by Amaree Semrau
It was yellow.
“How about lemon-pie?”
“I prefer butter-biscuit.”
“Isn’t that a bit… dull?”
Barry huffed. “If I have to live with it everyday, I’d rather it not be shouting at me every time I go in the room.”
“But it should be cheery, Babe,” Martha whined.
“It’s yellow; it’s going to be inherently cheery.”
The shades weren’t the problem.
“But, Butter biscuit is more orange.” She titled her head at the little square. “It’s just not that yellow.”
“It’s a muted yellow. Not everything has to scream desperately for attention.”
“You think I scream desperately for attention?”
“The wall, Babe, we’re talking about the wall.”
Martha eyed him while Barry avoided her eye contact; he knew it would only add fuel to a fire he never meant to start.
Barry called truce first. “It’s a feature wall, so I guess it could be… bright-er.”
“It’s east facing and the room is small. There’s only that one window. I mean, it only gets a little morning light.”
“That’ll be helpful for naptimes.” He smiled.
“I know. But thanks to Norris’s terrace, even that little bit of light gets chopped up and when I am in there, I want to feel happy.”
“There it is.”
“There what is?”
“The things that’s really bothering you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Are we going to talk about this finally?”
“We are talking about it.”
Barry waited for the inevitable sidestep. Martha didn’t disappoint.
“It’s just, well, the wall is so much more than a wall. It changes the whole room depending on what color we use. We have to agree. I really want it to be bright and cheery.”
“Fine, I can avoid it as long as you can.”
She knew exactly what he was talking about, but she didn’t want to give it life. She told herself it was because there was no point, but really, she was worried what his response would prove.
“Why are we even fighting about this? That terrace takes up all the sunshine and you can’t understand why I don’t want a muted yellow wall. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just being honest.”
Barry sighed. “I’m not fighting you. Paint the wall any color you like.”
“I don’t want to make you pick it! I want you to want it too. Do you like it?”
Barry swallowed hard, wondering if there was a right answer. “I wasn’t sure at first. That’s all. It’ll brighten things up.” He smiled and nudged her playfully. “Besides, you’ll be in there more than me anyway.”
“Then it’s settled, lemon pie it is!” She grinned idiotically, holding up the swatch as thought it were a winning ticket. “I like it when we agree.”
Barry smiled back, his jaw tightening.
They returned the unsuccessful swatches and headed to the paint counter at the heart of the home improvement store. As they waited, Barry reminded himself that he needed to pick up a new set of Allen keys to build the crib. He was sure they were in the aisle back where they came in at the south end, opposite the gardening supplies. He hoped that convenience would save him form having to stroll the rest of the store while convincing Martha that they didn’t need to buy more stuff. Martha was still busy reveling in her victory when an older gentleman with a sun-suppled brow came to greet them.
“Good morning folks. What can I do you for?”
“We’re getting some paint.” She handed over the swatch.
“Lemon Pie. A vibrant choice indeed.”
“I think it’ll be fantastic.”
“What room is it for if you don’t mind me asking?”
Martha rubbed her lightly swollen belly while wearing her best accessory – the expression of a woman in bliss. Barry started reciting Allen key sizes in his head as the old man joined in with jubilation.
“Congratulations. I remember my first.”
“Boy or girl?”
“Three boys, no girls. I tell you what though it was a fantastic time. So many firsts ahead. First steps, first words, first tooth, first bike, first camping trip….”
Martha chimed in. “First dress, first dance…”
“You’re having a girl then?”
Martha nodded. The two men exchanged a quick glance, neither sure enough about little girls to condone or condemn. They just smiled.
“So, how much paint will you need?”
“Just one wall,” Barry interjected. “I’m thinking one tin will do it.”
“Good call, it might be a little overwhelming on every wall.”
Martha didn’t like how that sounded. “Maybe we will do all the walls, we’re just starting with one to see how it goes.”
Barry rolled his eyes and tried to remember that old adage; Give her an inch…
Taking his cue, the man disappeared into the storeroom to get the correct tint. They waited in silence. Martha overanalyzing the man’s comment, Barry thinking about Allen keys. Each second materializing into another brick to add to the plot between them. Martha’s mouth decided to intervene.
“I wish there was another option.”
Barry’s head began to ache, the only thing worse than living with that garish wall would be having to sort through more swatches of endless shades of yellow. He wondered how there could possibly be so many. “Honestly, yellow is yellow is yellow. I’m fine with lemon pie.”
“No it’s not that. I just hate that when she looks out the window one day she won’t see anything because of that awful terrace Norris built.”
“Seriously!? The terrace. Again.”
“Why do you have to be like that? Don’t you want me to be happy?”
“Of course, but it’s basically a full time job and it’s Sunday.” He gave his best sly smile, half winking at her in the process.
“That’s not funny. I now live my life in that house and so will she.” Her hand moved below her belly and pulled her shirt it in tightly; the little lump seemed to swell.
“We can’t afford any where else, besides you haven’t seen the terrace in spring yet. It fills with flowers and…”
“Sure, that might be a little better, but who’s gonna be around to take care of it? I mean, him and Christine will probably be off on some tropical adventure or something.”
“He is the same person. Still likes restoring cars, still likes the Bronco’s, still drinks nothing but Natty’s and thinks you make the best BBQ in the state. He’s just Norris.”
“He is not just Norris. How could he be?”
Barry wanted to protest but the older man had returned from the storeroom.
“I’m real sorry folks, we seem to be clear outta that tint. I can order it though. Give you a call when it arrives. Unless there’s another…”
“Not a problem. Let me give you my number.”
Martha clenched the lemon-pie paint swatch as Barry wrote down his name and number. The man said his cheery farewell and Barry guided them toward the gardening department. They stopped briefly at the tools, which were exactly where he thought. Barry thought about the crib that needed building. Norris was going to come and help. He was more like a brother than a friend. They rode bikes together, went to school together and fought together side by side. They both came from families that understood the military was a right of passage and not just a service to the country. It hadn’t always been easy, but he was happy, genuinely happy, for Norris right now. Barry grabbed what he needed and joined Martha in the main aisle.
“Of course, maybe they’ll just move and then we could ask the new owners to tear it down.”
“Yeah, I mean why wouldn’t they move.”
“Look, It’s been a month. Can we stop tiptoeing around this? Just say what’s bothering you.” Barry circled in front and blocked her momentum.
Martha’s pulse raced. He was a good six inches taller than her, but it never usually felt that way. Her lip puckered and her tone took on a babyish character meant to evoke guilt. It usually just made his blood boil.
“Barry. Babe. C’mon. It’s nothing.”
He stood firm.
“Look, It’s just, well, he only got that ticket because I let him go first. I always go for the random draw and he got the ticket I should’ve got. He never even started entering the weekly draw till I told him too!”
He sighed and his brow relaxed. Finally, it had been said.
“Martha, I know you were both there…”
“I wasn’t just there! It was my ticket.” She stared him in the eye and waited for him to retreat. He stood strong. She was confused by his insistence. She was having his baby. The tension grew as each second slipped by, but Barry wouldn’t be the one to withdraw this time. “OK, so maybe it’s not totally his fault.”
“It’s mine too.”
She stepped around the ‘new’ Barry and continued. He followed a step behind, afraid of the burden that knowing her deeper would encompass.
“I mean, I’m just too nice. You know? That’s really the problem. It’s like when I would bring him and Christine dinner and then she kept getting mysteriously ill and they kept asking me to bring more…”
“They never asked for that.”
“Not with their words they didn’t. You don’t have to ask nice people to do anything. They just do. Anyways, he knew that about me, you know, that I am nice.”
“So he was standing there gabbing away about Christine’s psoriasis. Telling me how much she needed that cream and how she was waiting at home. He must’ve known I’d let him slip in front. He didn’t tell me he was going to get at the draw.”
“It was random, Martha, he couldn’t have known.”
“I know that. I’m not simple. But, seriously, someone lets you in front of them because you just have to get home and suddenly they have enough time to buy a lottery ticket. What kind of person…”
“It doesn’t even take a second to do that. Norris is the best person I know, he wasn’t trying anything on. You’re making it personal, Martha. You don’t know him well enough.”
“OK fine. I’m being irrational.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Well what are you saying?”
“Just that Norris and Christine are my friends, our friends.”
“Money changes people.”
“Lots of things change people, Martha.”
“I want us to be happy.”
“It’s just money!” His voice strained between grated teeth.
“Why didn’t he split it then? If it’s just money, why not share it? He knows I always buy the random draw. Gawd, we’ve talked about it enough. I allowed him to go in front and you two are so close. And then nothing! We get nothing.” She saw him out the coroner of her eye. His demeanor unaffected through great effort as he desperately tried to believe this was a flight of the nerves; a temporary displacement of personality.
“We don’t need money. Money can’t make people happy.”
“We could have had everything!”
“We do!” He looked down at her abdomen.
“Ugh, You’re just not seeing it.” Her hands clenched at her chest.
“What? What am I not seeing?”
“What could have been, Babe? What could still be if we got our…”
“I don’t want to do this.”
He stood still, his face hard as stone. Martha would not admit defeat; she knew he’d understand if she could just make him see. They had stopped in front of a furniture display. There were two chairs advertised on sale at 29.99. Martha grabbed his arm gently and guided him to sit with her.
“Close your eyes.”
“Please.” She reached over and threaded her fingers into his, her eyes wide. He let out a long exhale and coalesced. She plopped her head onto the back of her borrowed chair as her eyes shut.
“We’re sitting by a beach. Our holiday cabin behind us, filled with all the lush furniture we could dream of. These plastic chairs aren’t plastic. They’re rich wood and they’re warm from soaking in the suns rays. Little Annie climbs on your lap. She is wearing the sweetest dress, white silk with lace that is as red as her little cheeks. She goes back to play with her dolls, occasionally showering us with a sugary smile as her blonde locks flutter in a soft breeze. The wood crackles as you enjoy a cold glass of good beer and I enjoy a flute of real champagne. I can almost feel the bubbles…“
The words get trapped on the outer rims of Barry’s brain as he reworked the image. He saw them camping by a lake not far from home. Little Annie shoveling away at the dirt with a grin, pot-marked by missing teeth and curiosity. She plays with a little boy who is almost like a brother. Norris and Christine exit their tent to join them as Martha smiles and hands him a cold can of beer. The fire pops and it’s yellow embers float up and disappear into the fiery sunset painted overhead.
Martha pulls Barry’s hand onto her stomach and a wriggle of excitement stops his hearts.
Her voice is serene. “Isn’t it heaven, Barry?”
He swallows the knot in his throat. “Yes.”
Category: Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student