I worried about her, out painting in the cold like that. I'd hired her to paint the front door to match the neighbors' door which she'd painted last year. Pretty colors, too, just not ones I'd choose. But, I thought, the colors would be here after I'd moved away, so I decided the doors should match on this uptown double. Much more visually pleasing that way.
She arrived early in the morning and got to work, sanding first, then priming and sanding again. I ignored her but couldn't ignore my feelings of guilt about her in the cold hour after hour. Finally, I peeked out of the door and asked if she'd like some tea, some cocoa, something to warm her up. She thanked me and asked also if I had any tissues. The cold was making her nose run.
I brought a box of kleenex and a mug of hot cocoa with those too tiny to last marshmallows in it. I stood and talked politely with her for a few minutes and went back inside. When she'd finished one coat, she left it to dry overnight.
The next morning, I met her at the door again and talked longer this time. Always eager to treat a fellow human being like a human being whether they are providing a paid for service or not, I got to know her a little bit. I heard about her husband, her son in California, her cats.
She was the kind of woman I envy: suntanned, badly but comfortably dressed, wrinkled, messy and above all- at ease. I never give myself permission to look this way- to live this way. The life I am used to feels like a corset drawn too tight whenever I am around a woman who lives life this other, easy way.
She finished the door on the third day and invited me back to her house to see the antique interior colors she'd used in her own home (interiors were what she usually painted.) Right up the street was a home which, like many in this city, had a deceptively weathered exterior. Inside were three cats and beauty. The walls were a soft matte mustard/ old gold color. A picture frame in a grayed blue rested, perfectly at home against that color, at the base of the stairs.
After talking me through every room, every color, every cat (all of whom were perfectly content to welcome a stranger), we climbed her twisted stairs. The entire length of the second floor had been opened up into a master bedroom suite with sitting room and bathroom. One cat followed us in. She talked color and I looked out at the tiny balcony holding two defeated wicker armchairs covered in cushions which were not meant for rain or sun.
She sighed. I looked over at her. And eyes on my face, she sat on the bed and legs apart, leaned back onto her elbows. Still talking, still watching me, she leaned back all the way and raised her arms over her head. I talked back. And stayed where I was.
After a few minutes, she gave up and took me back downstairs.
Two days later I wrote her a thank you note for the work on the front door.