's parents? Ha, yes,” I reply in bitter amazement. “Yes, it definitely is.” I pick up a plate in complete mortification. My throat feels like it is closing up even as my hands start to shake. Green paint coats the upper layers of the dish set, the pale blue flowers overrun by weedy green blobs. Even more distressing then the few whole green plates is the remaining blue shards they are piled on top of.
“Jess, don’t freak out,” my mom says, carefully peeling the dish out of my fingers. “We can fix this.”
“Oh, God,” I wheeze. Where did the air go?
“Don’t freak out,” she says again, standing up and pulling me with her. “We can fix this.”
“How, Mom? How could I do this? Oh, god, no” I say dizzily, unable to tear my gaze from the blue fragments.
"It's going to be okay," she soothes. 
"No, Marshall already has a limited connection to his family, these plates are some of the few tangible things that make him feel loved! It's not going to be okay, Mom! He doesn't have a strong relationship with his family like you, Dad, and I do. He needs this stuff to be okay, feel okay with them. Oh god, how is this going to be okay? Oh god! I'm a horrible person..." tears begin to overwhelm me as I stare down at the destruction I wrecked on my own home.
“You're not a horrible person, Jess. And you know how we're going to fix it? Wal-mart,” she replies firmly. “They have a set just like it there, I JUST saw it while I was picking up the towels, they truly look identical. We’ll just clean you up a bit, pop up there. It’ll be fine for the time being. I’m sure we can make this place decent before Marshall gets home and, the set really looks EXACTLY like this one. Why, I would imagine…” mute, I simply stare at her in shock as she pats me on the hand and chatting comfortably leads me out of the room. 


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