The kitchen was orange. She did not like to cook but, with five children and a husband, did a lot of it. Finally, a house where she could be happy in that room. The windows faced east, a purposeful planning. She wanted to see the morning light on us as we ate breakfast. There was more space than she’d ever had before. The whole middle of the room open. No more tripping over cats or things left lying around. No more turning to pour a pot of boiling water into the sink only to run into a child standing there. Or a husband walking through blocking her passage to the refrigerator or a shelf. Space. Colorful space. It was the 70’s and the colors were bright. She papered the walls in a large, loose plaid of orange, yellow, and avocado green on bright white. The long, l-shaped counter top the same orange as was the short one between the fridge and pantry. The stove and dishwasher, avocado. The floor shaded similarly made of something easily kept clean. The cabinets all a dark wood to balance the brightness. With no money for a new refrigerator she had antiqued the front of the old one in brown tones that fit the mood. She had demanded many of the tall trees be left and could now look out at them while at the sink; watch them through the seasons. Talk to them as she talked to everything, small mutterings under her breath and the “uh-huh, uh-huh” of agreement as her head moved in barely noticeable nods.
The table sat to one side in front of the large window that faced the back yard. At that time of year it was nudged away a bit to give the large pot with the ornamental tree the sun it needed. And Charlie’s cage hung above it, high out of her way but with a view so the canary could sing to the birds in those trees she loved. There was room enough for all of it. A 60’s inspired light of daisies, white and yellow, could be pushed up for meals or pulled low over the table when needed.
On the evening of February 14th it was needed. Its light showing two faces clearly intent upon the papers spread before them. Mom and her friend, Jackie, who listened while mom pointed a long finger to one page, then to a spot on another and another, talking in a steady stream of words and cigarette smoke. Laying out the pattern she saw in the symbols, numbers and connecting lines within the circles of the neatly drawn astrological charts. They had been there for an hour or more. There were no dishes for there had been no dinner. Dad was in the Bahamas with other men from work. Jackie’s husband was the pilot who had flown them there. “Cereal for dinner!” she had yelled. Kids had yelled back thrilled with the dad’s-out-of-town treat. Any leftover mess of sugar and milk, opened boxes, bowls and spoons were on the counters across the kitchen, her back to them.
Her deep focus was apparent as I was turning to head upstairs, glancing down the hall. “What’s going on?” Mom waved her hand my way in distraction, “Oh nothing, honey. Just waiting for a phone call. Go on.”
She and Jackie had been speaking openly all evening without indication of a need to hide anything. It had the sound of any other reading, mom speaking in a language familiar to all of us, though barely understood in its juxtaposition of common and uncommon words in illusive meaning: houses and planets, aspects, squares and trines, sextiles, natals and progressions. On this evening their words were mere additions to the overall noise of a typical suburban house full of family. No string of utterance or tone of voice pricked our ears to a turn of attention. Her warning to me months before of something coming that would change our lives had rested itself in a dusty corner of memory. Their talk on this night did not rouse it. It was only the look of them under that light in the bright room at the end of the dark hall that called me to notice.
At some point the phone did ring. It must have. For she received the news she had been expecting with the fleshed-out details she had not known. Our phone rang a lot so this particular ring did not wake us. It was not the ring that held the significance of the call. We had all gone to bed in our dark rooms upstairs. But while we slept it is likely the light in the kitchen stayed on with her until the first sign of the sun’s rising made its way to the table and the charts that lay there still, speaking to her. Stayed on with her that long night while she made her plans to leave us and go to him.
Dad’s heart attack was one of those points that spun in slow motion and only within the context of all that came after revealed that it had stepped us across a threshold from one place to another.