When a business is shriveling in the desert, I’ll open my mouth impossibly wide just to catch a drop of rain. Just when I thought the slippery marketing campaign had flopped, the phone rang.
“Thank-you for calling Persnickety Paint. This is Harvey.”
“My dining room is atrocious, just atrocious,” a raspy voice lamented between intervals of emancipating phlegm.
Her walls probably look like a giant ash tray. I’ll need to drown this joint in Kilz primer.
“Yes ma’am…” I prodded the old goat to continue.
“Satisfaction guaranteed. I like that. If I have to look at these walls one second longer, I just might faint.”
“What’s the address?”
“524 Haversham Trail.”
The address fit perfectly. The decaying Victorian architecture must have been resurrected from that Dickens novel.
The stained glass door creaked open.
I was greeted by a Lilliputian lady with a face caked in white powder. What she was obviously trying to conceal had created the opposite effect, and the undulation of her wrinkles and veins resembled cracked plaster. Her scaly lids were doused in blue eye shadow. She blinked nervously, giving her liquid black eyes a reptilian effect.
Without offering her name, she escorted me down a narrow corridor, hinged together by errant cobwebs. The sour swirl of dusty potpourri and cigarette smoke morphed my gnawing hunger into nausea.
The dining room glowed from an ethereal hologram, stenciled by the light scattering though the crystal chandelier. The blue paint hung loosely on the wall, which was flanked with the tarnish of cigarette smoke. It reminded me of a postal worker shirt with armpit stains.
“What color are we doing?” I asked routinely.
She glared back imploringly, as if I should already know.
“Powder blue, of course.”
Haversham blew a puff of cigarette smoke up my nostrils, intensifying my nausea.
“I want you to restore the original elegance of the room,” she decreed in a sing-song voice.
I plopped my Behr paint fan deck on the table and spread out the shades of blue.
I cut through the silence with a suggestion.
“How about Serene Sky?”
Her black eyes shot back at me.
“I’ve never heard of a color-blind painter before. That isn’t the color of the wall.” She tapped her arthritic finger against the wall in cadence with her voice.
Haversham scrutinized each color sample as if she were decoding hieroglyphics.
“Just combine Little Pond and Tropical Pool.”
Ecstatic that she had somewhat made a decision, I rushed her out before she could change her mind.
“Is there some place you can go? It’s about to smell like a nail parlor.”
“I’ll just walk next door to visit my nephew.” Haversham clutched her heart in melodramatic adoration.
Just then I noticed the colossal sapphire dominating her crooked finger.
“Uhh…just a formality…sign this paperwork.”
I pulled out a chair for her after I squeezed in a line item expense between labor and materials.
The old hen can definitely afford it.
She twirled out the door like a shriveled sprite.
To save money, I poured white paint into a darker blue used from my previous gig.
She probably has cataracts, and besides, the contract is already inked.
My mom always told me that when I concentrate really hard, my lower jaw subconsciously drops open. I was craning my neck to brush a straight line when I realized this is exactly what happened.
A sour drop of water splashed on my tongue, making my mouth taste like vinegar. I spotted the source, a leak filtering through a brown shape on the ceiling that resembled the birthmark on my forearm.
This annoyance only magnified my ambition to finish in record time. As I was combing the dried paint from the brushes, a sketchy-looking man who apparently was her nephew approached me.
“That contract is no good.”
Answering my perplexed look, he cupped his hand over my ear.
“Granny has been declared legally incompetent.”
Shocked and outraged, I hurled my supplies in the truck.
Haversham’s black eyes reeled in my gaze.
“You deserve this.” She plunged a bulging envelope in my hand and disappeared.
I cackled in ripples of relief.
As I sped off, a plumbing truck pulled into my place. I wondered just how wide he had opened his mouth.
Puffs of muddy clouds tarred the blue sky, extracting the rain.
I swerved into the bank to deposit the cash. Slashing open the envelope, I froze in disbelief.
It was a pack of Virginia Slims.
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