I found her on the shore with eyes eaten by fish and skin peeling like an orange. It’s the 4th body washed up since I moved back in June. The lifeguard comes over when I wave, and tells me he’s going to call the police from the tower. He asks me to stay with her body, to make sure she doesn’t wash back out into sea. I’m more disturbed by how quickly he abandons the dead than her water soaked flesh in this early autumn heat. I don’t want anyone walking away from mother so easily. I want people to stay and enjoy her beauty, her charity and her paintings.
By the time I walk back home, mother has had her lunch and the housekeeper only has a couple more hours left of work.
“I heard you found something along the shore,” the housekeeper says while folding some towels from the dryer, “an officer called to get a statement, the number’s on the table.”
“Okay, thanks.” I enter mother’s room while she’s watching her soap operas.
“Look at how beautiful they are, forever kept with a youthful glow.” Mom says, apparently unaware of the call. I don’t bother to mention it, why make her worry. “I wish I had that look.”
“You do mom.” I say, getting her some more water, “your doctor should be here in an hour or so, is there anything you need?”
“No, I’m okay, you go and work on the frames, I imagine a lot of upcoming shows this winter!” I nod. She turns back to her television, too weak to pick up a brush, but strong enough look her best each morning with her blushed cheeks and burgundy lipstick.
As a child, I remember playing on the lawn with sis while mom painted landscapes. She’d warn us not to go into the water without dad, who was always drinking Arnold Palmers next to mom’s easel. Those times felt like they would last a lifetime, but as we got older we found other activities in the afternoons. So one weekend mom packed away her easel and dad started to work overtime. When dad passed away I thought she would ask me to retrieve the easel from the mezzanine, but she didn’t. It was when a door-to-door makeup lady stayed in the guest house that she got a second wind and retrieved her brushes. She revived her works and even started a new collection. Mom told me over the phone how she couldn’t get enough of the lipstick palettes for inspiration and even went out of her way to pick some colors for sis. But neither sis nor I came to visit as we lost track of time, as well as, the details of the mysterious woman who helped mother.
When the doctor leaves he waves for me to join him on the porch. I walk over covered in sawdust, not expecting to have a conversation.
“You should call your sister, your mother is not as strong as she was last week.”
“What? So soon?”
“I’m sorry, but I think it’s time you all start making arrangements, her heart is not improving.” I watch his mouth move, but can’t hear him. I’m left imagining what it takes to make those arrangements.
“Yeah, I’ll call sis.” He nods and hands me a few business cards. I don’t bother to read the names because I know sis has all of them already. When I’m done telling her what the doctor said, sis promises me she’ll fly out tomorrow morning. She mentions a friend might be around for support and will likely stay in the guest house. That night I don’t go into the garage to work or do anything but sit around and watch soaps with mother.
The next day sis drives up the driveway with a passenger who looks very familiar. When she parks, her friend steps out and that’s when I remember his face. I saw him in the market the other week when I was picking up the housekeeper. Sis takes her luggage out of the backseat before giving him a kiss on the cheek. I had no idea he would be her type because the man I know seems too rough around the edges.
“So how’s mom doing?” Sis says, breaking my focus.
“She doesn’t seem to be losing her spirit,” I say and walk with her inside, “right now she’s sleeping.”
“That’s fine, I’ll see her in the morning. Maybe I can make us all breakfast?”
“That’ll be nice.” This is the sis I remember. “I’ve missed you around the house.”
“Yeah, I missed you too.” She looks down to her phone, “oh right, big news!”
“What is it?”
“Well, an interior designer was at my gallery and loved mom’s painting, Island In The Sky. I promised him he can have as many as he likes since mom painted about 50 versions. And just like that, he contracted to buy 35 of mom’s paintings for his hotel! It’s the one next to the iconic towers.”
“That’s great, you were always better at those meetings than I was”
“Because you’d rather be by yourself,” she says while rolling her eyes, “speaking of, got a girlfriend?”
“No, too busy finishing up the frames.”
“Good, I promised custom frames, shit, the price he’s paying us, I promised him anything!” I watch my younger sister walk to her room, managing both the finances and mother.
The next morning mom doesn’t have an appetite for breakfast, but insists we stay in her room to eat. So we close her favorite marmalade and stick to the store bought jam for our toasted bagels.
“Honey, can you pass me a mirror and that lipstick?”
Sis brings mom her hand held mirror and a tube of lipstick, a rich ruby gloss. Mother applies the color and then rests the mirror on her lap. She smiles, leaving red smears on her teeth, the streaks are faint like her breath. I put the knife down and watch as her chest becomes still.
Sis calls the ambulance and signs all the necessary paperwork before they leave. When the ambulance turns the corner her friend is pulling into the driveway. He looks over to me and doesn’t nod or wave, sis seems to notice and not care about his sanctimonious attitude. I don’t have the energy to start a fight and head into the shower.
That night I come down to find sis is in the library having a drink while looking over some papers. She sees me coming in and puts them into her purse.
“I want you to know that you deserve the money coming in from this client,” sis says.
“I don’t want the money, I’m not like you sis.” I answer in a harsh whisper while pouring one to match.
“You’re right, you’re nothing like me. I’m the legacy in this home and you’re the only burden left.”
“Burden?! Is that how you saw mom?”
“No,” she takes a long sip from her whiskey, “at least she painted until the end.”
“So you looked at mother as your employee?!”
“No, just you haven’t grown up since playing on the lawn and looking at you now, I see you never will.” She finishes her drink and heads out to the guesthouse. I watch how she rushes in the screen door, leaving the man from the market to meet her at the foyer. He looks back to the house and closes the dark blue door. He doesn’t belong here during this time of loss, why did she think to bring him.
I must have fallen asleep on the chair, as I wake up to the sound of people talking in the doorway.
“You were suppose to give him enough of the tranquilizers,” says sis.
“I thought I did,” I see the man from the market walking over with a gun in his right hand. I lift my hands to protect my head but it’s in vain as the base of the gun makes contact with my temple.
When I wake up my cheek is on the sand and waves are washing over my legs. I force myself to not throw up when getting into the seated position. I reach behind to feel for a wound and my hand comes back without any blood. With that limited relief I know I have to get up and start walking towards the horizon. I must journey to the purple mountains to avoid my sudden fate. It’s time to find mother, painting over the summit.
About the Author
Trista Hurley-Waxali is a transplant from Toronto, now perched on barstools in West Hollywood. She has performed at Avenue 50, Stories Bookstore and internationally at O’bheal Poetry Series in Cork, Ireland and a TransLate Night show from Helsinki Poetry Connection. She is writes weird short stories and is working on her novel, At This Juncture.