The world outside the window was in flames. The leaves on the pistachio trees shone fire-red and orange. Mattie studied the early-morning light. She was lying on the side of the bed where her husband should have been sleeping. Those trees were one reason she'd moved back into her parents' old home after leaving Nicholas, these trees and the sloping grassy hillside behind the house. Also, there was no mortgage: her parents had paid it off during the course of their marriage. She and her brother, Al, had grown up playing on the hill and in the buckeyes with their low, broad branches; her six-year-old, Harry, played there now, and her daughter, Ella, two, would also climb one day soon. The leaves of the delicate Japanese maple between Mattie's window and the wobbly fence were still green, but elsewhere in the garden were russets and butterscotch-oranges, other trees giddy with color, almost garish, like gypsy dresses. When she strained to listen, she could imagine them saying, We gave you shade, and now we'll give you a little kick-ass beauty before we die. A choir of chickadees and finches sang above the sounds of a quiet neighborhood waking up, the cars of people heading to work and school, the clatter and thumps of the recycling truck, a dog barking, leaves rustling in a gentle wind, silence. A moment later she heard the rats in the walls begin to stir.
Her mother, Isa (it rhymed with "Lisa"), who still owned the house, had failed to mention that there were rats in the walls. Rats, and the green rug in the master bedroom that for many years had been peed on by Isa's cats. A faint odor of urine clung to it despite Mattie's every effort at eradication. Isa had been planning to sell the house as a fixer-upper in the wildly inflated San Francisco Bay area real estate market, but a month after she'd reached the top of the waiting list for The Sequoias, a retirement community where she hoped to grow old, she'd moved out. She had some money socked away from her husband Alfred's small life insurance policy, which, coupled with Social Security, was enough to pay for her expenses in the new apartment.
Her unwanted stuff was still on the shelves, and in the garage and attic. The house looked much as it always had, or at least for the nearly twenty years Isa had lived there alone, after Mattie and Al had moved out and Alfred had died. Isa had taken one couch with her to the new apartment, a few chairs, a dresser, and Al's old twin bed, and had sent the rest of her furniture to the dump or Goodwill. There were mirrors in every room of the house. Isa had always liked to look at herself, striking movie star poses. Mattie avoided the mirrors whenever possible. What she saw when she did glance at her reflection was chestnut-brown hair, which she usually wore in a braid; tired eyes, so dark that the pupils didn't show; fair English skin and a broad snub nose from her mother; black lashes and brows from her dad, as well as his big teeth; and full lips, set off nicely by a white ring of scar on her chin from a rock Al had thrown at her when they were young.
Isa had left her house vacant for six months at Mattie's request, while Mattie got up the nerve to leave her husband. She'd been planning to break away from Nicky in spring, because she'd had it with his mammoth inconsistency-his hilarious and brilliant conversations, interspersed with brooding narcissism; his charming and amiable contributions to the business of raising children together, wedged in between immobilization and depression, for which he would not seek help; his inexhaustible interest in her thoughts about the world, progressive politics, and the arts, marbled into the slow, cold gaze with which he looked up from his secret phone calls when she entered his study; the silent, wounding way he stopped making love to her for weeks at a time, right after nights of hot, tender sex. Then, in March, when the world was wild and green, full of blossom and fragrance and mud, Mattie's best friend, Angela, had told her gently that she was moving to Los Angeles, to live with Julie, the woman she'd recently fallen for.
From Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott, Copyright © October 2002, Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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