It was Wednesday when the painting of a man in spectacles at his desk told Micayla that a family would arrive at sunset that day. She considered his words, clapping her hands twice to the rhythm of life, but didn’t say anything because there was nothing to be said.
The man in the painting rolled his eyes at her joy, sat back in his chair, and smoked his pipe. He was the painting that she disliked the most, but she wouldn’t admit anything because her father had painted them all.
The first step to prepare for visitors was to make the rooms. Micayla was only ever in her room, which she kept pristine as the carved, gilded frames of the portraits. To be fair, there wasn’t much in her room besides a bed and a closet full of moth-eaten clothing. It was whitewashed by the large pieces of art and there were no disoriented insects to be seen.
When Micayla entered the first room, waves of dust and spider legs hit her and she shut the door immediately. She’d forgotten how much of a project cleaning the rooms would be. She trapped a pair of swimming goggles to her face and decided she’d hold her breath while inside.
The paintings in the hall laughed at her with their yellowing teeth and hollow eyes. She ignored their mocking tones which screeched of nails on a chalkboard and stepped back inside the room. Unlike last time, less debris clung, so she made her way into the center of the room.
It was like her chambers—bare and empty with only a bed and a closet. The only two differences were that this room was sagged with the colors of time and it didn’t have any stories of paint to cover up the fleshy, brown scars. The center of the room was actually less dusty. Micayla stole a hasty breath and thought that maybe it was best to start with a broom and sweep the shadows around the edges.
Preparing for a family was hard work. Micayla couldn’t remember the last time she’d done it. Perhaps when her father was still alive, and could help her with the more challenging tasks. She could feel sweat carving a river through the stony creases of her mountain-stiff dress, so she swept faster.
After cleaning the room, she thought the only other thing was to make the beds. Sure, they were already made, but Micayla knew the bed bugs would be satisfied if their home was replaced with a tidier one.
Stripping the bed, she hummed a tune and swayed back and forth. The floorboards sang along in their voices crafted by the soles of shoes.
Outside, Micayla drowned the sheets and blankets in warm, soapy water and as they choked for air, she hoped the house looked decent now. She hung them by their necks over a stream on a faulty clothesline her father had tied. She was tired of having to fix it time and time again, but she thought it was disrespectful to take it down and put up a newer one. It’s not what the rolling stream or the laughing paintings or her father would’ve wanted.
She did not sing when she re-made the bed. The room was almost done and she didn’t want to ruin the mood. The portraits and landscapes rattled in their frames, but didn’t say anything.
The second step in preparing for guests, Micayla knew, was to make the food. She grew all her own produce in the garden, just outside her window. When she was little, she could barely keep a succulent alive — but now she was growing potatoes and tomatoes and basil.
Her pantry was full because it was that season where food was plentiful and she’d just visited the market yesterday. As she flipped the pages of her father’s tattered recipe book, she thought about these mysterious visitors and if they were vegetarian. She was going to ask the man in spectacles by his desk, but she didn’t feel like being bullied by brush strokes of colored inks.
Instead, she settled on a simple, light salad with her garden-picked vegetables and a blushing, tender chicken that she’d paid almost nothing for at the butcher’s.
Honestly, Micayla wasn’t great at cooking either, but there were visitors so she must try her best.
She slathered the chicken in butter, garlic, salt, and pepper. Then showered it with raindrops of spices. She slid it into the oven with a smile tiptoeing across her lips.
When that was taken care of, she collected the ingredients for the salad. Her fingers were nimble unlike her father’s used to be, so when the knife fit into the groove of her thumb, it speared the lettuce into strands of grass. She wasn’t good at the ‘paying attention part’ of cooking, but she was reasonably good at everything else.
The more the merrier is what she thought to herself as she dropped tomatoes, mushrooms, avocado, honey almonds, and spinach into the bowl.
It took about an hour and a half for the chicken to cook. In that time, the paintings admonished her for being a horrible cook and that the chicken would turn out burned to a crisp. She knew it wouldn’t if she paid attention, so she kept a hawish eye peering at the timer. She set it out on the table with china plates crying of flowers and silverware that made your skin prickle. There was steam billowing from it in waves, but she knew in a matter of time that it would be cold.
The last step, Micayla thought, was to freshen up the house. It was dark, gothic and upset, with one too many unused rooms. Cobwebs laced the corners so she cleared them away and apologized to the spiders in a tone like sweetened iced tea.
On the front steps of the house, she brushed the leaves into the wind and didn’t care whose mouth they made a home in. From the corner of her eye, she saw the flowers in her garden. They were tucking petals behind their ears and wailing as if no one could hear them.
Micayla picked bunches of the wildflowers in hues like turquoise and lilac and tangerine. She dropped them into pottery vases around the house, letting their faces droop with sorrow. Knowing how to cheer them up, she kissed their faces and jumped around. Micayla wasn’t colorblind, just oblivious to the beauty around her. She listened to abstract voices and didn’t hear the sparrow songs.
The sun finally dove into the horizon with its back arched. The paintings smiled at the shadows on their cheeks and laughed at gullible Micayla and her foolishness.
The visitors never arrived.