By Brynn Byrne
Medium Orchid. I held the paint swatch against the wall. It was a pretty shade of purple. She probably chose it for the name. “Orchids are just so elegant” she always used to say. A jewel shade, I thought, however, was too much for a kitchen. She’ll be sick of this within a month. Emboldened, I asked, “mom do you think purple is appropriate for a kitchen?” “Sure it is! And it’s just so elegant.” Mom was excited. Clearly. “We’ll start with the primer” she sang. “Are you ready?” Ready? I asked myself. For an argument? To roll my eyes practically out of my head? No, I wasn’t ready for any of those things.
I regretted not smoking that joint beforehand. I would just have to get through this project, I told myself. Helping Mom would buy me some goodwill that could last up to a year. There would be significantly fewer questions about what went wrong with “what’s his name,” or fewer criticisms of my hairstyle and comments about my supposed weight gain...besides, she needed the help. Without it, she’d have likely forgotten to crack a window or even could’ve fucked up the edges. I definitely got my perfectionism from Dad.
“Where is Dad?” I asked louder than I intended. “Oh he’s outside goofing around in the shed.” she sighed. “He didn’t want me to redecorate again.” I feigned surprise.
We dipped our roller brushes into their respective trays. There was something satisfying about watching the brand new brush soak up the watery white liquid. I understood this aspect of her obsession. I could slosh this thing around for an hour and be content, I decided. As if she had read my mind, Mom piped up. “I think you have enough primer on there…” and in a synchronized motion we put our first strokes on the wall. Together we inspected the accidental white “V” we painted onto the green and gold stripes that were created on the wall four years ago. I recalled how excited she was to try the “striping technique” that she saw on her favourite HGTV show.
We methodically dipped, sloshed, and rolled in silence for what seemed like a year. With each roller brushstroke, I remembered the ghosts of kitchen decors past. When I was just a toddler there was this terrible brown linoleum on the floor. The walls were canary for the most part. Gingham patterned white and canary wallpaper adorned this wall… the one we were painting. One memory triggered another. I heard my Dad curse for the first time as he removed the stubborn gingham paper. Next came powder blue walls with a fruit motif (a bit on the nose) border through the middle. The brown linoleum came up and a white and blue linoleum went down. After that reno, mom seemed to be content for a while waiting a whole five years before the next project. The sponge painting disaster of 94’ gave Dad at least a dozen grey hairs. “Why are we painting again Daddy?” I whispered to him conspiratorially. Without looking up from his beer he grumbled “happy wife, happy life.” Baby boomers love their cliches. This thought made me chuckle softly.
“What’s so funny?” Mom accused, bringing me back to the present. “Oh, nothing… I was just remembering something from a podcast I was listening to on the way here. “What is a podcast anyway?” she asked with whiny skepticism. “It’s sort of like talk radio but better” I offered. “Like Dr. Joy Brown?” Mom asked suddenly interested. “No definitely not.” I spat out. I immediately regretted that sassy tone. I liked Dr. Joy… mom and I would listen to her in the car. There very well could have been advice podcasts. I should look into that I thought, only half-joking. I imagined calling in to say my mother has redecorated her kitchen seven times. I would probably not get past the screening. The producer would ask… “really? That’s it?” “well maybe it’s more complicated than that…” I’d offer, embarrassed at my own privilege.
“You’re so quiet” Mom blurted out bringing me back again. I answered with a shrug. More memories revealed themselves. It was 2004 when Mom finally got her ceramic tile. A victory. It was my second year at university. I worked two jobs throughout the school year to scrape by and nearly flunked a class. I couldn’t imagine (still can’t) affording a home like this and getting CERAMIC TILE. This thought made me splash the roller brush a little too hard into the tray. “Careful!” Mom warned. The silence between us continued punctuated by a soft “squish swish” soundtrack of the soothing roller strokes. “You know, Nana is very sick,” Mom said suddenly. “I know. I’m going to visit her tomorrow” I sighed. “Good because I don’t think she’s going to make it this time,” Mom said, matching my sigh.
Squish swish... the strokes of the primer became hypnotic summoning hidden memories. I realized that Mom painted the kitchen powder blue after her grandfather died. The horrific sponge painting came after she was laid off from her job. The iconic “striping” was done after Aunt Bea was diagnosed with cancer. This particular onslaught of memories sped up the once dragging process, and suddenly the whole wall was primed. The green and gold stripes peeked out of the thin watery white paint. Despite our efforts, these old stripes were still there. “We need another coat or two right Mom?” I waited for her response. “Yes,” Mom choked out. We stood there for a moment staring at our work. After a deep breath I said, “Mom, I think the medium orchid is going to look great.”
True Stories Told Live Toronto: The Heist
In May 2019, Brynn performed in True Stories Told Live Toronto. The audience held their breath and nervously chuckled while she recounted the time her former workplace faced an armed robbery.
This clip comes with a trigger warning and a message from Brynn:
"All of the names of my former colleagues have been changed. The intention of this story was to work through some latent trauma the best way I know how... it was cheaper than therapy.
It was a cathartic and liberating experience telling this true story. A year later, I would tell it a bit differently. While I deemed the person who attacked and traumatized my workplace (and sadly many others) a 'piece of crap' he was a human. This story is nuanced and complicated and I have a feeling I'll be revisiting it for a long time."
By Brynn Byrne
Bill, Judy, Scott, Lisa, Mike, Allison, Melinda, and Kevin: Eight broken hearts under one roof. The roof, old rotting wooden shingles from Melvin’s time. Why didn’t anyone change the shingles? Melvin built the house in 1926. The little blue house sat upon a lumpy lot on the rural street next to the stately home of his employer, a wealthy farmer. For five decades Melvin woke up and ate the same breakfast: plain oatmeal and dry toast. He worked in the fields until I was dark. Melvin never married. He died in 1982.
Bill and Judy moved into Melvin’s house in 1984. They had 2 daughters: Jessica and Ashley. In 1994 Bill and Judy divorced. They sold the house to Lisa, who loved the French doors and veranda (added by Bill and Judy)! Lisa’s fiancé Scott moved in soon after. The young couple sipped Old Vienna on the Veranda and dreamed about their future for six months until they called off their wedding. Lisa kicked Scott out and tried to live in Melvin’s house on her own for about 3 years until she ran away to California.
Next, newlywed “City Slickers” Mike and Allison moved in. They hated the smell of manure but they certainly loved each other. “Mikey” and “Allie” wanted a baby to put in a little nursery in the front room of Melvin's house. A baby never came and Mike and Allison parted ways like Bill and Judy and Scott and Lisa before them. Mike sold the house to his cousin Kevin. Kevin planted cannabis and threw parties with bonfires. Many girls named Mindy, Shellie, Carrie, and even Ingrid left Melvin’s house mornings after Kevin’s parties. One lady named Melinda stuck around.
“Kelinda,” as they were known to their friends, were soulmates. They threw parties together with bonfires and burgers and beer. Even their wedding was held in Melvin’s backyard. Over a decade, Kelinda raised two German Shepherds named Wayne and Garth and life was good. Then one day it was over. It was unclear why. Some asserted it was Melinda’s “fault.” Kevin was alone in Melvin’s house (Wayne and Garth left with Melinda). He settled into a routine of waking up early and caring for his weed plants before work. Some mornings he had a small breakfast of oatmeal and toast.
One morning, Katie, a young woman from the neighbourhood walked down Kevin’s long driveway. Her car was stalled on the shoulder of the road and needed a jump. Kevin gallantly assisted Katie. To his surprise, she grabbed his phone and programmed her number into it. That night Kevin couldn’t sleep. He fantasized about Kissing and holding Katie. Suddenly, an overwhelming wave of dread swept over him. Kevin sprung into action, running out to his shed grabbing a gas can. He threw the gas all over Melvin’s house, lit a match, and ran outside. He watched the blue vinyl siding melt and those God-forsaken shingles that outlived so many romances, burn to ash.