They had argued about the colour of the walls all afternoon. Jason wanted light blue, sky-like, or so he said, the cracks filled in and a vibrant reimagining of their family home. Jen said that, with kids, you had to go with wallpaper. You needed to be able to wipe away the mess they left behind, she said, tossing a ring of colour swatches onto the couch.
It mattered very much how things looked, said Jason. Without the beauty, a home was just four walls, a roof, and fingerprints smudging the handle of the fridge. You can get beautiful wallpaper, said Jen, who had been on a home improvement binge of late, all of a sudden enraptured at the thought of redecorating. That’s fine, said Jason, but wallpaper peels away. One day you’re left with the wall, and you’d better hope that it’s pretty, too.
In the end, they agreed to let it lie. Tonight was Emily’s recital. It seemed only fair to put their differences aside. To focus on things they’d done right instead of all that could possibly go wrong.
‘You ready, Em?’ called Jen across the landing.
‘Nearly,’ said Emily, from behind a half-closed bedroom door.
She heard an ‘oof’, and then voices, raised. ‘Jay says he can’t go ‘cause he’s stupid,’ Alex yelled from downstairs.
‘Alex,’ called Jason, ‘be good or you won’t go.’
‘Great,’ said Alex.
‘Oops,’ said Jen, slipping a tie from the coat rail.
The silk slid across her fingers. The dust coated the headboard. Knock it off, thought Jen. The dust, the two of them rocking back and forth, if only they had the time, or the energy. She heard the bump, bump, bounce of Alex and Jay jumping on the living room couches.
‘It was Jay,’ shouted Alex. Then quietly: ‘She always thinks it’s me.’
Jen rested the tie around her husband’s neck, looping it over itself, and then gently tightened the strip of blue, seeking the button to slip inside the fabric.
‘Now, if we take this bit down—’
‘You look amazing,’ said Jason.
‘You. You look gorgeous.’
‘I please you?’
‘Thanks. You look pretty good yourself,’ said Jen, pulling him close.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean me, this. I’m not always there for you. At least, not how I’d like to be.’
'Can we start again? Tonight?’ He guided her gaze to his with his index finger. Jen nodded, smiling. Saw a shadow in the door, focused in on the doorway, but caught only the darkened rail, its rich oak in contrast with the far white wall.
‘Emily’s getting good,’ said Jason as he slipped into his blazer.
‘You ever tell her?’
He paused. ‘I must have… I’m sure I have, at least once.’
‘Tell her. How else is she going to know?’
‘You shouldn’t mollycoddle your kids
‘Or ignore them,’ said Jen, under her breath.
'Wallpaper' appears in Westerly Volume 58, Issue Number 2, available via the Westerly website, to be purchased either as a single issue or as part of a twelve month subscription.