My mother moved into the apartment building in October. The beach house was too expensive for her now that Sal was gone. She took the vacant apartment at the opposite end of the hall and began redecorating the drab three rooms with the ardor of a high priestess adorning her temple. I shuddered in apprehension. My mother had an obsession with certain colors, particularly pink, black and gray; heavy on the pink. My childhood homes were inundated with those horrid colors, every room without exception. She wasn't alone. Those colors were popular in the fifties, but my mother took the fad to extremes. I hated pink so much that I refused to buy clothing, even baby clothes for Kim, or household furnishings that bore any hint of the putrid color.
“Now Baby, I don't want you to see the apartment till I'm all finished,” Mom said, lugging her supplies down the hall. “It's going to be a surprise. Your Momma's gonna turn this hovel into a palace.”
It's going to be worse than I thought, I said to myself and willingly stayed barricaded behind the walls of my own apartment, dreading the day when her artistic endeavors would be completed.
Two days later, Billy knocked on my door.
“Mom says come see the apartment,” he said, a whimsical smirk spreading across his freckled face, his hazel eyes trying hard to look innocent.
“How bad is it?” I asked.
“You'll see,” he said, grinning.
I had to admit as I gingerly moved throughout her small apartment that my mother had surpassed my wildest expectations.
The ceilings were painted jet black with sparkles glued to them. Mom flipped on the glaring overhead florescent light fixture and the ceiling became a starlit night sky. The walls were various shades of pink, ranging from rosy mauve to hot fuchsia. The old enameled stove shone a glossy black with iridescent pink knobs, and the refrigerator radiated hot salmon. The floor tiles, which were pale gray to begin with, did little to tone down the gaudy ambience of the room.
Since pink was strictly a feminine color,(something my brothers may have pointed out) my mother did the boys' room in red and black, with lots of stripes. Her own bedroom continued the pattern of pinkness, and included a starlit ceiling.
“What do you think, honey?” she asked proudly.
“There are no words to describe it,” I hedged.
“I know,” she sighed. “It's better than even I could have imagined. But wait. The bathroom is the best yet.”
I steeled myself and followed her to the bathroom. As I walked into the tiny cubicle, I fought the impulse to cover my eyes with my arm. The sink and toilet were painted in slick black, the walls shocking pink with decals of gray swans attached at random. The ceilings were, of course, sparkled black, and the shower curtain, partially concealing a bright purple shower stall, was a nauseating shade of light lavender with zigzagging stripes of black and gray. A fluffy purplish-pink rug hugged the floor and matching towels hung from the single towel bar behind the door, topped with black wash cloths.
“Mom, you've outdone yourself,” I said, edging toward the outer door of the apartment, fighting a wave of vertigo.
She nodded. “I knew you'd love it.”
“But you know, Mom, I don't think enamel fixtures are supposed to be painted.”
“Don't worry, Baby,” she said. “By the time the paint starts to chip off, I'll be long gone. I'm not staying in this dump forever.”
“What do you suppose the landlord will think?” I called down the hall as I headed home.
“Honey, he's gonna love it!”
I had my doubts about that. Our landlord was a short, squat, grumpy man in his sixties, with thinning white hair, and quick, darting eyes that seemed to constantly evaluate whatever they fell upon. He had a tendency to spit when he spoke, and we soon learned to stand at least six feet away from him, preferably not downwind. He was always dressed in threadbare, gray suits when he visited the apartment house each month to collect the rent, and was notorious for popping in unannounced. His wife was about four and a half feet tall, almost as wide and had the largest thighs that I had ever seen on a human being. From the knees down, her legs resembled tree stumps, with no definition at her ankles. She had small, beady eyes placed too close to a hawkish nose which nearly met her thin, bitter lips. Her hair, what there was of it, was a wad of steel grey that matched an unyielding personality.
Their names were Mr. and Mrs. Miller, and we had immediately dubbed the apartment building, “Miller's Landing”. Aside from charging exorbitant rents for a run-down hole of a building that they were not inclined to maintain, their major vice was nosiness; particularly Mrs. Miller. They had master keys to all the apartments and thought nothing of entering our home during our absence. This really annoyed Butch.
“I'm sick of this nonsense,” he said, one day after we returned home from shopping in time to see Mrs. Miller leaving our apartment.
“We'll have to get a bolt lock and a chain for across the door,” I said. “I want one anyway for the kids. They're tall enough now to open the door and leave.”
“Right,” he said, thoughtfully. “But first I'm going to teach that ugly old bat a lesson.”
“What are you going to do?”
“You'll see,” he said, refusing to say anything more.
The first of the month rolled around and the Millers came for their rent. I had taken the kids for a walk down the five-mile boardwalk that ran along the beach. I was on my way home, when I spotted Mrs. Miller charging down the long staircase faster than I had thought it was possible for fat people to run.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Miller,” I said, lifting the kids out of the stroller. “Is something wrong?”
She sputtered something unintelligible at me, and hurried out of the building, her face beet red and small venomous eyes blazing furiously.
What has he done now? I thought. He probably insulted her and now we're going to get evicted. I carried the kids upstairs, leaving the stroller in the doorway, and called out to Butch.
“In here,” he said.
I walked over to the bathroom. He was sitting there, buck naked, reading the Reader's Digest.
“You didn't.” I said.
“Yep, she walked right in on me. I bet she never sneaks in our apartment again.”
It was unlikely that she would. She purposely avoided us both after that incident, but we put the chain across the door anyway.
When I told my mother the story later that day, I asked her what the Millers thought of her apartment.
“They never said a word,” she said. “They just walked around the apartment and stared at it for the longest time.”