“The problem is clear, Reg–we have the wrong colors! Everything must be painted blue. Then we’ll have more peace. At least I will!”
She threw her up hands in disgust, then pointed at the living room’s pale yellow walls, orange floral couch with lime green and lemon yellow pillows, a tarnished goldtone floor lamp, all three tables an antique white.
Reg stood with hands on hips. This was the stand-off he had hoped to avoid. If she was going to tick off the terrible errors of each and every room he’d lose it. This was not their city house which “requires a more spare palette”, she’d insisted. This was a vacation home, a spiffed-up cottage, really, and he liked it just the way it was.
“Absolutely not. It required no renovations. The colors are lively. It’s a simple place. For once we can go outside the lines, relax. And I’m not buying a bunch of new furniture.” He ran a palm over his forehead. “You liked it well enough when we bought it in spring. We’re lucky to have it.”
Reg said this with satisfaction and pride. He’d saved a long time to afford the right place on Whitetail Lake. A moderate-sized, old but not too-creaky lake house on a half-acre. It made him happier than he’d been in years.
Marin turned away from him to face the view of water, let her eyes rest on birches and pines on the opposite shore. The lake was languid today, a smattering of clouds reflected in its gently sloshing surface. It made her feel moody and restless instead of calmer.
“I’ll shop at second-hand stores, garage sales if I must. But it has to be re-done in blues.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “The girls need blue, too. They’re too agitated here.”
With a dismissive wave of his hand, he left. The girls needed to fish with him, swim, get sweaty and dirty, water ski, meet new friends. They still had time to make good messes at ages ten and twelve. At home they were under Marin’s watchful gaze and tutelage. Here they could whoop and race around. He had no intention of falling prey to his wife’s obsession with color therapy out here in the northern woods, on this welcoming lake. It had become a strange keystone of her life but it was not his.
He worried she was losing it. This color thing was now impacting how she cooked, organized things, even wanted everyone to dress. He knew it was her attempt to re-exert control over her life. It had been hard. She’d lost her job ten months ago so she had more empty time. But they’d lost a helluva lot more than that. He understood she needed to adjust; he still did, too. He was lonely for her, for the past, and it felt like a black hole some nights. But time, it was all about time. And color, apparently.
Marin watched her husband head to the boat house where he stored his fishing tackle. He’d be gone all day, likely. She just couldn’t get into fishing, baiting the hook, the harm it did to fish tossed back in, the hours of boredom as you cast a line and waited, cast and waited. He cleaned and cooked them with relish. She ate them but felt haunted by their grace in the water, scales flashing as sunshine glanced off their sleek bodies. It almost made her cry.
Water. It was an ever-changing tableau of shadows, of light. A blue life. It was the reason she had agreed: to be by the lake, hear it all hours. Musical blueness. And she needed everything indoors to reflect calm and an inviting coolness, as well.
“Kel! Give that back! You have the old one!”
“Let go! You’ll tear it! Mom!”
Natalie and Kelly exploded into the room, the older, Nat, trying to pull her new beach towel from her sister’s hands. Nat knocked over stacks of books Marin had been sorting. She shot her mother a look but kept moving and holding onto the towel. They were like two harnessed, runaway horses.
“Stop galloping about! Walk!” Marin commanded, but they were already beyond hearing range.
She stood in the middle of the room and counted the items she wanted to dispose of. The tables were barely tolerable but at least not yellow or orange. It gave her a headache, all this vividness in the cramped living room, the old fireplace smelling of decades of fires. At home there were wide expanses, many windows, clean lines, grey, taupe, pale rose, ivory. It was really for Reg, this Whitetail Lake adventure with fishing and hunting, the nature he missed from childhood. Sorely needed at a crucial juncture in his career. And the girls loved it so far, even their small bedrooms that accommodated only twin beds. They said it was like going to camp. Reg insisted it was homey. What did that mean? Wasn’t their city house homey in a classic way, hadn’t she made it so?
What did she get? What did she even have left, anymore?
It was not a good time to examine or answer such questions. She grabbed her bag and keys, jotted a note and left it on the green lacquered breakfast table. She was going paint shopping.
The whole next week they had to eat, sleep and live around their mother and her paint buckets. Their dad was fishing mostly. Sometimes he took them skiing or on boat rides of the deer’s tail-shaped lake. The three of them swam into the dusk, calling their mom to join them. She was too busy painting. In another week their dad would be going back to work. Worrisome.
“How’s it a deer’s tail? It’s so big you can’t even tell,” Kelly asked.
Nat snickered. “You can see from a plane what it’s like.”
“I’d do that.”
“You’d do anything, that’s the problem.”
Kel bit off a cherry licorice stick inch by inch but paused. “The problem is mom and that painting. We’d have more fun if she stopped.”
“I know. She’s…paint crazed! It’s blue madness!”
They laughed though it wasn’t very funny.
“I think,” Nat said, “she’s still trying to feel better. Dad says we have to be patient. It’s only painting walls, at least.”
Kel looked at her as she licked her fingers clean, then wiped them dry on her shirt. “She doesn’t drink at all. Danny’s been dead a year. She should be better by now.”
Nat put her arms around her sister’s shoulders. “Yeah, Danny’s gone…we’re here. So we can’t give up on her.”
“He hurt all the time. He couldn’t play, anymore. Danny had to go, didn’t he….? He’s better now, right?”
“I guess. Yeah.” She gave her a squeeze and stood up. “Want to swim out to the floating dock and lay out for a tan?”
Marin walked through the kitchen with its bright breakfast nook, the living room, three bedrooms, two bathrooms. Even Reg liked their bedroom, how it soothed. She had emptied them of extraneous things, found used natural wood furniture. But what delighted her were the aquamarine, cornflower blue, teal blue in variations of all three that covered walls and woodwork. No, illuminated. It was as if she was floating underwater, inside a small universe of blue, a skylit haven. It reminded her of bodies of water all over the world, places she had travelled when she had curated art for the museum. She was light-headed with pleasure. The panorama of tones loosened up straggling tension. Her heart unclenched.
At the doorway to the screened-in porch she had hesitated, paint brush and can in hand. The walls were knotty pine that felt warm with a sheen deepened from many years, hands, weather that passed through. It held a couch covered with a worn navy, red and cream plaid, two easy chairs that matched and a low table for books and random objects. Reg had left a copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson essays there, the book she had bought him for his thirty-ninth birthday, when things had gotten tougher. Inside it she had inscribed: “To your soul from your love.”
Marin left the porch unpainted. Instead, she dug out the one picture she had brought of Danny. She painted a frame she had found at the local antiques store, a deep sapphire blue. It matched his eyes though a stranger wouldn’t know that. The five of them were sitting on the edge of a pool in Baja California, the last vacation he would be able to bear. But his smile was so powerful you could see God in it.
She hung the picture between two large screened windows. Under that she put a small white ship’s anchor and sat down on the couch. Danny would have loved the cottage. She felt the closing of her throat, the sting of tears and waited for them to etch hot trails down her face. But they didn’t fall. Her throat gradually opened again. A brisk breeze crisscrossed the porch and lifted the hair from her damp neck. She watched the girls playing badminton in the front. Reg was sitting on a chaise lounge near them, sipping a lemonade she’d made fresh earlier. She got up and left the cottage, pulled to the lapping water, trees and birds. The summer’s sweet light and her family.