Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
The Color of Alone

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It's night and the house is empty. As quiet as it's ever been. None of the usual dirt or clutter because there's been ample time to clean, too much time. At midnight, unable to sleep, I walk through the house alone, something I feel I've never done before. Like a child in a new school. My bare feet pad softly on the floor as I wander. Each room is perfect. Slowly, I've scrubbed, cleaned, purged, and redecorated each room -- a fresh start.
The bedroom, no longer our bedroom, but my bedroom, has been recently painted Terra Cotta Tuscan, with the feminine, puffy toile curtains I'd always wanted. I know I'll never move to Tuscany but at least my room will remind me of that place. Paintings hang on every wall, sometimes covering the entire space. Whatever I want. The largest canvas depicts a lone road in the countryside, tall green cypress trees lining the way. Beside it hangs a painting of an ochre-colored villa and its rolling vineyard. Several small Madonnas hover together to the right. This room has become a sanctuary, a place to read, to nap, to hide. No piles of dirty clothes litter the other side of the room--it is bare.

Hardwood floors have been polished until I can see my reflection, my long legs moving down the hall. I'm wearing black shorts and a black top, all black, a new habit. Now I know that black's not the color of death, but the color of loss. The short hallway is lined with pictures--a charcoal sketch of my son at two, photos of my parents, of my trips abroad. For a while, there were faded spots where photos had been removed, but they've been replaced--tonight I can hardly remember which ones used to be there. That's not true, I can remember them all . . . wedding photos, photos of us on the beach. I move on.

The bathroom is now Canary Yellow, the closet organized with little white baskets for each cluster of stuff: nail polish, files, and remover in one, face creams, exfoliators, masks in the next one, another for my son's brush, bubble bath, powder, his little deodorant. I spent an hour fixing that bathroom closet. Now, everything goes back in its proper place because order has somehow become important. The room doesn't smell as much like pee now, because there is only one male using the toilet. I'm doing my best to make him aim right and to put down the seat. Don't forget to wash your hands, Jacob.

Jacob's room is lime green, Chartreuse Champion--it's been that color since his birth. I wanted his room to be bright and happy, just like I thought our lives would be upon the birth of a much wanted child. No longer nursery-like, the room contains bins of Legos, Matchbox cars, books, Jedi lightsabers, Happy Meal toys. Tonight, though, the room is empty, quiet. I lie on his bed for a moment, turn my face into his SpongeBob pillow and breathe deeply. I get up quickly and walk out.

Into the living room, mocha colored walls--Mocha Madness--with scarlet sofas that look like wounds, horizontal slashes of red in the otherwise brown room. Brown walls, floors, piano, furniture. The only light at this hour is the moonlight, shining in from a window; tonight it barely brightens the room.

Flipping the switch, I walk into the kitchen. The whiteness of it makes me squint. Spackled corners, filled-in cracks all around--attempts to cover up time's damage. This room is next. It will be pink, I think. Cotton Candy Pink. Or Tickled Pink. I can have a pink kitchen if I want. A ladder stands in the middle of the room, left there after I stopped working today. I climb to the tip-top and sit, glad that no one can see me perched in the middle of my utterly still kitchen. Through the back window, I spy a hawk, sitting on a wire, waiting, waiting for something. A mouse? I've never seen a hawk in my neighborhood before--after all, this is a suburb, not the country. What is it doing here? A lone hawk. I watch it, it watches something else. We're both still. Then it takes off. I get down and continue roaming through the house, finally getting sleepy.

There is no noise. I'm aware of the silence. The air conditioner has cut off, the ice maker has stopped churning out cubes, no cars speed or even glide down the street. The phone doesn't ring. No one speaks. All is frozen, like a snapshot. A black and white snapshot of me in my colorless kitchen, now divorced, my son's first sleepover at his dad's, and I'm alone and still in my empty, quiet house.

Reine Dugas Bouton teaches English at Southeastern Louisiana University. In addition to teaching literature and creative nonfiction courses, she takes students to Tuscany each summer to study abroad. Her scholarly publications have focused on Eudora Welty and the travel writing of Italy. She has recently published a travel essay in Italy from a Backpack. She lives in New Orleans with her eight-year-old son.

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