By Anj Marth
The woman sat on the small porch of the yellow house, drinking a cup of steaming coffee. The whiteb tree in the yard was yellowing too, and its leaves were crisped by the autumn cold. It was very early in the morning and the sky had not yet cleared, over the low hills, but was hanging low and heavy in an oily fog to the trees there, hiding their flame from view.
The windows of the yellow house were streaked, and this was obvious even from the street. It was a newish house, set away from
the street, with a small, dry brown yard in front of it. Each window had a full curtain made of clean black sheet covering them, and the house from the street looked dark, and silent.
-Hello there Mrs. Knecht.- the mailman said, and held out a thin stack of bright advertisements to her, not entering the yard but
standing on the side of the street.
How’s the morning treat you?-
-Oh, fine.- she said, taking the mail from him, and carefully stepping back to the porch. It’s going to be a fine clear day later on, don’t you know.-
-Well, I’ll tell you once,- he said, perking up a bit That train come down with a load of people from town again, and I don’t know what!-
-I suppose it will be busy at the cafe today- she said. I better get ready for work.- She smiled thinly at him and gestured at her faded bathrobe.
-Ya, that you better do! I’ll go on now, I may come down the cafe
later, if Gretchen wants to come with.-
He smiled and raised his hand in a short wave,b then walked away briskly, and she looked into her empty mug, staring at the bit of sugary crust in the bottom. Now I have to go inside, and get dressed. Now I have to go inside and get dressed for the day.- she thought sadly. then I’ll have to go to the cafe, to work, then to the library and take those books back if I can find them before work, I have enough time I think.
She slowly got out of the chair and went into the house.
That afternoon, the sky cleared to a dull, slate blue, and people at the cafe sat and stared at the mountains’ rolling flames of autumn leaves in full blaze. The only ones who did this were the well-dressed, impertinent strangers,
come to the town to look at the trees’ autumn coats.
The people who lived in the town sat inside the cafe, looking anywhere but at the hills, averting their eyes as from a terrible car accident, talking of anything else. She spent her day serving coffee and donuts and scrapple to the locals, with a thin yellow veil drawn over her eyes.
She did not listen to their talk, but barely heard them discussing whose car was broken down, who had beaten their wife, whose lawn had fallen into disrepair, and whose kitchen had flooded.
She also served lattes and pastry to those who sat outside, staring at the hills. She glanced again and again at the mountains, trying
not to look for long. The tourists barely looked at her, at their food, but spoke about taking a train ride through the mountains to get
closer to the crazed patchwork of the hills, and stared at the trees hungrily as if they could carry the forest back to the cities with
them in their greedy eyes.
Violent combinations of tones and weird shapes, none matched and nothing on them in any sort of order, battled on the hillsides. The
hills were tight and close, making the sky small and compact, and the air heavy. The ceiling of the sky reached down so that the piles
of confused colors could reach it. Her eyes darted between the tourists and the hills, to the sky, to the crumpled bills left on a
confused table setting, to the cramping handwriting on her notepad.
Her apron was stained in a riot of colors too, and herwhite shirt had a ring of yellow around the neck and armpits from the fervor of work.
As she wiped a table clear she suddenly remembered the library books. She had not been able to find them at first and then had
forgotten them, and had forgotten to even call the library and renew them, so that now they were late again. It was too late in the
day, the library was closed, and as she thought of the books she felt a familiar frustrated disappointment in herself.
-If only he were here, I’d have some idea where the books were,
He had such a head for things like that.- She thought.
She remembered post-it, alarm clocks, remembered the feel of his rough cheek. One day while they discussed moving to the city, a
clot of blood had stopped in his brain. She could see him on the kitchen floor, head bleeding from the fall, grey water coming from
his mouth, and his cold eyes looking past her, out the window.
She stared at the exact pattern of checks on the tablecloth she had just wiped, the red and greasy greyed white next to each other like the blood and the foam on the linoleum. She stepped back into the cafe and forced herself to smile at someone.
At the dinner hour she walked through the town back to the yellow house, stopping to talk with several neighbors who sat on their
porches. Watching the neighbors carefully was the town’s common habit, and its only entertainment. It was a small town and there was little to do besides work and watch. She withstood several attempts to discuss neighborly gossip and finally came to her own house.
Her nearest neighbor, a serious and glowering older man, and his fat and talkative wife, were outside burning some things in a metalbarrel. They had no intention of paying for a garbage service when they could easily burn their trash, and the locals did not disapprove of their choice. As she walked by they asked her if she had anything she wished to add to the fire, and she said no, thank you, and continued to her house.
She unlocked and opened the door. She was the only one on her street who ever locked her door. Her neighbors discussed this
often, coming to the conclusion that since she had lived in a city, she feared burglary. They felt she was an outsider, but one that had been established long enough to be treated as a local in most respects. She was the only one on her street to take the city newspaper, which gave her neighbors a feeling that she was
cultured and metropolitan. Since they could not see inside her home, they assumed she was lonely, but must have expensive
possessions. None of them had ever been invited inside. All of these facts made them pity her.
She opened her door halfway, and an obstacle stopped it from opening further. The light from the doorway was wan and thin, barely reaching a few feet from the door. The sun had begun to set and had no strength to it any more. She deftly turned sideways, stepping over and around several large objects, reached her arm up high and out far, and pulled a lamp cord.
The light struck everything in the house at exactly the same moment- a confusion of papers, clothing, tuna can lids, boxes,
bags, broken picture frames, crumpled tissues stained brown, red handkerchiefs tied in knots atop a pile of bright blue plastic plates,
crusted with a thick layer of some sort of white sauce. The floor was hidden under layers of objects, some unrecognizable and some
seemingly precious. All was warmed by the yellow light, all the bits and pieces had a brilliancy that demanded admiration.
There seemed to be no corners to the rooms, but a rounded feeling, as in a cave, from the piling of things where the walls met. There was no visible furniture, but vague shapes suggested its presence.
She walked through this riot of color and light gracefully, cautiously. She had one day been cut on the leg by a ravioli can lid that had been sticking from a knee-high pile, and now walked in small, delicate steps, turning from side to side as she went, just as if the whole house was empty and she merely felt like dancing an
The mug from her morning coffee sat atop a pile of papers in the kitchen, a pile of old newspapers that were yellowed and which
were stacked to chest height by the stove, unopened and unread.
Also on this pile were layers of bright advertisements, junk mail crumpled and piled next to the coffee mug. She took the mug and
turned gently around in the gap between the counter and the papers, twisting through the opening without touching anything.
She danced soberly and silently to the bathroom, and there in the sink she filled the mug with hot water from the tap and stirred in
with her finger some instant coffee from a small jar that had no label.
She sat on the toilet, and stared at the curtain on the window next to her. She pulled it aside, and taking a small scrap of old newspaper from the pile of debris at her feet, she wiped at the pane until a space as big as her face was cleared and shining.
She sat like this for quite a long time and stared, until the sun had gone completely and the ruin and heaps and blazing confusion of color on the hills, was gone.