Alright By Donna Cummings

Tuesday December 27, 2005

I’m curled in the fetal position on the cool bathroom tiles. I suck my thumb while Mommy strokes my head. Except, I’ve never sucked my thumb and the only stroking Mommy ever did killed her a year ago. I’m really on a ladder painting the bathroom. My mind wanders when I paint. Sweat slithers down my back and sides. I’ve picked the hottest day in a string of hot days to work near the ceiling in the smallest room in the house. Luckily, the latex fumes don’t seem to bother me. Still, I must be nuts. 

The phone rings. “Shit!” One, two, three ... whoever it is hangs up after seven rings. My answering machine doesn’t pick up because it’s full of messages I haven’t listened to and the tape is full. 

The paint is drying so fast the brush sticks. Jim always used to roller. I use a brush. This is the least of our differences. 

“That’s it. I quit.” I drag the aluminum ladder into the hall. The lid for the paint can is missing so I cover it with my shower cap. The brush is stuck to the newspapers on the floor and I kick the whole mess aside. I’m dying for a shower. The water is running from the tap and I’m stripped to get in before the 

bulb comes on. WET paint. I stopper the tub for a bath, pick up the tank top I’ve just taken off, wipe my pits and under my breasts and hurry into the kitchen for some iced tea. 

The phone rings. 

From the brown prescription bottle on the table I shake out a pink Paxil and swallow it with a big gulp of tea. The color of the vial and the tea are almost a perfect match. I can’t remember if I took a pill already today, but what the heck. Before grabbing the receiver from the wall I drag a chair to the open back door and plop. My butt on the chair makes the sound of one hand clapping. Look Ma, no hands. “Hello.” 

“Hi, Serina, this is Joyce.” 

Joyce? Oh, Joyce, my daughter-in-law, Lisa’s mother. The woman I’ve been told, who has a nervous breakdown every seven years. Sort of a psychological rejuvenation, the way the body replaces cells about that often. Unfortunately, Lisa worries that there will be other episodes. Joyce has had only one since I’ve known her. I sent a cheery card every day for a month. I like her. She’s smart and funny and can do more with a scarf than any woman I know. 

“Hey, Joyce. How ya doing?” 

Listen to me. Not five minutes ago I felt like a helpless baby and now I sound like the M.C. on Family Feud. I wonder why some people use a phony voice when they answer the phone? Like Jim, my soon to be ex-husband, who answered in the voice of a cartoon character: Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Fred Flintstone, Porky Pig. All alter egos. 

“How would you like to go to Costa Rica?” She giggles a little. Oh-my-God. Joyce is having another breakdown. Lisa told me that out of the country travel plans usually preceded her breakdowns. I’m not sure if she ever when on the trips or if the planning did her in. 

“Heh, heh,” says I, “Are you all right Joyce?” 

“I’m fine. I’m so glad to find you home. How have you been?” 

What does one person who is hanging on by her fingerprints—fingernails, say to another person who just might have let go? I’m looking at my nails and they are covered in champagne. 

“To tell the truth I feel like shit. I’ve been painting the bathroom. It’s hotter than hell and ...“ 

“Didn’t you paint the bathroom recently, Serina? Or was that the breakfast room?” 

“I might have. I decided wines. Bruised Burgundy, Rosy Rose’, Tokay Dokey. Last time it was fruits. So I was painting champagne over Very Berry just now, and it may need two coats.” 

I can hear Joyce thinking two states away. What I really hear is her breathing, but I’m sure she is thinking while she breathes. I suppose she wonders if after fruit and wine my next color palette will cover the cheeses. Cheesy! “Imagine Sheer Sherry and Mellow Merlot for the living and dining rooms. What do you think? 

She doesn’t answer and I’m straining to hear her breathing, but the phone seems to have gone dead.  

“Joyce?” I’m thinking maybe I should call 911, but I’m on the hone so how can I? I shake the phone, blow into the mouthpiece—“Hello, hello”—and am about to hang up when it/she croaks back to life. 

“Sherry and Merlot sound very bold. I can almost see it. You have been doing a lot of redecorating since Jim left, haven’t you.” 

“For once in my life I don’t have to ask him what color to paint MY house. After twenty years of milk white in every room they haven’t invented a color that I wouldn’t consider painting. 

“Seems to me Joyce that he’s the one redecorating. He’s so preoccupied with regaining his youth that I hear he’s going to get hair plugs. And to think I used to laugh when he said that once I turned fifty he was going to trade me in for two twenty-five-year-olds. Ha-ha-ha. Guess he’ll just have to get by with one twenty-seven year old.” 

“Sorry, Serina. I shouldn’t have . . “ 

“When I come up with a new color scheme I get so carried away. But I was thinking I just might keep the kitchen tangerine even if it isn’t a wine color.”  

There’s a smear of paint on the inside of my arm that reminds me of something. I move my arm around to decode the image, but It’s no use. 

“It will all work out, Serina.” 

“I doubt it.” 

“Ah, it seems I’ve picked a bad time to call. So don’t worry about Costa Rica. Maybe we can talk about it another time.” 

“Well, I, I don’t...” 

“I have to call you back Serina, I can smell my pie burning. Bye.” 

Definitely. Joyce is on the verge. Joyce doesn’t bake pies. Joyce doesn’t cook, period. Poor thing. Lisa will be devastated. 

The paint on my arm still looks familiar. Maybe it’s telling me to get a tattoo? The ice in my tea has melted, but I swallow the last diluted inch anyway. 

Bold? Did she say merlot and sherry are bold?