Thirty minutes later, supper was eaten and the dishes were done. I smiled as a genuine housewifely type of pride welled up at the appearance of our tiny kitchen.
The dishes were resting in the drainer, the mixing bowl had been returned to the oven, and the tiny counter was cleared. With the overhead lights out, the entire back wall that was the kitchen was dark. The silver toaster, its cord carefully tucked out of sight behind itself, glowed softly in the dim light from the range hood as it sat upon the circular cutting board Sharon had bought for me last Mother’s Day. The counter looked larger with nothing on it. The yellow sponge rested in its proper place, just so, to the right of the sink. Over on the card table, the place mats were perfectly lined up on the edge of the brown and white gingham tablecloth and the fan, for once, was perfectly quiet, its near-futile attempts at cooling the air unnecessary as nighttime coolness descended upon our little house.
“How long before the movie, Mommy?”
“Oh, after I take my shower it’ll be almost time. Why don’t you read a little bit until then. That’ll make the time go by faster.”
In the bathroom, the two notes taped to the bathroom mirror—“Don’t compare” and “Enjoy what you have”—fulfilled the purposes for which I’d taped them there two weeks before. Like lines securing a ship in safe harbor, they kept my mind from drifting into negative thoughts again as I dealt with another of the daily difficulties economics created in our life.
Our toy-size bathroom had its own peculiarities that required constant adjustments and coping. Like the kitchen, the principal peculiarity was its dimensions. It’s four by three feet of space contained a sink so shallow you could not fill an eight ounce glass of water under its faucet. The cabinet under the sink extended exactly one inch beyond the sink’s overall perimeter, leaving four isosceles triangles of countertop, measuring a mere two by two inches, at each corner. The toilet stood less than a foot away from an almost child-size combination bathtub and shower, a tiny linen closet with a bi-fold door that could be opened only with the outer door closed, and one towel rack, which meant one damp towel always hung over the shower rod.
Getting two people, even though one was only nine years old, ready to leave the house at the same time required organization and advance planning, much like preparing a meal in the kitchen. As I buttoned my nightgown and combed my hair, I stared hard at the two notes. The edges had already become wrinkled from repeated exposure to steam. The letters, written in felt-tip pen, had begun losing their distinctness as the red ink ran. The messages, however, remained clear and piercing.
“Don’t compare. Enjoy what you have. Don’t compare. Enjoy what you have.”
I repeated the words over and over.
“That means don’t think about the Wexel’s three bathrooms. Be grateful you and Sharon have an apartment all to yourselves and that you don’t have to share it with four other people.”