It had been a bloody bad day. I had gone everywhere clutching a precious paint sample, matching fabric and ceramic so the new bath would look like beaches and sunsets --sand, brown, pink, golden suede.
Paint: a quart of khaki-colored liquid; the walls must look like a grocery bag, not oatmeal. To the hardware for matching towel bars. Towels. A rug. At home I lug the stuff --$100 worth of subtle shades --to the top floor bath. Everything looks gawdawful.
The paint is two shades lighter than the sample. Never mind grocery bag; I have biscuit. The ceramic towel bars that looked beige in hardware seem bone white here; shell pink towels--lustrous under fluorescent light--are bleached out by the bald sun streaming in the window. I feel like a frustrated rat, having run a maze for no reward.
A dear friend appears unexpectedly, a reprieve, and we sit down with coffee to talk vacation schedules. We will separate this summer: she will fly to Toronto and Minnesota; work will keep me at home. We have the same beach house, but in succeeding weeks. We cannot really be together again until fall.
I feel hurt when she cancels our Friday lunch--I have guarded it on my calendar-- but I pretend indifference. When she says she may cancel help she has promised me on an important personal project, my blood surges. Her reasons are sensible ones, but I am so angry I cannot look at her.
Oh, I say, in a tightrope voice, tracing rings on the tabletop.
Now, she rejoins. I can't believe you're behaving like this.
This is simply the last straw, I say. You've been angry with me since April, when I went away; you've been smiling and slicing at me ever since. We hiss, two cats.
Finally, she holds her head. I am crying and there are no tissues in the kitchen. We grope for rational excuses for the irrational: feeling lonely, abandoned, angry--guilty at being over 35 and not knowing better. Hugging at the door, we agree: no gall between us. Nevertheless, time must smooth ruffled hair, jagged edges.
My husband has had a bad day. The kids don't like dinner, and their father makes them eat their zucchini anyway. They escape upstairs to play with their gerbil, Jerry. A soft, black little rodent, he distinguishes himself only by mindless journeys on his wheel and a steadfast refusal to be traumatized by repeated assaults on his cage by our springer spaniel. Thank god Dolly the cat is indifferent. We continually move Jerry's cage onto higher shelves; occasionally, the girls let him out, and there has been one close call.
Now, sitting amid dirty dishes with muffled laughter from upstairs, we are jolted by a sudden clatter and a heart-shattering shriek. At the bottom of the stairs, we confront our handsome spaniel, looking innocently perplexed, Jerry's tail swinging from his closed mouth.
Soft mouth, they have soft mouths, I think frantically. If he will drop the gerbil it may still be alive. Our bird dog drops the gerbil at our feet as if he is dropping gold, but Jerry is a bloody heap convulsing on the floor before our horrified daughters.
We dispose of the victim, hug the sobbing child, try to explain why one much-loved pet would attack another one.
It is instinct, I say. He did n't mean any harm. You see? He didn't eat Jerry, he caught him; that's what bird dogs are supposed to do. Remember the day Dolly killed a mouse and brought him to the front door? Animals hurt each other. There's bad blood between them.
They are disgusted with the dog, their adored friend who suddenly has revealed fangs. They retell the details, incredulously, of the attack. The dog, knowing everybody is angry with him, sits between us, sheepish and guilty, but uncomprehending. He wants to be petted. That is the way animals are, I say again. We must be better, take care of each other.
The dog cannot make things right; he has done a natural thing, and there has been death in it. But we human animals--we can, after all, make amends.