The kitchen man carries a very thin folder. We are finally hearing his recommendations to improve the kitchen of our 120-year-old house. He describes a plan to rescue me from a sixty-year old kitchen. Here is the solution to the surfaces I can’t clean (paint peels faster than the dirt), hours washing dishes (no dishwasher), dinners cooked in the dark (a single fluorescent light), grease that settles everywhere (no range hood), BirthPie perched on a step-stool as we visit (no space for a guest).
More than that: the kitchen man sees the sorry hub of my house and raises me the awkward entry from the garage; the laundry area at the ass-end of the basement, dredged in masonry dust; the twisting, perilous stairs. My heart beats its wild wings. I see a chance to do right by my sweet old house, to save it from its adolescent missteps—the bad addition, the poorly prepped paint job, the window to no-where. The inside jokes of our residence that chagrin and frustrate. We had not imagined they could be different.
Then: the price. More than shock I feel blood-pounding shame. Angry humiliation churns in me. Why has he bothered to tell me the right thing to do, the honorable, logical, gorgeously efficient plan, if it’s beyond my reach?
The kitchen man shows us other sad, simple sketches. In view of the grander solution a few cabinets and a new light make an unconsoling second prize. Even my desperately wanted dishwasher depresses. It galls to know how the kitchen we’ve wanted might erase possibilities with its installation. If we hang cabinets there we will never have the proper entryway. If we leave the stove in place there will be no wide safe stairs. A bright clean laundry room, properly vented and drained, disappears beneath the new linoleum.
The sun sets. Our meeting is a pile of rubble. Then we three—Sweetie and the kitchen man and me—begin to pick through it. We shuffle papers, stand up. He measures things, runs up and down the crazy stairs. Slowly, outside my understanding, a plan emerges. We can have it all. Over years and in stages, but no one stage will deny the rest.
We are stunned to know the first step: to carve from the kitchen a space into which the rest of the plan can grow. “A fake wall,” he calls it, but the wall is real, as is the empty, unreachable room it creates. How long will we live with this secret chamber, this testament to possibility? More than the money or the years of renovation ahead this tiny room terrifies us. We take weeks to sit with the very idea of it before signing on to the kitchen man’s plan.
Sometimes the first step is making a space, accessible only in imagination, where something more perfect will happen when the time is right.