Wednesday, June 3, 1998
It's a townhouse of recent vintage. So far I've replaced a water-damaged ceiling in the front room while doing a complete makeover of the rear master bedroom. Working with Kit, who is not my favorite decorator, we've installed soft lighting, crown molding, sconces over the bed. The desired effect, Kit tells me, is to be gentle, nonthreatening.
"What was threatening about the room before?" I ask.
"She woke up one morning and her husband was dead. Twenty-nine years old and a blood clot. Ever since - and it's been months - she's slept in the front room. Even when the roof leaked, she stayed there. Our job is to entice her back. She wants to go back. Same bed but new sheets, new spread. New drapes, paint, carpet. With his wristwatch on the dresser. That stays. And don't you dare touch it. Don't even look at it or she'll know. Everything else, calming. She's very particular. High strung."
Kit may be the wrong decorator if the goal is tranquility. Kit is a hard-charging, high-stress overseer. Every job for her comes with drama. To her clients she's sweet. To workers, she's foul of mouth and mind.
Kit is petite but not cute, fashionably styled but not lovely. Once I made the mistake of teasing her, calling her "macho" because she carried a 25-foot tape measure instead of the dainty kind most decorators use. She blew up at me and said, "I don't have to take shit from a guy who wears flannel shirts and corduroy pants."
Sometimes she flirts with me, confiding secrets about her clients or telling me about her teenage daughter who is always in trouble requiring bail bonds and rehab. The daughter lives with Kit's ex.
Kit is nakedly honest about money. She has a penchant for analyzing her clients' marriages in purely economic terms: "She got a dream deal with that guy," or "She should have aimed higher."
Kit is complicated, brassy, insecure. I think she's lonely but there's a hardness about her, a barrier to entry.
Without touching, I do sneak a look at the wristwatch. It's nothing fancy, a Casio, one of those rugged, black, oversized kind meant to withstand mountain climbing or deep sea diving.
Kit brings Rusty, the client, to see the results. Rusty is gorgeous, a redhead, the kind of looks that stop traffic.
Rusty has a weak handshake, quickly withdrawn. She wears no lipstick, no eye shadow. Up close her skin is dusty, dry.
Rusty glances around. Her nose quivers. And she rushes out of the room.
I hear murmuring as Kit speaks with her outside. Then Rusty vrooms away in an ancient silver Porsche convertible that must be about as old as she is . She wears wrap-around sunglasses. Hair flying. What a sight. Great beauty doesn't protect you from bad luck, from grief.
"We have to replace the door pulls on the closet. I hadn't thought of that." Kit doesn't seem perturbed. Never-ending jobs mean never-ending fees. Kit has some high-end pulls in mind, little sculptured figures that cost $130 each. She'll need four of them.
I ask, "Why doesn't she just move?" It's a cookie cutter townhouse in a complex of similar units built wall-to-wall. Nobody can get attached to these places.
"Moving would be disloyal." Kit shakes her head. "She got life insurance. I don't know how much, but she's not poor. Men swarm around her like flies. We should all have such problems. Her cunt's worth a fortune. I'm sorry she lost her husband that way. I know it was a shock. But really." Kit laughs. "To get rid of my husband, I had to divorce him. And I didn't get a penny. Or a wristwatch."
She sees the look on my face, whatever it is.
"I'm just joking," Kit says. But she isn't.