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Saturday, 2 February 2013

Paint Job (Part I)

                         Welcome!
No place like home

How weird was it to return from tropical (dry season) Cambodia to find that our summer Adelaide Hills garden was green and refreshing! Thanks to our friend watering regularly and some cooler weather, home was truly a sight for weary eyes. This week’s cooler weather is a bit of a shock, with temperatures consistently in the low 20s (Celsius)/low 70s (Fahrenheit), but I’m not complaining. The koala pictured here lives in my neighbourhood, another welcome sight for a travel weary Aussie.

My new story will be rolled out over three posts, so enjoy the first instalment!
Paint Job
Part I

'He's an electrician, for gods' sake! What would he know about interior decorating?' Ma pressed her lips together and strode from the dropcloth-covered lounge room.
            Pete and I shrugged and said nothing. What was there to say? We'd known Ma would react that way – nobody knows anything more than Ma – and we also knew she'd vent her superiority on pastry and there'd be a grand supper tonight. We made ourselves scarce till it was time to eat.
            Pete had been boarding at our place for five months and my life had never been more satisfying. When Dad had shot through two years earlier, I'd been left to defend the reputation of the male of the species. It was a full-time job; senior high school was a breeze by comparison. And then Pete had turned up.
            I'd never quite worked out the pieces of his story – where he'd been before and why he was here now – but one thing was clear: he'd won Ma over, or she wouldn't have let him move in.
            Pete was about three years older than me, the brother I'd alternated between longing for and being grateful I didn't have. If I'd had a brother like Joe's, I'd have left home. But Pete more than matched the other side of my scale. As long as he stayed, I'd stay.
            Pete's electrical skills were a boon in the old house, with its dicky lighting that flashed as if it had ambitions to join the lightning it emulated. The switches sparked when we shifted them, and we never knew if the TV would work. Pete fixed all that in his first three weeks and Ma waived the board money.
            'Why don't you take up a trade, do something useful with your life?' she took to asking whenever I claimed schoolwork as my excuse for copping out of the dishes. Like going to university to study engineering wouldn't be useful.
            In all the time Pete had been with us, Ma had never spoken directly to him. Pete was always 'he', never 'you'. It was kind of freaky, but Pete didn't seem to mind. Pete didn't mind anything much, really, except hunger and police officers. He was adept at steering clear of both.

This particular weekend was the long one in June, the Queen's birthday. The weather was lousy: wet and windy. I was sick of all my computer games, and our internet connection didn't like rain.
            'You up for a bit of useful, Mattie?' Pete asked when we'd been doing nothing for a couple of hours.
            'What kind of useful?' I asked, thinking of the assignments I was avoiding and wishing he'd offered fun instead.
            'How about we fix up this room while Rhoda's busy with the oldies at the nursing home?'
            'Whaddya mean, 'fix it up'? It's okay as it is. Been like this as long as I remember.'
            'That's my point,' he said, slapping my back. 'Don't you reckon your ma would like a fresh coat of paint on it? Look,' he added, pointing at the bare patches around the light switch, 'there's hardly any paint left. What colour was it, d'ya reckon?'
            I looked, probably for the first time in the ten years since I'd scratched my name in the paint behind the sofa. 'Dunno. Can't remember. Maybe cream?'
            'Well, I figure we've got four hours. We can do one coat before she gets back, if we're fast. You in it?'
            Pete was already walking out to the shed as I muttered a half-hearted, 'S'pose so.' He came back with a couple of new tins of paint.
            'Corn chip. It's the latest fashion colour. I saw it in this house I was working on last week, and the woman there showed me one of those home decorator magazines. This colour was the hot favourite.'
            What did I know? I started packing up Ma's knick knacks and photos while Pete shoved the movable furniture into the corridor. We covered the heavy stuff with old sheets, brought in buckets of water and scrubbed the walls with sugar soap. There wasn't much paint anywhere on the wall when we'd finished.
            The time raced as we slapped on paint while the CD player thumped fast music to set our pace. Pete was up on the ladder painting the cornice a tomato-and-milk colour which he reckoned the magazine showed too, and I was tidying the edges and removing drips when we heard the slam of the back door. I turned the CD off and looked up as Ma stood in the doorway from the kitchen.
            'Whose idea?' she said hoarsely. I looked at Pete, who stood on the ladder grinning, his brush poised over the paint tin hanging from its wire handle.
            'Looks like a different place, huh, Rhoda? D'ya like it? We'll finish it off properly, like professionals. It'll be done by the end of the weekend.'
            I groaned – he hadn't told me that part.
            Ma made her comment and left. We cleaned up and spent the time before supper washing out paint-soaked brushes and wiping up all the drips and smudges that seemed to have spread themselves around.
            We sat down at the kitchen table at the usual time for supper, our hands raw from an hour in cold water and turps. There was something in the oven, but no sign of Ma. We waited a few minutes, but then Pete opened the oven.
            'Get the plates, Matt,' he grunted as he pulled out a baking dish. 'Oh-oh,' he added, 'we've got trouble.' He dumped the dish on the stovetop and stood looking at it, absently slapping the worn oven glove from hand to hand.
            I looked too. Corn chips floating in tomato soup. 'I guess she didn't like the colour scheme.'
            'Yeah.'
            Pete went to the fridge to find something more palatable.
            'There's a note,' I said, pulling a sticky note off the fridge door.
            Maybe he knows about cooking too. He's welcome to it.

Ooh, Ma is really riled. I wonder why? Read the second instalment next time.

See you then...
Claire Belberg