Stella Ridley Eleven


Deena Draws the Line

One day Matu, ferrying us about in the station wagon—took advantage of a momentary lull in our various to’s and fro’s to drive to Deena’s house to get the sewing machine she had lent Deena. We had already heard Matu’s impassioned mutterings about Deena’s thoughtlessness and so forth. Matu rehashed all this aloud as we drove along. When Matu talked to herself like that, we settled down. Actually, it frightened us, made whatever might happen next seem uncertain—there was more than one occasion on which I felt great relief when I was finally dropped off for a piano lesson or swimming school. At any rate, Matu was so involved in enumerating Deena’s vices when she pulled up to Deena’s house that she didn’t immediately see what we saw: Deena standing at her gate looking back toward her house, toward a screaming white line that ran all the way up the walkway and up the front stairs and into the house. She had a paintbrush in one hand and a bucket of paint in the other.

Right there at the gate, Matu and Deena began one of those intense buzzing grown up conversations, so intense that they didn’t notice us getting out of the car and following the line up the walkway and into the house. Well, Deena did look up once– when Adela was tapping at the line with her toe–and sharply said “Don’t step on the paint.” It was a very hot day—now that I think of it, we had our bathing suits on, must have been on our way to swimming lessons—but it was cool in the breezeway that ran down the center of the house. “What is it?’ Adela said. Molly snorted with irritation and said, “Silly! You can see it’s a line.” “But what is it for?” I said. “Maybe it’s art,” Adela said. We walked the length of it toward the back of the house, and then it seemed as normal as anything else in our world. We went out in the backyard to find Rusty’s dog, Pete, who was tethered to a clothesline and very happy to see us.

Despite the many times I tried to send my ears into rooms where adult discussions—many discussions—were going on, I couldn’t find out exactly what was going on with that line. Matu complained, as Rusty apparently did, that the line was “scandalous,” that it could be seen from the street and that anyone who “dropped by” could see that it ran the length of the house: “What will people think!” Of course, I wasn’t very interested in what “people” thought—I wanted to know what Deena was thinking. That line clearly took some time, required some deliberation and planning. It was perfectly straight and had clean edges. She must have been thinking all that time. Or maybe she had already done all her thinking and the line was the end of thinking, a kind of attenuated punctuation mark. Deena was not the kind of person to nurse resentments or allow wounds to fester. She would say or do, and then it was done. She didn’t have to paint it all the way out to the street, of course, to say something with it to Rusty, who apparently didn’t like whatever it said and disappeared from our lives rather abruptly.

Later in life, I was to think often of that white line Deena painted down the middle of her house. I appreciated then, as I had not as a child, the eloquence and restraint of it, the way it probably wasn’t really open to a whole lot of interpretation. I thought regretfully and sadly of my own marriage. Aunt Deena would never have let things with a man get to that point.