Gil promised to help me move forward, starting with Albert’s mattress. I closed myself in my room while he and Kyle removed it. I wanted to cover my ears as I heard the fabric slid across the hardwood floor. I pressed my back against the door. Albert had insisted I throw the mattress away. It was only right. He had died there. No one would ever want to sleep in that bed. I slid to the floor, fighting back the emotions that threatened to drown me.
The front door closed. I let the tears come. Great bursts of sobs that choked. The pain came out silently then. I stopped breathing. I didn’t fight it. I was okay with letting this kill me. My lungs forced me to live, breath in with gasps and more sobs.
I stood, my legs shaking beneath me, and walked into the bathroom. I couldn’t let Gil find me this way. I let my cotton pajama pants slide from my waist to the floor, joined by the rest of my sleeping clothes, before I turned the shower tap on. I let the steam fill up the room. My skin instantly turned pink then red under the spray. I took deep breaths, letting the hot air open my lungs.
I turned the water off. Steam floated off my skin into the cool air of the bathroom. I patted the water off and made my way into the bedroom stopping at the full length mirror on the door. My skin looked sunburned where the water connected. There was nothing to see. Shape of my thigh, knobs of my knees, hips, breasts, face – what did it all mean?
The front door opened. I reached for my robe and wrapped it around me. “Ali-ah-ana,” Gil said as he rapped on the door.
“I thought it was best to distract myself with a shower, “ I yelled, “be out in just a moment. We should make some breakfast.”
I pulled clothes over my damp body. I compromised with a short sleeved tee over my yoga pants. I rubbed my forearms. They were still warm to the touch.
Gil stood against the wall across from my bedroom door. “Everything okay,” he said as he surveyed my appearance. I nodded and moved into the kitchen.
“I’m fine. I can do this. We’re adults, right – this is an adult response. I’m thinking sausage and potatoes. Does that sounds good to you?”
He reached out and stopped me from opening the refrigerator. “We need to go grocery shopping because your collage thing is this afternoon and Kyle invited us out to breakfast.”
I looked at my brother out of the corner of my eye, “you could have started with that.” I pushed past him and back into my room for my socks and shoes.
“I wanted to make sure you were up for it before I told him yes.”
I sat down on the bed to tie my shoes and looked at Gil standing in the doorway. “If you treat me like I’m fragile, I’ll never be anything else. It was just a mattress. It’s not like we threw Albert away.” Tears clouded my eyes. I blinked them away.
“Aliana, it’s okay to be fragile. I get that this is hard. You can lean on me.” He crouched on the floor in front of me to look up at my face. “If you think I am going to compare you to Rachel, know that I won’t. You are not like her at all. You try and I get that.”
I smiled at him. “I don’t have that fear.” I pushed his hair back from his face. The contact shocked me, forcing my hand to retreat against my stomach. I closed my eyes. “This is good for me, I know that. I’m just terrified.”
Gil rose and hugged me. I stood to return his embrace, until we were interrupted by the doorbell. “That’s probably Kyle wanting to know about breakfast.”
Each step is a step forward. Breakfast and shopping were uneventful. I’m not sure why I expected anything differently. I filled in the rest of my time preparing snacks and setting them on the sideboard in the dining room. I washed and rewashed the table, drying the surface with a clean towel.
I looked at the empty table. I should have bought supplies. Julie promised she had everything but I didn’t like the empty table. I picked up the stack of magazines that had been gathering dust in the living room. Albert had been an avid reader of some of the oddest magazines – Cigar Enthusiast and Heritage Chickens sat on the top of the piles. I used the towel to remove the offending layer of time from the covers.
I set the magazines in small piles along the table. I straightened the chairs, checking them for missed spots. Running the towel along the top of the chairs, I circled the room trying to remember anything I might have forgotten.
The front door opened to reveal Gil and a dolly full of boxes. I rushed to assist him and Julie. She smiled her crooked smile as she walked in the room. “Your home is lovely.” She surveyed the walls and my “studio” of half finished paintings. “I love the art.” She paused at the easel of a painting I was working on. “You have the most amazing eye. Today is going to be fun.”
My heart pounded as she looked over my work and lingered in the corner where I had been sketching a mural on the wall. My hands shook as I took the boxes from Gil and set them on the table. Julie joined me and began laying out the supplies for the class. “You are going to love intuitive collage. I can tell. Do you have many guests coming?”
I stopped and stared at her as if she had been speaking another language. Gil elbowed me as he walked by wheeling the dolly into the corner. I gasped. “Oh, yes, let’s see.” I counted who I had invited on my fingers. “There will be six of us, well, seven with you. I made refreshments. Would you like a drink?” My words started to run into each other. I took a deep breath and attempted a smile.
Julie nodded in a slow, rhythmic way reminiscent of a bobblehead. “Six is a good number. I’ll take some water if you don’t mind.” She opened the box nearest her and began pulling out scissors and glue. I watched her, mesmerized. Gil set a glass of water on the table near Julie. I watched as the condensation gathered on it’s surface, collecting into drops. Gil nudged me as he walked by. “Gil,” I whispered. He stopped and turned his attention to me. “Should we use coasters? I think that would keep moisture off the table and since we’re working with paper.” He patted my shoulder and kissed me on the temple before walking away.
I greeted the guest – Emily, James, Lisa and Kyle, as they came in. Julie insisted on waiting for introductions. When we were all seated at the table, she stood and began. “The idea behind intuitive collage is simple – let your subconscious speak to you on paper. Don’t plan. You see there are a number of magazines and magazine pages here. Pick up a stack and just look. When a picture catches your eye, set it aside. Do that four or five times until you have a collection you feel comfortable with. Then start your collage. Don’t think, just do. Cut the pictures out and glue them onto your cards.” She held up a piece of mat board approximately five inches by seven inches. “Once you feel like it’s finished, it is. You can make as many as you like. Once you get a feel for this, you can do this on your own time.”
I sorted through a stack of pictures until I came to a Christmas dinner scene. Snow collected on the window, inside a roaring fire, mom in a knitted sweater held a pie as father in a similar sweater carved a large bird. Children sat, plates ready, amongst the garland and holly berries that decorated the image. I closed my eyes to where the nothingness could draw away the tears. A touch forced my eyes open. Julie sat next to me, her hand on mine. She smiled. “It’s a lovely picture.” I started to hand it to her but she pressed my hand away, her smile never fading.
I set the picture on my card and continued my search. I didn’t want to think about that image. I wanted to bury it in the stack, crumple it up and throw it into my imaginary fireplace. Why had I agreed to this? I surveyed the group. Emily bounced in her chair with each new discovery. Her pile of images growing with each passing moment. She smiled, childlike as she did her work. The rest of the group was more serious. Images slowly collected, too much thinking as they worked. I wanted to be more like Emily. I took a deep breath and went about my work.
I had managed to find three images that appealed to me which would help fill up the space on my card. I turned my attention to cutting them out and arranging them. Emily jumped up from her seat and ran the few steps to my seat at the end of the table. She pulled on my arm until I rose to meet her. She was still bouncing. “It’s for you,” she squealed as she pressed a card into my hand. The glue still damp. “I just knew it was for you.” She hugged me tight. I knew the card could not be protected. I attempted to smooth the rumpled images on the card when she let me go. “It’s all about us.” I looked at the images – sets of sisterly couples amongst flowers and hearts. Their ages ranged from toddlers to grandmothers. “I just want you to know how much I appreciate you. You are like a sister to me. I’m so grateful for you.” She hugged me again as Lisa gasped. Attention turned her way.
Lisa looked up, “well you can’t pair these shoes with this dress.” She held up a picture of a woman but returned it to the pile before I could register what the woman was wearing. Lisa’s attention returned to her stack of pictures. Kyle raised his eyebrows as he caught my eye. Emily kissed my cheek before returning to her seat. I remained standing, the card in hand and my heart nearly bursting. I walked over to the easels and set the card with the painting there.
We worked all afternoon on the cards. James and Emily left first, they had dinner plans. I could feel Emily’s energy leave the space. All at once, it was somber and heavy. I couldn’t muster up the desire to continue.
“It’s a tough process. You don’t feel it until it’s over. This was so much fun.” Julie hugged me as she started to put away her supplies. I gave her some money to cover her expenses. “That’s not necessary,” she said. I insisted and then asked for her recommendations so I could buy supplies for us to do more later.
Gil escorted Julie to her car, Kyle and Lisa left with them. I closed the front door. The silence was not as repressive as I had expected. I was tired but happy. Maybe I can survive this.