Underneath the kitchen wallpaper I found its ghost: a solid sheet of its wine-y color, minus the little white flowers that marched have across the surface for all those years. It scraped off easily.
Underneath that was a layer of paint -- someone hadn't wanted to get too involved, and had just painted over paper. Underneath the paint was a startling flower design from the 1970s. That was a startling era in many respects.
Underneath that was more paint. Yellow. And the filled-in slots of forgotten wall shelves that seem to have adorned only one corner, in an oddly asymmetrical way. And beneath it all, plaster.
Peeling it all away is satisfying work. You find a place where you can slide your wide metal scraper in and under, and you begin to inch your way along beneath the paper, tunneling like a mole, the outline of your scraper visible as it proceeds. Now and then you sweep your scraper gently back and forth under there to enlarge the sheet you are freeing, and at last you pull the paper away to reveal its ancestry.
There are places where the discovery is more difficult -- the site of a wound or an old nail hole, where repair plaster has adhered to the paper itself, instead of wallpaper paste. It clings tenaciously, and will not release its captive without painful chipping, speck by speck by speck. A whole sheet can fall away, as if by magic, all around that spot -- but it remains, awaiting a more diligent healing.
It is almost all down now, the wine-dark paper with its little flowers. The wine-dark wainscoting will be a creamy pale yellow, and the walls above a pale sage green. Should brighten up the place considerably.
It has been many years we have had that wine-colored paper, and even more years since those other flowers, the large and lurid ones not found in nature. And more still since the creamy yellow of the old days, to which I seem to be returning now. Without even having known about it when I began.
Messy work, this. The floor is strewn with old paper and ghosts of paper, with tiny strips of flowers from the seventies, with the dust of ancient plaster. I get out the broom room and sweep a few times during a work period, because I don't like to stand in the mess of the years.
And because I want a token of the beauty and order which is possible. And which is to come.