Modernist theme, a mentally instable woman and much symbolism.
“Oh, dear, dear, good coffee,” Annette Stelle mumbled the comment, as she held before her lips a steaming mug of black coffee. The caretaker had not heard her. The harsh, monotonous scrubbing of the threadbare washcloth against the pale oak dinning table was enough to drown out the old woman’s voice. Shame on these young people! Thought Annette, sparingly sipping her coffee, my caretaker of all people to ruin her ears at such an age! Of course, I half expected her to be deaf by this time. Just listen to the music she has in her ears! They say those headphones are terrible, they do!
She took another sip of her coffee, content with her own conclusion, and leaned back into the old wooden rocking chair. Her grandson had made it for her when he was only nine and in grade school. Annette half expected the thing to fall apart by this time, but it still rocked smoothly back and forth over the linoleum. It had a tune to it already, a particular terrible noise as it rocked backward, but coming forward it was soundless. She was so proud of him, now that she thought of it. He made wonderful things with his hands it seemed. And the mug too! He took art and molded it from wet clay. What a talent! Annette could never have her coffee in any other mug. She told her caretaker one morning, “I’ll have a mug sale this week! You can help me make the signs! We’ll sell all my mugs now that I only need one.”
A smile was creeping across her face, as she bounced happily in her rocker at the memory. All the while, her caretaker bustled silently about the one-room apartment with an old duster in one hand and a bucked full of suds in the other. Annette paid no mind to her as she leaned back and forth in her wooden rocker, contently staring ahead of herself at the wonder before her; an acrylic painting she had produced a few days ago on her own, which she hung proudly in the center of the wall. It was the first thing Annette saw when she awoke, her peace of mind during the day, and the last thing she noticed before the lights dimmed at night. She had taken the time one morning to pin up bright purple drapes on either side, hiding the loud edges of the canvas, making it look as though a hole had been cut through the wall and allowing the view of a colorful, bright sunny field to show through into the bland room. The bright yellow spot in the top center of the painting sat above an endless field of green paint. The sky was splattered with blue and white, and in the corner of the canvas, in bold, black paint, Annette had roughly written ‘A.S.’ and the date.
The caretaker finished up by making a loud racket in the sink as she dumped the water from the wash bucket down the drain. The Filipino woman then threw off her rubber cleaning gloves, turned her music off by a switch in her pocket, and brushed her hair to the side of her tanned face. Annette did not take her eyes from the painting, she sat with a smile as she gazed at it.
“Are you done for the day?” she asked, calmly. The closing of the cupboard doors in her bathroom meant the cleaners were going back to their original place. The caretaker’s footsteps fell heavily as she walked to the table to collect her clipboard and set of keys.
“I’m off now,” she replied, simply, “and Mr. Stelle called earlier this morning before you woke. He’s going to come by tomorrow.”
“Why?” Annette thought, “He is so busy now with his work. Oh, how could he ever make time for his grandmother? The times I call, and he doesn’t return the favor! I may as well fall of the edge of the earth and disappear for good, perhaps then he may try to call me. Oh, but nevertheless, he is a loving grandson. I do see him working so hard to keep me comfortable here, and sometimes I feel he is doing too much for me! Ha, just think of how I would be living if it weren’t for him! He is a lucky fella to have such a wonderful job! It must be wonderful! It pays him to look after me and that high-maintenance wife he chose.”
“Have a good evening, ma’am,” the caretaker muttered, before closing the door behind her. Annette nodded her away, finishing off her coffee to the bottom where the sugar collected in a clear, drizzly pile. It was her favorite part of the coffee. The sugar! Oh, it was so sweet and refreshing! Better than the coffee itself most probably, but she would never admit that to her caretaker. The woman thought she liked the coffee instead of the sugar. Of course, when her grandson had first hired her, she had brought Annette a mug of pure black without any sugar. How disgusting it was! Bitter and chalky, it stung her teeth, burned her throat and upset her stomach. How terrible! And the poor woman was devastated when Annette told her she wanted sugar. Who in their right mind does not like sugar? Annette supposed her caretaker was a one and only to have that type of reaction to the sweetest flavor man could find. Perhaps her caretaker was an odd woman through and through. Sometimes Annette suspected she was a spy from the Filipinas! Annette would often dream up ways to get her to confess.
Yes, it was true! Annette was convinced she noticed the woman taking side-glances at her as she scrubbed and mopped and – good heavens no! – made the coffee! That’s it! It was the coffee! That woman’s poisoned it! It’s ruined now, soiled!
It all makes sense. Annette threw her mug of, now, cold coffee away from her. It fell to the floor with a clatter only she could hear. The deep brown liquid left a streak across the linoleum. The mug bounced twice, spun as it settled on the shiny floor leaving speckles of brown with each turn. It was so energizing! Annette simply watched it like an audience would watch a risky dancer balance along a rope high above a trampoline. One breath in and the dancer fell, just as Annette gasped as the handle of her only desired mug parted from its cylinder body.
“Pay no mind!” Annette excused to the painting, “My grandsons coming tomorrow. He’ll make me a new one!”
The rocker stopped rocking, as she leaned forward and slowly stood from her seat. She walked across the room, stepping through the cold coffee on the floor, to reach the painting. Her socks soaked through and she fussed over it for a moment before she reached up with shaky hands and closed the curtains around the painting, hiding the sickly yellow sun from view. She would have to fix the color, she mused. It was all wrong! Yellow is not the color of the sun, whatever was I thinking!
Turning to her pale covered bedding, she placed herself on top of them and lay facing the ceiling. She sighed, drifting off again. Her mind admiring the way in which the mug had spun with such grace and purpose.
He covers were scratchy wool, white with pilling marks where the dryer had grabbed at the fabric as it spun in the cycle. She did not mind them. She made an activity out of picking them off, piling them to the side of her pillow and shaping them tall or flat, round or jagged, vertical or horizontal. They were always so flexible, so easy to manipulate.
After a time, Annette grew tired of them, and brushed them onto the floor where they joined the spilt coffee. She turned, closed her eyes. Sleep came and in her dreams the sickly yellow sun haunted her. It chased her through the plain green fields, rolling and never-ending. Suddenly, her caretaker joined the chase, floating up in the pale blue sky just like the sun and diving at her with feverish eyes. Annette screamed, ducked and ran, but her legs turned against her also. With every step she took, she became shorter and shorter until she had to take five steps to match one of the caretaker’s strides. Her heavy footfalls echoed in her mind, and Annette tried and tried to run, but she just kept getting shorter and shorter.
When Annette awoke she turned to see that her room was surrounded, not by rolling green fields, but familiar, white walls. And in the center of one of them, her painting hung behind a veil of bright purple. She felt rested enough and stood to open the drapes hanging around her painting, hiding it from her view.
It was morning. Annette knew, because her spy caretaker entered with the mug of coffee for her. Ah ha! Annette knew that the woman would be so careless to let her true face show! The mug was broken, but the one she carried with her now was in one piece!
“She thinks I’m a fool!” Annette thought, wildly pointing at the mug of fresh coffee the caretaker had set down on the table for her, “Look! My mug is here on the floor and the coffee with it! It is cold, it is ruined, it has sugar!”
“Good morning, Annette,” the caretaker said, monotonously, as she readied for her cleaning. Her eyes drifting from the mess of fabric on the floor, pilings from the white cover of Annette’s bed, to the broken mug and spilt coffee with dull eyes. She said nothing.
“Keep up your act, vermin! My grandson will come soon and I will tell him all I have discovered! Oh, the look he will give you when he hears about it!” Annette drew the curtains from around her painting, and gazed at, contently.
“Oh, and I will not drink your foul coffee,” she added as an afterthought.
The sun in the painting was blinding her. It was so yellow, so bright, so nauseating! She thought, I have not seen a sun so ugly and discolored! It even makes the room oddly uncomfortable to have it up on the wall.
With that thought, Annette lifted her hands above her head and brought them crashing down upon the canvas. Her powerful stroke took both canvas and drapes off the wall. The painting landed in the pool of cold coffee. The purple drapes gracefully covered the canvas, soaking up the coffee, discoloring the bright color turning it a muddy brown. Annette stood over the pile, grinned triumphantly.
“Annette?” the voice was familiar. It was the voice of her grandson, and Annette turned to smile at him warmly.
“Oh! It’s my savior!” she cried, “Quick! Take that spy by the collar and fire the woman! And look at the mess I’ve made – oh, but it was worth it, I tell you!”
Her grandson turned his attention to the caretaker, who had stopped her music and cleaning to talk with him. Annette paid her no mind.
“Well,” her grandson was saying, “things are slowing down at the office now that –,”
And there he goes again, Annette thought, sighing, all that boy does is talk! It’s a wonder he gets any work done. And where is my new mug? I must tell him to make me another!
Annette crossed the room, stepping through the split coffee, and picked up her mug of new coffee from the table. She sniffed at it, contently, and dragged her feet to her rocker. There was no picture to gaze at now, but she was fine with the eggshell-colored wall. As long as she had her coffee, she was fine.
But – to hell with it all! – the coffee was cold.