Chair #8 (A Kitchen on the Roof)

Those had been our only real pieces of furniture. A pair of chairs and a table. It doesn’t get much simpler. Two straight backed chairs and a matching table, all first hand and painted the color of new bricks. I’m guessing they’d been made of pine, with half inch thick plywood for the seats and top. There was just enough room on the table for a couple of place settings, a pot of coffee, some books and a vase of flowers. I don’t remember how many soles we paid for them, but it hadn’t been much. 

That had been the moment we’d crossed the line between visiting a place and living there. Our first home together, first bits of furniture, not including the foam mattress, which we laid on the bare wooden floor of the bedroom, or was it the living room? What else did a couple first starting out need but a place to sit and eat together during the day and a place to lie down with one another at night. 

We’d gone to the Andes for our honeymoon and had wandered around a few weeks before finally settling on a place to make our first home together. La ceja de la selva, the people called it. The eyebrow of the jungle. Ten thousand feet up above the clouds–same height as base camp on Mount Rainier. 

I’d felt the effects of the altitude carrying the chairs and table home that day. The apartment was on the third floor of a building just down from the Plaza de Armas. Bedroom, living room, bathroom. Unfurnished. The kitchen was one more floor up, on the roof. A separate little building entirely. Made of brick and looking like a bungalow with its own carved wooden front door and overhanging eaves. No more than ten feet wide by twenty or so feet long with plenty of counter space and a couple of big picture windows that looked out over the rooftops to the surrounding hills. Framed in the window behind the sink, like a postcard of the town, were the bell towers of the cathedral of Santa Ana, and they had rung when we’d first gone to see the apartment and fallen in love with it.   

We spent more time living on the roof than we did under it. We were always busy doing something or other up there. On weekends or after work, I’d bring the table and chairs out of the kitchen and sit in the sun and write while V hung the laundry or cooked or arranged flowers in the vases. There had been a flower market not more than a hundred yards from our front door and we’d become friends with the old lady who ran one of the stalls. She was ninety-nine and very frail and I believe almost blind, but she was dear to us and so we were always buying more flowers from her than we knew what to do with. 

Besides the dozen or so big vases we had scattered about the place, we’d also hung several big flower baskets from the kitchen’s eaves and V had planted them full of nasturtiums and strawberries, begonias, herbs and pansies and I don’t know what else. They were all happier than I’d ever seen a plant to be and seemed to flower and fruit overnight. Such were my wife’s talents. She had a knack for inspiring things to grow.

I’d gotten a job teaching at the local private school while V had found a few shop owners around town who wanted English lessons. Money was tight but we tried not to worry about it and trust that things would work out. I should say that I tried not to worry about it. V never worried about anything. She was fearless, and I trusted her and put my faith in her unwavering optimism and in her love of people.  

On rainy days, we opened the front door of the kitchen and sat in the chairs with a pot of coffee and watched the roof flood. While the lightning flashed over our heads, we’d watch as the nearby hills and roof tops disappeared into the clouds. Times like these, our kitchen on the roof became like the pilot house of some old ocean going vessel. And we would get as close to the open door as we could without getting wet and sip our coffee and stare out into the maelstrom. Just two people, together on an empty sea, sailing off who knew where. 

That town had more parades than anywhere I’d ever been or even heard of. It seemed like there was always a procession going by. And we had the perfect view, our building being in the centro and on one of the main streets through town. Day or night, sometimes several times a week. We’d hear the approaching sound of a marching band and grab the chairs and set them down at the edge of the roof to watch as they passed. Best seats in town. Neither of us had been too keen on the music, but the spectacle was always something to behold and had contributed to the strange magic of the place. 

And when the weather became a little too chilly, we carried the table and chairs downstairs to the bedroom and set them by the big window, where I’d sit in the mornings, grading exams or making notes on a screenplay I’d gotten an idea for. Meanwhile, V would get cozy on the mattress with a cup of tea and mend our clothes or make one of her lists for the day. God bless her lists! I don’t know how we would have managed without them.  

One day, I’d gotten it into my head to paint the chairs in the Mexican style and so had gone to the libraria up the street and bought a couple of brushes and a box of paints. Back on the roof in the clear warmth of the sun, I’d painted the chairs with butterflies and vines and flowers–vines running all up and down the legs and backs of the chairs and flowers across the backrests and a big butterfly on each seat with wings painted metallic blue like those big Blue Morphos we’d seen at the mariposario that day we’d dropped down into the jungle. 

I sat cross-legged for hours painting those chairs, looking up from time to time to see V at the big concrete sink scrubbing out our clothes or washing her hair. Once, I’d glanced up and seen her wrapping her hair up in a towel. Beads of water streamed down along her spine, the skin of her shoulders turned dark brown from the sun, and it had hit me hard how far away from home we were and of how long we’d been gone already. I’d wanted to go over and place the palm of my hand against her warm brown skin and smell her freshly washed hair. But instead I took up the brush again and went back to working on the chairs, now adding highlights of bright blue to the wings of the butterflies, trying to make them look just as real and as tangible as I could.  

~ by calebnrogers on February 23, 2021.

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