Finishing the Door by Linda J. Pifer
Susan’s text message came from her office. “Mom, what were you thinking? It’s too bright–every day will be like Christmas!” She finished with news on the grands and signed off. The message from Sarah’s eldest daughter regarding the new red paint on the front door remained on her mind. It was a further disappointment when her son Jaimie also disliked it. But when her husband Mike compared it to the fire department down the street, it was the last straw and she decided to turn the tables.
The front door was painted white when Sarah and Mike Carter built the front entryway twenty years ago. White and boring Sarah thought now as she stood surveying its marred finish. She acknowledged the busy entry had opened to hundreds of family members and visitors over the years, many left marks and lots of fingerprints. She’d always thought of the house as the ‘official family spot’ for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and just plain gathering and wouldn’t change its history for anything.
The once pristine door held its scars, from children hauling new bikes outside on Christmas day to son Jamie’s walker which had scraped the lower half of the door before he learned to walk. She gently ran her fingers over the gouges and remembered he was now six-foot two and had a family of his own. The area surrounding the brass doorknob was worn thin to the gray primer beneath; this’ll take some sanding time she muttered and walked outside to the porch to consider a new exterior color.
From the porch she glanced at the azaleas down the side of the yard and spring lilies that pushed through the mulch. Some showed early pink and white blossoms and promised spring’s true arrival. The Carter house sat in the shade of several oaks; their height towered over the yard and provided shade in the heat of southern summers. The heavy shedding of oak leaves year-round was increasingly hard to keep up with now that the kids were grown and away. We’re very blessed, she reminded herself. Mike and I don’t feel old enough to give up this house for a condo, in fact, the thought is repugnant. We’ve vowed to stay here and continued good health makes it possible.
Last year I painted the shutters a dark blue-green she remembered; should I use the color for the door? But after picturing it for a few minutes, she rejected the idea as too matchy-matchy. At a loss, she decided to visit the paint store in the morning.
The next day, she carried a bag full of paint samples back to the porch and began to tape them to the door. Black was one of the new trends in exterior trim, but it was too sinister for her taste and she moved on to some shades of blue. Navy was too dark; a lighter sky-blue didn’t suit. At the end of the hour, all the new color samples were put back into the bag. She whispered under her breath, “This is harder than I thought,” and retreated into the kitchen for an iced tea.
That night, while passing a book case in the livingroom, she remembered a favorite read from years ago. The heroine had a red-painted door which identified the cottage as a safe-house. Intrigued by the idea, Sarah went to the computer and upon entering ‘doors painted red’, several articles popped up.
‘A red door means the home within is a vibrant place, full of life, energy, and excitement.’ Certainly describes our home’s history she thought and read on.
‘In Feng Sui, a red door symbolizes the mouth of the home. By painting the door red (or any bright color that stands out) chi (positive energy) is drawn to the house. It is the entry point in which abundance and opportunities find us. The Chinese consider red to be the lucky or sacred color. Many doors are painted with a fresh coat of red just before Chinese New Year to invite good luck and happiness.’ Sarah had always felt drawn to the Feng Sui methods in her style of decorating though she hadn’t known about the bright colors.
‘In Ireland, a red door is supposed to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Old Catholic churches used red doors to remind parishioners of Christ’s blood and that the church was a place free from evil.’
Inspired by what she read, Sarah made her decision; the inside of the door received a fresh coat of white and the exterior received a coat of brick-red gloss the very next day.
“Wonderful.” She stood back to get the full effect, took a picture with her phone and sent it to the ‘kids’. She cleaned up the brushes and was reading in her favorite chair when she heard her cell phone; Jaimie had received her picture.
‘Nice job Mom–a little bright? What do the neighbors think?’ He messaged. Though masked by a compliment, her eldest child obviously didn’t care for red doors. He’s a younger version of his father Sarah thought; what if Mike doesn’t like it either?
Susan’s message came next from her office. “Mom, what were you thinking? It’s too bright–every day will be like Christmas!” She finished with news on the grands and signed off.
Okay, Sarah thought, I like the door and don’t plan on changing it. She went back to her book, but couldn’t pick up where she’d left off. She put the book aside and walked toward the den to open up the day’s email then took a detour to the porch for another look. The walk out the driveway gave her the full effect; there’s no mistaking where the front door is, she smiled from her vantage point. Mike will be home soon; should I call and warn him? Nope–not going to do that she resolved and walked back into the house to the computer. He’s a big boy and can have opinions; he’s never inflicted them on me in our 30+ years of marriage, why would he start now?
“Honey? Where are you?” She heard his voice later.
“Back here, in the den.”
“Hi.” He greeted her and bent to deposit a kiss on her lips. “Did we become suddenly aligned with the local fire department?”
“Ha-ha, very funny; why do you ask?” She tried to conceal her amusement, knowing well his reference.
“No particular reason other than the color of our door matches Company 51’s down the street.”
“Oh come on, theirs is much darker don’t you think?” She asked.
“I think in a few months you won’t be able to tell them apart.” He smiled, but she could tell by his gathered eyebrows he was serious.
“Alright, spill it.” She directed him and settled back in her chair to listen.
“It’s just a little bright and no one else in our neighborhood has a front door that color.” He said.
“So,” he responded, “why should we?”
“Really?” She asked. “When did you become so aware of what our neighbors think?”
“Good question.” He said. “Somewhere between 1960 in San Francisco and having a mortgage, I guess.”
“Are you saying you’re getting old… and rather staid in your tastes? I hadn’t noticed the transformation.” Sarah joked.
“I’m saying, it’s a departure from current trends and may give the wrong impression, that’s all.” He proceeded to unload his briefcase. “We live in a nice upscale neighborhood; not one house in the development displays anything bright red.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that.” Sarah said. “Do you truly dislike it or are you afraid of what people will say?”
“Afraid? No, I respect the developer’s vision and what it should look like.” Sarah’s face fell. “Darling, I wish you’d told me before you painted it.” He added. “Perhaps I could have suggested a compromise on color, something both of us liked?” They sat looking at each other for a few moments.
Sarah was at a loss for words and apparently on the losing side. She believed in family democracy when it came to decisions and it couldn’t get any clearer; family and husband had weighed in and it was unanimous. “I’m a little weary from painting today; I’m going to bed. You’re on your own for dinner, there are leftovers in the fridge. Good night dear.” She pecked him on the cheek and walked toward the bedroom. He started to say something, but she continued up the hallway.
He sensed there would be no more dialogue tonight and decided the wise thing would be to keep quiet and approach the matter in the morning.
“Good morning dear.” Mike said as Sarah entered the kitchen in her jeans and t-shirt. “Feeling better? Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, I did. And you?” She said.
He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry if I sounded harsh last evening. I know you did what you thought was right.”
“What I thought was right? Yes, after much debate, research and paint samples, I chose red for our front door. It felt like the right decision; apparently no one in the family thinks so, and you can change it.”
“I’m glad you see reason on this Sarah.” He looked at the paper bag she put in front of him. “What’s this?”
“Paint chips.” She said. “Choose what you think the neighbors will like, anything will be okay with me. I like the red door idea so much that I’m buying a new door for the back of the house to open into the garden.” She looked directly at him from across the table. “It will be red. Don’t worry, I’ll pay for it myself and none of the neighbors will have to look at it.”
“Well…alright, I guess that will work. You know I’m very busy at the office, I may have to hire someone to redo the front door.”
“Whatever you think wise. Well, I’m off to the building supply to choose the door and hire a contractor to install it. Oh, by the way, while I’m there, I may make some purchases for the garden. It’s looking a little shabby what with the frost damage this winter; I hope you don’t mind?” She saw surprise in his eyes but ignored it.
“Uh, no, I understand–good idea. Put the garden items on the charge card.” He added.
“Thank-you, dear. Well, I’m off, see you tonight.” She grabbed her purse and phone and left by the back door.
Mike sat back in his chair and thought for a moment. What just happened here? I’m now paying for a painter and gardening supplies.
The truck backed up the driveway to the backyard where Sarah waited. She instructed the driver to unload all the supplies at the rear of the garden in an area she’d prepared. She signed the bill of lading and waved goodbye as the truck left.
Mike arrived home about five and smelled a pot roast slow cooking in the kitchen. He lifted the lid and confirmed the delicious scent of onions, beef, carrots and potatoes. “Ahh.” He breathed deep then replaced the lid. He passed by the window but returned to gaze at the five foot high stack of something at the back of the garden.
“Sarah?” There was no answer inside the house then spotted her in the garden kneeling with a ball of string. ‘Probably laying string for spring planting.’ He thought and approached her.
“Sarah, what’s that pile of stuff at the rear of the garden?”
“Oh, it’s the supplies I purchased at the beginning of the week, remember? I’ve decided to redo the garden in an English-style; you know–romantic flowers, a more formal layout, that sort of thing.”
“Okay, I guess that’s a good idea.”
“Terrific! I wouldn’t want to do anything the neighbors wouldn’t like, but figured I couldn’t go wrong with a classic style.” She displayed an innocent smile without a trace of deceit. Truth was, she’d always wanted an English garden, but didn’t want to spend the money.
“Yes, I think it’ll be beautiful. What time is dinner?” He asked. “I have some work to do first.”
The new back door was installed within the week and painted with the same red she’d used on the front door. It looked even better as a gateway into the garden and she was almost glad Mike and the kids had disliked the front door. She would never have thought to redo the garden otherwise and here in the backyard, she could get creative as much as she wanted.
Mike said little about the expense for the doors and garden so far. Their financial situation was comfortable; they’d lived frugally and saved through the years. She thought that using some of their savings to finish off the backyard would be good for them both and for the rest of the family’s visits. Besides, the vegetable garden was a back-breaking chore she could no longer do and Mike had pulled out of garden duty since his promotion a few years ago.
Then, too, Sarah’s live-for-the-day mantra had increased in strength the past year, days went by more swiftly, and with the passing of two older friends, she became more acutely aware of life’s steady flow toward its inevitable end. Whatever her reasons, the garden took on a new importance as a dream she’d always had and what better time than the present to make it come true.
Within three weeks, the backyard was transformed. A stone walkway outlined the garden’s circular plan, the contractor installed sprinklers before his crew brought gravel and soil to fill the raised planting areas. The beds would be designed in the English style, but most plants would be native to the South enabling low upkeep. He also suggested using the same stone to construct a modest patio, 9’ x 12’ across the back of the house, its steps leading to the garden. Sarah loved the idea, she discussed it with Mike and he agreed it would be a good addition toward the home’s value. He wanted a roof added over the patio and hired a contractor for the job.
By August, the red door opened not to an old neglected vegetable plot, but to a beautiful English garden. Sarah hung a bird feeder near the house and watched from the patio as birds fed and flew to bathe in the bubbling fountain at the garden’s center. The late season flowers, asters and mums, had just begun to bud and sunsets over the back fence were simply beautiful. Mike usually found her on the patio enjoying the active scenery when he came home from work.
“Hi dear.” He gave her his usual warm kiss, put down his brief case and sat beside her. He exhaled and sat quietly watching the sun settle down.
When its color spread over the western sky she asked, “How was your day?”
“It was good, great actually. They offered me a promotion, to regional manager.”
“That’s wonderful dear, I’m so proud of you.” She turned to kiss him on the cheek.
“Don’t say that yet.” He said. “I’m still thinking about it.”
“Okay, but why?” She said.
“If I take the offer, it’ll mean more travel, more hours, less time for us… less time for this.”
“For what… this?” Sarah said.
“Yes, sitting here at the end of the day with you.” He smiled. “I want to tell you something I learned this summer. The day I voted down your red door, I started thinking about whom and what I’ve become; the two didn’t please me.” He squirmed in his chair then continued. “You were right about the door and about me; I believe you called me ‘staid in my tastes..and getting old?’
“I was only kidding, you know that, right?” She said.
“Yes I know, but I think it’s true. The man you married believed in being different and inventive. Both of us liked the artful and creative life, but somewhere between responsibilities and making money, I lost that.”
“It happens, you shouldn’t blame yourself.” Sarah said. “I haven’t been much help since I stopped working to be a full-time mom. And after the kids moved away, I didn’t return to work.”
“Sarah, it was the way I wanted it and you shouldn’t feel guilty. You’ve been a great mother and made this house a home for us all. I couldn’t be more pleased with what you’ve done. I should have supported your decision on the door; instead I treated it like something minor because I viewed it that way; it wasn’t minor in your eyes was it. My lack of respect for your work as a partner was a let-down for you. Can you forgive me for not understanding?” He asked.
“I already have, my dear.” She wrapped her arm through his. “We’re just fine, but what made you decide to tell me all this now? It’s been months since the door episode.”
“I was driving into our street tonight and noticed something.” He looked back at the sunset and took a breath.
“You know that house on the corner, the two-story we’ve always admired?” She nodded.
“They painted the front door the brightest red you’ve ever seen.” He showed her a sheepish grin. “Not nearly as nice as the color you picked.”
“Oh Mike.” She laughed and grabbed him around the neck for a hug. “I love you.”
“I love you too, my wife.”