I opened the bedroom blinds this morning and I thought, as I think every morning, someday I want to get these walls painted yellow. I went into the bathroom and looked again at the scratches on the tub. Someday I'm going to get a new tub.
Later, as I rubbed a sponge across each dirty dish, I could almost hear the swishing and rumbling of my dream dishwasher. In the freezer my imagined automatic ice-maker ejected little half-moon cubes.
I went to the back door to let the dog out and there in the misty garden sat a spectre of new lawn furniture: tempered glass table, striped umbrella, durable, chic lounge chairs with their ghastly price tags still dangling from them.
I carried the trash to the basement and in the darkness I thought I heard the click of a light switch. I closed my eyes and saw the room cozily lit in track lighting, a wood stove glowed in the corner, a 6-piece modular couch surrounded the television set, rigged up with cable, HBO and Showtime.
That evening I sat in the living room to rest. Instead, the room triggered off a textile fantasy. I had hallucinations of pale green drapes, oriental carpets and floral slip covers on the couch reminiscent of a Victorian summer house.
I walked through my house and it hit me. This place is cluttered, not with anything you can bag in plastic and put out by the street, but with phantoms of home-improvement schemes. I listened to my mind as I passed my possessions. It persistently sold me replacements for everything I owned. Insidiously tucked in among the voices of my id, ego and superego, I heard commercials. I've named this section of my psychic apparatus, the "ad-ego."
The problem: I can't afford an American mind anymore. In the first few flush years of marriage we had the savings my husband had accumulated from a long bachelorhood. I was able to put every plan into action. But last fall, from a mess of bills on the dining-room floor he told me we were spending every cent we made and there was nothing left over for home improvements. So all winter long, the mirages accumulated. I didn't know it then, but I was suffering from new-stuff withdrawal.
It's probably better this way. Redecorating a home makes me nervous. There's never enough money, or time. Once you get started, there's no end to sprucing up a look and I worry that I'll make an expensive mistake.
But those drapes were just made for me. Just the palest shade of . . . Stop! I can't keep looking around my house and seeing a shopping list instead of a home. How to get my mind off this track. First, I'll try to forget the new stuff, dust up the ghosts, open the doors and shake them into the wind. Then put a nice sentimental shine on all the good, old things we live with. If I polish them up with memories, maybe I won't want to part with them.
Some of the scratches on the bedroom walls are irreplaceable. I made this one blindly reaching for a vodka gimlet because I didn't want to look up from my first Margaret Drabble novel. My husband made that crack with a karate chop. I'd just asked him if he had a good day.
The scratches in the tub were there when we moved in, but without them we might slip and fall. The living-room couch was in my husband's bachelor apartment. I sat on it eating olives from a jar while he collected his coins and bills and credit cards from all their hiding places. Then we'd sashay into Georgetown and pick a place to eat.
I remember when my sister's baby fell from the top of the stairs and landed laughing at the bottom, thanks to this thick shag rug. And although I hate the dark brown color, without it my best friend's mud-loving Malamute would have to stay outside when she visits. I can hear the weeping beast, pawing at the door, wondering what she did wrong.
I've had thoughtful mornings washing dishes and looking out into the garden at our weathered lawn chairs, remembering the friends who sat in them last summer. And when we'd run out of ice, we'd meet our neighbors.
So this year, I'll begin spring cleaning by clearing the house of all the things we don't have. In the empty spaces, the things we do have will stand out, revived, relieved and ready for another faithful season. Without lifting a finger, I can make this place look new. It's spring, 1982.