Sophie was tall, slender, and had the build and drive of a 200m sprinter, even though she had never so much as jogged in her life. At thirty-six, her light hair was already highlighted with strands of silver.
“It’s in the genes,” she would say, her fingers working deftly to twist, curl, and fold her hair into intricate plaits that would never hold longer than an hour before unravelling.
She was direct, optimistic, agitated when expected to sit still, sharp-witted, and unreligious, except when praying to God that nothing would force her to move back to England.
The first time I met her, she was standing on a stepladder, her one hand stretched to the side for balance, and the other dotting the walls with pencil marks.
“I’m moving the pictures,” she said by way of explanation. She wore a pair of tights, two layers of different coloured shirts, and Christmas themed socks. “We just redid the walls, and I thought it rather dull if the pictures had to go in the same place as before.”
“She forgot where they were supposed to go,” Todd, her husband, said. He was ten years her senior, broad-shouldered and long-legged, with tousled dark hair, and keen eyes. He was never seen without a cup of coffee in hand or fully clothed.
“Of course I forgot.”
I could practically feel her rolling her eyes at him.
They got married when she was twenty, unfazed, unemployed, and unhappy. Her parents thought she was pregnant and, to prove them wrong, she packed up and moved to Portugal.
Two weeks later her uncle died leaving her with a single painting, which she made a photocopy of, framed, and sold the original for enough money to buy half a ruin, a former vegetable garden, and a great, big hole in the ground intended to be a swimming pool.
The hole was still there, slowing filling up as after each rainy season the ground sloped a bit more inward, but the vegetable garden was revived and the ruin rebuilt in every comfort Sophie and Todd could imagine. Which is to say it’s open, one room flowing into the other through large arches and doorless door frames, clustered, and wonderfully bright.
The newly-painted walls were yellow and adorned with paintings, photos, pictures and articles torn from magazines and newspapers, 80s movie posters, hand-scribbled post-it notes, and mirrors.
The sitting room doubled as a study and was dominated by a massive, handmade fireplace done with clay, cement, and hundreds of broken china pieces featuring everything from nineteenth-century designs and floral patterns, to little fruit drawings and Peter Rabbit.
When I inquired how many plates and cups Sophie had to break to finish the mosaic, she laughed and shook her head. “The family sent it over. Every time one of the kids broke something, or a plate got chipped after the dishwasher, it was wrapped and posted.” She motioned towards a box hidden behind the sofa chair. “They still send some pieces. I don’t know what to do with them yet.”
“Do you ever go back to visit?”
“Only when the sun is shining,” she said, the corner of her mouth tugging into a smile.
We had tea in mugs, seated in the kitchen, while Todd, shirtless, fiddled with the dishes in the sink; washing by not washing. From here I could see right through the sitting room, living area, and dining room to the veranda outside, where carnival lights framed the bannister and the swallows made their nests in the eaves of the roof.
I loved her kitchen. I loved the space, and I loved the clutter. I loved how the pans dangled from the ceiling along with the lights, how gadgets to crush, blend, make, bake, and fry lined the counter against the wall, how the cookbooks on the shelves was interrupted by novels and DVDs, and how the fridge was plastered with postcards, lists, and magnets.
“I love your kitchen.” I pointed at the large, maroon ‘S’ on the wall by the door. “I assume that’s for ‘Sophie’?”
Sophie’s eyes narrowed, the blue going a shade darker. She seemingly pondered the question before saying, “It was a gift. Sometimes it’s for ‘serenity’ or ‘silence’ or ‘scrumptiousness’ or ‘stupidity’ or ‘solitude’ or ‘serendipity’.” She shrugged without her elbows leaving the table. “Sometimes it’s for ‘Sophie’.”