House Porn

house porn

Rhonda punched the “off” button on the remote, shutting down the episode of Property Brothers on HGTV. The Brothers had just completed a massive home make-over, complete with demolition and remodel. The reveal was greeted by ecstatic squeals from the homeowners, who wept with joy as they tiptoed through their gorgeous, staged rooms.

She looked around her home and sighed with dissatisfaction. No open concept, no plantation shutters, no hardwood floors. She shared a hall bathroom with the rest of the family, for cryin’ out loud. What happened to her master suite on suite? Nothing sweet was happening at her house.

“Something’s got to be done about this hovel,” she announced to her husband, Terry, who pretended to be engrossed in his newspaper. It was easier back when he could spread open an actual paper and hold it in front of his face; nowadays, all he could do was squint extra-hard at his tablet.

“Well, what do you have in mind, dear?” Terry inquired in a neutral voice.

“For starters, we need to repaint the entire interior of the house.”

Guaranteed to strike terror into Terry’s soul, the painting project came up at regular intervals. It simply cost too much to hire professionals for something that they could do themselves, Rhonda argued. But when it came right down to it, the thought of all that furniture shifting and edge-taping made painting easy to put off. Rhonda had a dangerous gleam in her eye today, though, and Terry felt a shiver of apprehension.

“And maybe we’ll put up some wallpaper,” she said.

“Do you know how to hang wallpaper?” Terry asked.

“No. But I’ll bet you could pick it up fast,” she said.

“When you say ‘you’…?”

“I mean YOU.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.”

Rhonda was just getting started. “And we have to replace the kitchen counters. I think I want soapstone. That seems to be the newest thing. Granite is sort of out. And while we’re at it, let’s replace the sink. I want an apron sink. Oh, and one of those gooseneck faucets. Copper. And a new copper range hood to coordinate with the faucet.”

Wisely, Terry remained silent and gazed into the middle distance, having learned long ago not to make eye contact with Rhonda when she was in one of these moods. He hated it when she watched house porn on television.

“We’ll hire one of those closet organizer persons to completely redesign our closet,” she continued, “since we don’t have a dressing room.”

Dressing room? Had Rhonda taken to drugs? They lived in a mid-seventies split-level.

“Actually, we could push out the back wall of the master bedroom and add a dressing room and a spa bathroom,” Rhonda mused.

“Do you have any idea what that would cost?” Terry struggled to keep his voice from climbing into the upper registers.

But Rhonda wasn’t listening. “And hardwood floors throughout. This carpet is disgusting, and even though hardwood is more expensive, it’ll last a lifetime. We could rent one of those pods, put it in the driveway and store all our furniture in it while the hardwood is installed. You could ask your brother to help you move stuff.”

Terry realized his mouth was hanging open and closed it with a snap. “Now, Rhonda, honey, let’s not get carried away,” he said, hating his weasely tone of voice. “We want to retire someday; don’t you think we should save our money for that?”

“Look, I’ve had it with this place,” Rhonda snapped. “I can’t live like this any longer.”

“How about some new throw pillows for the couch?” he said. “And I could get started painting the kitchen this weekend. You choose the colors and pick up the paint, and I promise I’ll get it done.”

“You really mean it this time?” Rhonda asked.

“I do, sweetheart. I just want you to be happy.”

Terry planned to make the job as messy as possible. He was counting on the resulting upheaval dampening Rhonda’s enthusiasm for all those other projects.

“Well…okay.” Rhonda flashed her dimples prettily. A long marriage had taught her exactly when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

She waited until she was out of the room to do a little victory dance and pump her fist in the air. Her dad had been wrong; that minor in Psychology paid off!  Terry would never suspect that all she’d ever wanted was to get the kitchen painted.

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Apology Accepted

 

hello is that you image

She’d been asleep for maybe an hour, that first good sleep that’s heavy as an anesthetic. When the ringing started, she couldn’t think for a minute what the noise was. She fumbled for her phone on the bedside table, but by the time she got her hands on it the ringing stopped. She subsided back onto her pillow, eyes closed.

But then it rang again. She was quicker this time and heard, “Hey, are you just blowing off my calls? What the hell?” It was a young male voice.

“You’ve got the wrong number, and it’s the middle of the night,” she wailed, hanging up without waiting for an answer.

The phone rang again; she ignored it. Next came the beep-beep-beep of messages hitting her phone in rapid succession. Before she could read them, the ringing started again.

“Stop calling me!”

“This is really important. I just need to know if you are either Alex or Wendy. If you’re not, I’ll apologize.”

“NO, I AM NOT ALEX OR WENDY.”

“Oh. I ‘pologize.”

Too late for apologies. By now, she was so rigid with fury that sleep went slinking out the door. Oh, she tried to lure it back.  Deep breathing didn’t help. Counting backward by threes from one thousand didn’t help. Relaxing her limbs one by one didn’t help. She stared dry-eyed at the ceiling, cataloging all her sins large and small. Self-doubt, anxiety, remorse and dread, the four horsemen of insomnia, saddled up and pounded through her head. Why were there never any good thoughts at three a.m.? The clock continued its digital journey toward morning.

“I have to get up at six anyway, but it’s dark and cold and I just can’t face the day yet. I’ll stay in bed, even if I don’t sleep,” she told herself at five.

Immediately, as if hit on the head, she fell into a deep slumber, only to be jolted awake by the buzz of her alarm. Groaning, she levered herself to a sitting position cursing her midnight caller, Alex, Wendy, all their kith, kin and ancestors. Now, when she’d finally recaptured sleep, it was time to get up. She’d fumble through the busy day ahead in a fog of sleep-deprivation.

As her brain slowly booted up to daytime mode, a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. She reached for her phone, pulled up the screen showing recent calls and punched the last number. A sleepy voice mumbled, “H’lo?”

“Hello, this is Wendy. I hear you’ve been trying to reach me.”

“Huh?  Who? Do you know what time it is?”

“Sure do. Don’t hang up because I’ll just keep calling. It’s really important, right? If it isn’t, I’ll apologize.”

 

The Make-Up Artist

 

make up artist

They came to her like sleepy children, only half-awake. Faces scrubbed clean, hair pulled back, they looked nothing like the camera-ready product Cindy would turn out in half an hour, wearing a hard shell of make-up like a shield. They were the early-morning news anchors, and she was their make-up artist. Together with hair-stylist Miguel, she stood waiting in the prep room at four a.m.

Yawning, stretching, they arrived, the weather guy and the man and woman who read the news. Station policy dictated that they start their viewers’ day in high energy mode. It didn’t come naturally to anyone at that hour, but it was totally foreign to the woman anchor, Jemima. She had to psyche herself up to be cheery. Sometimes, with her mask-like face and immovable hair, she swung her arms in circles and jumped up and down before she went on the air. It looked like a hard way to make a living.

Today Cindy felt light-headed with fatigue. The baby had had a bad night – was still having it when she placed him in bed beside her husband, kissed the red little angry face, whispered “Sorry, I’ll make it up to you,” to her groaning spouse, and let herself out into the pre-dawn stars. At least traffic was light and she had her choice of parking spaces when she arrived.

Jemima was in first this morning, eyes at half-mast. She settled into Miguel’s chair with a sigh and submitted to the teasing and spraying without a word. By the time Cindy got hold of her, she was a bit more awake.

“Cindy, you wouldn’t believe the night I had,” Jemima began. “That hot new band is in town and I managed to snag backstage passes for Jeff and me.  It made for a late night, though – only three hours of sleep. I don’t know how you’re going to make me look human today.”

“Wow, uh huh.” Cindy knew Jemima didn’t want to hear about her own three-hour night, so she let the words wash over her as she began applying moisturizer, then primer, then concealer, then the thick pancake make-up that made everyone’s face look flawless for the camera. She couldn’t do much for necks, though, and they often served as stark reminders that the faces couldn’t be trusted. Necks never lie, that was Cindy’s experience. Every sag, every line, every jowl was merciless reality.

Mark was next. He didn’t get the fake eyelashes and lipstick, but Cindy spent some time trying to reduce those under-eye bags. He was growing old in a young person’s game and it was getting harder and harder to conceal it. She liked Mark, so she soaked two teabags in hot water, laid the chair back and placed the bags under his eyes for a few minutes. Bags on bags, she thought. But the tannic acid did reduce swelling. Lucky for Mark, he got to wear a buttoned-up shirt and tie cinched under his chin.

With only minutes to spare, the anchors scrambled onto the set, settled themselves in their chairs and squinted at the Teleprompter. When the green on-the-air indicator lit up, Cindy’s job was done for the moment. She had time for a break before the first commercial, when she’d dash onto the set armed with blotting papers to absorb shine on those perfect faces.

She plugged in the electric kettle and got another teabag, this one for the purpose it was intended. Catching sight of herself in the mirror as she waited for the water to heat, she saw a pale face and hair scraped back into a messy pony-tail. Wearily, she leaned forward and began spackling on her own hard shell.

She knew when she got home that evening her husband would hand her the baby at the door and say he hadn’t been able to do a thing about his job search because he’d had to take care of a kid all day. Then he’d head to the pub for some adult company. She wouldn’t have a chance to mention that her paycheck was stretched beyond the breaking point – surely he had to know that – or how tired she was, or the funny noise her old car made when she turned left, or how she had to beat down the flashes of anger that illuminated her horizon these days.

Wielding the soft sable brushes expertly, she sketched herself a beautiful, flawless face that hid everything, but only to the jaw line.  How long she could avoid looking at her neck?

Coming Home

Amish buggy Pixabay for Coming Home

Joseph had been on duty for thirty-six hours with only snatches of sleep. Every time he settled in the residents’ bunk room his pager went off and he’d have to haul himself back to the floor to deal with a patient. He was light-headed, hungry, exhausted, and he’d never been happier in his life. Landing a residency in a teaching hospital close to home was a dream come true. In one more year he’d be ready to join Dr. Lanahan’s practice.

The latest call took him to a room in the Intensive Care unit. There a young Amish boy, Levi Yoder, lay hooked up to an array of machines that breathed for him, medicated him, and monitored his vital functions. Levi had been riding in a buggy that was hit by a car, an all-too-common occurrence on narrow country roads where cars were king. The friend riding with him was dead, and this youngster might soon join him. Joseph buttoned his white coat and took a deep breath.

He’d become accustomed to seeing the worried eyes of the family turn to him when he entered a hospital room, to feeling their fear and worry settle onto his shoulders. But he realized with a start that he knew this family. They were members of his parents’ church. They didn’t recognize him until he spoke to them in Dutch.

“Why, it’s Joseph, Joseph Hostetler,” Mr. Yoder said.

Joseph waited for them to turn away, refuse to speak. Instead, the air in the room seemed to expand with relief as both parents peppered him with questions in Dutch. Then they were silent while Joseph examined Levi, ordered some adjustments to his medicines, and explained the treatments that were taking place.

“His vital signs are better today.” The Dutch dialect, his first language, came back to him easily. “His injuries are serious, but he’s young and healthy. It’s too early to be sure, but I’m optimistic he’ll recover.”

He looked into the Yoders’ weary faces, now illuminated with hope. “I suggest you take turns staying with Levi so each of you can go home and get some rest. You need to keep up your strength.”

The Yoders exchanged a glance, and Joseph remembered their circumstances.

“Do you have a place to stay?” he asked.

“No. A neighbor drove us here, but we have no way to get home.”

“There’s a Ronald McDonald house within walking distance. It’s for out-of-towners who have someone in the hospital. I’ll send a social worker to help you get settled.”

As he turned to go, Levi’s father caught his arm. “Dr. Hostetler, will you pray for Levi with us?”

As Joseph bowed his head, he felt the two halves of his world click into place. The lonely boy who had for so long been a sojourner disappeared forever in that moment, replaced by the man Joseph had become. He’d make a new life for himself in his old community and spend the rest of his days doing work he loved. Patty and their future children would get to know his heritage. He was coming home.

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The story of Joseph is told in seven blog installments: Feb. 11 (The Sojourner), Aug. 26 (No Time for Sergeants), Oct. 7 (Rumspringa), Dec. 23 (Anatomy), Dec. 30 (Hard Choices),  Jan. 7 (Shunning), and Jan. 14, (Coming Home). Joseph’s name was changed and these stories are fiction, but based on a true event.