Today is the day Evelyn will tackle the final window. The interior will then be complete.
Hurrying to catch the 7.45 to the posh part of town, she scoffs down four slices of bread with jam then roughs the flannel over her face, kicks the cat out of the house and slams the front door behind her.
Tucked inside her canvass shoulder bag is the compact expanding file, a packet of Savoury Shapes and the pair of surgical scissors: mandatory tools of her trade.
Arms flailing madly, she commands the bus driver to stop, heaves herself up the few stairs, breathless and sweaty.
‘All day concession,’ she pants. Folk with pre-purchased tickets can barely squeeze past. Evelyn would prefer not to travel during peak hour; the bus will soon be crammed and the schoolkids will laugh.
Easing her bulk across two unclaimed seats she ignores the sniggers from the back of the bus – it has started – and stares straight ahead.
The thirty-minute commute will allow her time to plot the day: she’ll head straight for Collins Street to the sleek waiting rooms of the doctors, dentists, lawyers and accountants – the list, she discovered early on, is limited only by one’s fortitude and imagination, and Evelyn has an abundance of both.
She traces her fingers along the scissor’s cold edges, slides her thumb inside the top circle; her middle three fingers through the other. Makes tiny snipping actions inside her bag, her legs drumming wildly beneath her floral cotton dress. In her mind’s eye she is already pasting the first of the pictures in the top right-hand corner of the remaining window, already applying the last coat of lacquer. Evelyn wipes tiny beads of moisture from her upper lip.
The bus draws closer to her target – the sooner she procures fresh supplies, the sooner she can return home. It is a month since she worked this route, and the latest publications will have arrived. Each consulting room has its favourites: the orthopaedic rooms stock The World of Interiors; the gynaecologists at suite five favour Homes & Antiques and belle; the marriage counselling practice prefers House & Garden and Vogue, and so on.
Today Evelyn is on the hunt for wedding pictures, the exotic and colourful the most coveted, followed by soft pretty pastels – not that she will be opposed to an offering in sepia.
At the door of each suite she pauses, checking to see who is on reception: there are a few hoity-toity types she has learnt to avoid. Usually. if a suite with a difficult receptionist has a magazine Evelyn can’t live without, she may need to return two, three or perhaps four times that day before the magazine sentinel has finally left her post, at which point Evelyn will have no choice but to remove the entire publication before the officious woman returns.
This day Evelyn has no real cause for concern. The receptionists seem too busy to notice.
‘May I help you?’ an immaculate receptionist enquires as Evelyn enters the rooms.
‘Just waiting for my husband,’ she says. A husband is not something Evelyn has, but the idea of one seems to silence the receptionist who continues doing what receptionists do, as Evelyn beelines for the magazine display.
She makes her selection then squishes her voluminosity into one of the plush chairs. She turns the pages of the new editions, examining them methodically – the end result determined by the quality of materials every time – the skill of pasting and lacquering having been perfected long ago.
When Evelyn discovers a bride that pleases, she runs her fingers across its surface, lingering on the face then tracing the veil. Out comes the scissors, and with a swift snip or two, the picture is expertly removed and secured inside the compact expanding file. Sticky-nose patients waiting to be seen by their Lord Muck specialist toss her daggered looks. But Evelyn continues her business; scorn being par for the course.
By the end of the day her booty is lavish – well worth the swollen aching feet.
Once home, the pictures will be immediately catalogued. Usually there can be no rest until all the ‘Kittens’ are filed into the pink plastic folder with its transparent sheaves, the ‘Beribboned babies’ into the white; and the ‘Beautiful ladies waiting for something special’ are tucked safely inside the folder exclusively for them. Today it is just the ‘Beautiful brides’ who find their way inside the lilac plastic folder.
Evelyn sighs relief. She knows by the bulk of the folder that she has enough to complete the window. Her reward for her grand effort are the three donuts with glossy pink icing from Donut King and a pot of steaming tea.
In the beginning, Evelyn discovered the thrill of decoupage during a class at a neighbourhood house. It inspired her to scrounge the op-shops to procure tatty, tired vessels and used magazines so she could continue the work at home.
Having chosen a theme – ‘Flowers in spring,’ for example – she would create a scene pasting picture after picture until the tray or the vase was entirely concealed. Only the silhouette remained as a reminder of what the object had been. Then numerous layers of clear lacquer would be applied until Evelyn beheld a fortress of beauty, an ugly duckling no more.
After several years, the house choked with works of art – there was not a surface that could take another piece. Completed items got stuffed inside cupboards and when the cupboards were full, gathered dust in the corners of each room.
Evelyn tired of transforming small objects. She craved something bigger. As she gazed around, her focus fixated on the household chattels – why hadn’t she seen thought of this before?
The bedside table was first, followed by the desk, the wardrobes, the fridge and eventually the kitchen table with the four wooden chairs – all painstakingly reincarnated – bejewelled and resplendent.
Her desire reached a crescendo. She barely slept as she tackled the doors, the skirting and the window sills.
When she began on the walls she was forced to broaden her quest for magazine outlets and for the past two years Evelyn has travelled daily by bus, train and tram across Melbourne, spiralling in every direction from her council home in Box Hill. Every minute away from home a constant distress – her one desire is to paste, paste everything, and lacquer, and lacquer again.
When the final wall was finished, the ceilings were next.
Evelyn presses specks of donut and cinnamon sugar onto her finger and washes them down with the now cold tea.
Later, she lingers at the threshold of her bedroom before approaching the last naked window with a gravitas suited to the occasion. Dabbing paste on the back of the first ethereal bride, she tenderly applies her to the window, then smooths her down with a damp cloth.
It takes six hours to finish. At midnight Evelyn steps back, admiring the vista of brides who grace her boudoir. Then slowly she walks through the house; torch in one hand and a miner’s light strapped to her head.
The interior is complete. Not a drawer handle, light bulb or window remain unadorned.
Evelyn returns to her room and sits. For a day and a night she sits in quiet contemplation. The following morning, breakfasted and bathed and wrapped in a towel, she places her left foot on a rejuvenated kitchen chair and pastes the first of a thousand ‘Beautiful ladies waiting for something special,’ starting at her biggest toe.
About The Interior Decorator: This story was published in the Visible Ink’s 2008 anthology, bizarrely titled 1908: http://visibleinkanthology.com/buyit/