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Family Circle 2010 Fiction Contest: "The Secrets of Celestial Navigation"

Patty O'Hara's story, "The Secrets of Celestial Navigation," won first place in the Family Circle 2010 Fiction Contest.
Man at door illustration
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Illustrations by Becca Stadtlander

This time I've decided to paint all the rooms in colors named for dances. The kitchen will be Minuet, a soft, buttery yellow. Think of French vanilla ice cream without the beans. The hallways will be Tango, which is not quite as orange as it sounds. I'm thinking of two colors for the living room, Flamenco and Charleston. I don't think they will clash but it's hard to tell from the little samples.

There is just the one tiny bathroom that Kara and I share. She is 17 years old now and nearly agreeable. And because she's not remotely interested in color selections, I'm going to have it painted Peppermint Twist.

I've been mulling over colors since Lucca gave me an estimate for the job on Saturday. I found his card on the bulletin board at Scotty's Market while I was loading up on gluten-free items for Kara and wondering if boneless, skinless, chickenless chicken could be made appealing with the magic of fresh, organic herbs. It said: Lucca Arias Painter and underneath: Neat - Reliable - Insured. Those were the very qualities I associated with Julian, my ex, before the divorce. I wish him a long and happy life with Timberlea, a girl briefly out of adolescence and possibly named for one of the forest preserves that abound in Illinois.

I detected a foreign accent when I phoned Lucca and asked for an estimate. It was slight, but still intriguing. I intended to do the sensible thing and get two or three competitive bids for the work, but Lucca showed up and that was that. He knocked on the back door, introduced himself and asked if he might see the house. We walked together through the rooms and I babbled while he nodded and made notes on a clipboard.

Between the kitchen and the hallway I noticed that his hair was lightly streaked with gray and was captured in a neat ponytail. He was wearing a white oxford button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows and a pair of well-fitting jeans that once must have been white but were now spattered all over with a confusion of colors.


"Upstairs," I said feeling like we were talking in shorthand. He led the way, taking notes as we explored the dormered rooms. We finished the tour in a few minutes and he handed me fans and folders of paint samples, and a figure neatly written on one of his notebook pages.

"Call if you decide to go ahead with this," he offhandedly said.

Did I hear condescension in his voice?

Looking at the price I asked, "Should I not be doing this?"

"Well, it is a rental..."

"Exactly," I said, feeling a surge of power. "Down with beige!" And with that, Lucca blessed me with a smile.

As he walked down the driveway, I yelled out, "Lucca, do you think you could start on Monday?"

He turned slowly back and nodded, putting one thumb up in the air before he opened the door to this truck and climbed in. Lucca was clearly a man of few words, but I thought I detected a wink, or possibly the sun got in his eyes.