PINK STAINS AND LAVENDER PAINT
The air is cold but not cold enough to hurt us. We’re outside the house we grew up in but it’s not the house you grew up in. It’s the house where you went from child to teenager and I went from teenager to adult. From irresponsibility to placid acceptance of fates unknown.
I didn’t ask you to come here but you came anyway. You never wait for an invitation but still manage to always arrive on cue. I’ve forgotten your face but you’ve not forgotten mine. You tell me it reminds you of disillusionment. I tell you yours reminds me of pain.
There’s no laughter left in our languid cries. Yet tears are hard to fall. I don’t know why you came. You shouldn’t have come. That’s why I didn’t invite you. I don’t think you care but I’m too much of a coward to ask and find out. I should ask you. You should reply. But you won’t. Your reply will be a delicately woven lie where truth folds somewhere in the creases. Or maybe you won’t reply at all. You’ll just laugh at my query and shake your head at my disappointment. I’m tired of being disappointed.
Will you hold my hand as we go inside? I ask with my eyes. My words are frozen too deep. You oblige, of course. You can always read my silent pleas.
Your hand grips around mine and I can almost feel your heartbeat. The blood pulsing through your veins. I want you to be warm but you’re cold. I pretend your hand is warm.
We finally go inside. We’ve spent too much time waiting in limbo. I don’t know why. There is nothing to be scared of. Why should we wait? The cold was starting to tickle. It was time to go inside.
The house is just as I remember. Nothing has been moved. Nothing has been touched. Well some things have. But the important things have been preserved.
You’re still here? Good, you’ve not left. I should know, your hand still has hold of mine. But I still worry. That’s who I am. You know that’s who I am.
Remember when we fought demons from our bed? Dreams that were only nightmares when I couldn’t find you by my side. Two feet apart, twin beds. Silent tears. Distant sighs. You pretended not to hear me when I asked if you were going to be alright. I don’t think you wanted to accept that I could traverse that two feet distance. You wanted there to be an ocean on which I couldn’t sail. You sought loneliness when I offered comfort. I hope you can forgive me now. I wish I didn’t care. It might have eased the guilt. If I was someone who didn’t care.
I’m sure you’ve heard that’s why you’re here. Standing in this house. Lingering in this room. Shall we see if they left that stain on the wall? No, they’ve painted it over. That’s a shame. It used to tell a tale of better times. A bright pink stain from when you’d flung paint across the room. Mom was so angry. Do you remember? She shouted at us for thinking we could turn our bedroom into an artist’s studio. Remember? She made us mop up our mess and made sure we washed our paintbrushes. She helped us wipe down our desk and had to dry-clean the duvet. Remember?
You wanted to be Jackson Pollok. You read about him in school. His art looked so fun and free. I don’t know how you convinced me to go along with your scheme but you bought canvas and paint and various other tools on our way home from school. You were only fourteen but mom let you walk me home. Alone. Together. You wanted the canvas to be different shades of pink. You were reclaiming society’s gendered expectations. You were going to show them what it meant to be a girl. An angry, angsty girl. I had no idea what you meant but I was happy to play along. I was happy to be included in your scheme. Remember?
We threw the pink paint at a blank canvas. Mom was so angry when she saw the mess. The stains came off the carpet and out of the duvet. It wiped off the desk. It never came off the wall. You were upset with Mom. You shouted back. She didn’t understand you. You needed the space to create. She told you you were being juvenile. You cried. My art has meaning, you said. I’m above critique, you implied. I was sorry to have been a part of your undoing. You told me I had nothing to be sorry about. You defended me from Mom. I never defended you from her. Then remember? The next day. Your painting hanging in the kitchen.
Mom paid for you to go to art classes. You went once and never returned. You told her you were going but instead you hung out with people I didn’t know. People who were too old for me. People I wanted to be friends with just so I could be like you. People who were too old for you.
When Mom found out the two of you fought. Do you remember that? She screamed at you for ignoring responsibility. You screamed at her for not understanding. Understanding what? I never got that turn of phrase until I was older. Then I aged some more and I still didn’t understand. What was so complex about our identities in our youth? Why did we never have a grasp on them? When did we lose them? I can hear you laughing. I never lost might identity, you just lost yours. That’s what you’re saying. Judgmental cackle.
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you. Are you still holding my hand? Good, I need you. Where shall we go now?
The living room. Look the piano is still there. You never played but I did. I was a goody two-shoes. That’s what you said. I practiced. I made Mom and Dad proud. I don’t think you meant to sound mean but you made me ashamed for caring. I never stopped practicing. Well, eventually I did but that’s not important. I never became a pianist. I see that thought makes you smile.
I’m sat down now. I’m sorry I couldn’t resist. What do you want me to play? Nothing, I’m sure. I remember that song. Do you remember it? Bach. Mozart. Beethoven. Those names are all a blur. I don’t listen to much music anymore.
Don’t tease me. It’s not funny. Yes, I’m that boring. I’m one of those people. Who claims to not listen to music when music is all around us. I swear. It’s only talk radio for me these days. I know. You don’t like talk radio. It’s boring. I promise though you should give it a try. Promise me you’ll give it a try. And if you can’t give talk radio a try, a least maybe a podcast. You’d like podcasts. They have some real artsy ones that are right up your street.
The keys feel unfamiliar. I run my fingers along them and trace the sounds of our childhood. Your eyes roll at my sensitivity. I play a scale. It’s robotic, clunky and I miss a few notes. Tones and semitones out of place. You hated when I played scales. You should be glad I never played trombone. Or violin. Imagine how much you would have hated having to listen to me make so much noise.
Maybe that is what you disliked about the piano. Maybe you wanted me to make noise. Maybe if I’d played an instrument that was exciting and new you would have been more congratulatory. You would have made noise with me. Instead I had to be precise. Methodical. My playing was in no way indistinguishable from the playing of any other child my age. Maybe that’s what made me a bore to you. Perfect imperfection. Piano is so easy to dislike for someone like you. Someone free. Someone uninhibited. I should have learned to play the bassoon. At least we could have laughed about that together.
You’ll be happy to hear the piano is also up for sale. Mom and dad said I could take it but I didn’t want to. I have nowhere to put it in my tiny flat. It would be occupying space I need.
You’ve let go of my hand now. Of course you have, how else would I have been able to play piano. You’re leaning against the fireplace, staring at the wall. Your paintings used to hang up there. They don’t hang there anymore. I wonder if that makes you sad. You shouldn’t be. Mom and dad kept most of them and those they didn’t keep netted a good price. You should be glad that you finally became a world famous artist. Mom and dad only kept the paintings they couldn’t part from. That pink monstrosity of a Jackson Pollock hangs over their bed now. It was the only painting you ever let me collaborate on.
I need to grab a few things, that’s why I’m here. Why are you here? You don’t answer but then I don’t ask. I hate coming here. So do mom and dad. That’s why we all left. The only thing we took was some valuable furniture. And your art.
Have you found what you came for? I can hear you getting impatient. Don’t worry, I know where everything is. I just wanted some time to explore. Remember the children we were.
First, I need to get that bedside table. Yes, that one. Will you help me carry it to the car? Of course you won’t, you’re no use.
It’s there, in the garage. Next to dad’s workbench. Covered in dust and soot and dirt. Dad didn’t want to take it. He wanted to leave it. He said to sell it with the rest of the house. But I couldn’t do that. I’m too sentimental.
Don’t worry, it’s not that heavy. I’ll manage my way to the car.
Only a few more steps and I’ll make it to the trunk. The grey skies turn wet. Rain is pouring now and I slip and fall as I try to make a dash. Don’t laugh, I’m trying to keep the rain from ruining your bedside table. But in my fall I’ve chipped paint off the top. Please don’t hate me.
The lavender chips scatter across the concrete drive. I’m so sorry. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was being careful, I promise. I’m not sure I can repaint it.
I get back on my feet and run to the car. It’s in the trunk now. Safe and sound. I slam the trunk closed. I’m sorry. I tried.
Do you remember the day you bought that lavender paint? You were determined to paint our whole room that colour. Mom said that was a preposterous idea. Think about your sister, she said. Do you think your sister wants a bright purple room? I’m sorry I cared. I didn’t want a purple room. You tried to bargain with me but I didn’t cave. The more you plead the more stubborn I became. I was finally the one with all the power. You shouted, I cried. You cried, I shouted. Dad intervened. He tried to negotiate with me and mom. I conceded, mom didn’t. She didn’t want a purple room in her house. You banged your fists on the dinner table and called her a despot. She told you this family isn’t a democracy. She didn’t let you storm off to our room. Even you were too good for that.
Remember? The day after the dinner incident was a Sunday. Dad took you to out to his makeshift workshop in the garage and tried to calm you down. You cried because you couldn’t have what you wanted. You cried because you wanted to be independent. You cried because you spent all of your babysitting money from the previous week on paint that was now going to go to waste. Dad let you choose what kind of wood to use. Then the two of you spent all afternoon together, sanding and chiselling away. Hammering away. You spent the next week working together on the bedside table. I was jealous but didn’t admit it. I should have been content enough to have mum on my side, but I wanted dad too. I was too young to know how to supress jealousy.
The day you painted the bedside table you were so happy. Dad let you do that all on your own. The bedside table spent two days been coated and dried in our garden. You were lucky that in those two days it didn’t rain. Mom took me to the beach and bought me an ice cream to distract me from you and dad. I forgot all about my jealously. At least, that’s what I think now. You and dad etched your initials in the single drawer in the bedside table. I wanted to etch mine too. But the bedside drawer was yours and dads to claim. Not mine.
Let’s go back inside. We look like two clichés standing out here in the rain. Reminiscing about the past.
What’s that on the ground? See, there were I fell over. Yes, please remind me of how funny that was. It’s a letter. Addressed to me. I’m confused. Why did you never give me this letter? Why was it hiding in your bedside table? I’m sure you meant to give it me, you just forgot. Right? You nod your head. You just forgot. Of course, you just forgot. Things like letters are so easy to lose track of when minds are occupied with greater, more pressing thoughts.
I crouch down to pick up the letter and the rain begins to pound against my back. Now I’m bitterly cold. We should read it inside.
I’m sat on the old couch, you’re sat opposite me in that spot. Leaning against the fireplace. I’m sorry your paintings are gone, but I promise they’re safe. I don’t care if I get the couch wet. I’m sure the new owners will replace it. It’s a piece of junk not worth keeping. I just wish my hair wasn’t wet. That’s keeping me cold.
The rain has done its damage to the letter. Water has seeped into the paper and the ink is blurred. I can’t read your writing any longer. Whatever you meant to say to me is now forever gone. What did you want to tell me? Why did you write me a letter? Now I’m yelling. I’m sorry but I’m angry. I’m angry with you. You couldn’t give me this letter and now the rain has destroyed it. You never plan for the rain. You just luck out if it’s sunny.
Please tell me what was in this letter. Why did you hide it in your bedside table? I wish I’d opened that drawer all those nights I spent sleeping in that room. But I didn’t want to disturb your things. I thought you might notice if I touched your stuff while you were gone. I didn’t want you to shout at me for invading your privacy. The bedside table was your private space.
I can’t believe you’re holding this information from me. This is cruel of you. Please. I just want to know. Don’t smile at me. You’re taunting me. I’m not in the mood to be taunted right now.
You know I love you. All those things I said, all those things I felt, they mean nothing. Jealousy dissipates, anger fades but love remains. Don’t laugh at me. I know that’s cheesy.
You didn’t have to leave me. Alone. Here. In this house. You could have stayed. Mom and dad loved you. I loved you. We still love you. You can still come back.
You don’t know this but we lasted five years in this house before we gave up. When I turned eighteen and left for college. Mom and dad became haunted. They needed youth in the house to keep them sane. They left the house but didn’t sell it. I didn’t want them to leave the house. We fought. I shouted at them for being callous. They shouted at me for being selfish. I never told them I was worried you wouldn’t have our new address. I didn’t tell them I was worried you wouldn’t be able to find us. We negotiated. They rented the house. They didn’t sell. They took what they wanted and left most things behind. Strangers came to occupy our space and defile our bedroom. Children I never met slept in our beds. The pink stain was painted over. Remember?
No, you don’t. These are my memories. They’re not ours.
Do you know how long it took them to declare you dead? To the court of public opinion you were a runaway teenager with an adult boyfriend. You wore skimpy clothes. You drank beer. Which meant you probably did drugs. Slept around. Just because of that one picture. Mom gave out so many pictures of you, you with us, you with me where I was cropped out. She was worried people would confuse me for you. Pictures of smiling kids leading normal kid lives. Wearing normal kid clothes. She hoped someone would see you and someone would find you. She hoped you would see you and come home.
The only picture that gained notoriety was that one taken of you at your friend’s house. Some girl I never met. Leaning against a fence, holding a bottle of beer, wearing a crop top. Make-up smeared across your face. Looking like a whore.
Don’t shake your head in defeated acceptance. It’s not right what they did. You don’t have to accept their judgement of you. I don’t. I know who you are.
Sit next to me.
Hold my hand again.
Do you know they just sentenced him? You must know. Three counts of murder in the first degree. One count of attempted murder. They found those girls bodies.
We never went to court. I followed the trial proceedings from my laptop. I don’t have a tv. I know, can you believe it? I finally live on my own and I don’t have tv. All those nights spent sneaking around mum and dad and lying to babysitters so we could stay up late to watch tv and I don’t have one. I can see you laughing at me. I think you’re admonishing me. I promise when I get back I’ll buy a tv. I swear.