I have a few paintings in my living room. Each one was painted by my mother. She never went to school for art or ever made a dent in the art community, but she made a dent in me. She loved to paint figures in a variety of poses, attempting to express her mood through the figure. If she was anxious, the figure would pick at its skin. If she was joyous, the figure would dance. It was simple, yet beautiful.
She would taste the paints before using them. It didn’t matter if they were acrylic or watercolors or oil, she would touch the pad of her finger to the paint and then against her tongue. She said this would help her determine the mood of the paint. “You don’t want angry paint in a painting about sorrow,” she would say. I felt like she was doing this to tease me but she would even do this when she thought I wasn’t looking. She had to taste it each time in case the paint changed its mood, buried in her cluttered art box.
After working, after cooking dinner, after everything she did for us, all of her spare energy went toward painting. Despite that, she would just start another canvas when she was finished, if she even finished a painting. Never framed them, never hung them up.
My mother passed away a few days ago. I was the only one of her kids who still lived in town, so it was my responsibility to catalogue the things in her house and make sure everyone got what they needed.
I hadn’t visited her house for at least 5 years. Each time I wanted to see her she demanded that we met in the “open air.” “I need to breathe anyway. My house is too stuffy, too full of miasma,” she would say. We met in parks throughout the city. I never thought anything of it until I realized I wasn’t quite sure what her house looked like anymore. I didn’t even know if she still lived in the same house, but I had to start there.
She hadn’t moved since I was 8 years old. She was pregnant with my baby sister and we needed more space anyway. She cried when we moved. “All of the memories will disappear. They will fade into the walls,” she justified. But she knew that it had to be done. Since then, she refused to move again.
My key still worked on the back door, which was fortunate. She hated change. I told her several times that she should upgrade her locks and make sure the house was safer. She never listened, but as far as I know it never mattered.
The first thing I noticed in the house was that I don’t think she threw a thing out since I last been here. The table where I ate breakfast before going to school was covered in towers of canvases. The counter where I would study when I got home was littered with food wrappers, little receipts, and ruined brushes. I was a bit surprised that she ever decided to buy new brushes, but maybe she just lost track of these ones. The fridge, the same one since we moved in, was still covered in drawings my sisters and I made. Covering those aging pieces of paper were newer drawings from my nieces and nephews.
My mom’s room was on the first floor of the house, right off the side of the living room, but me and my sisters lived up stairs. I made my way through the towers of nostalgia and up the stairs to see the state of my room. Moving up the stairs was difficult due to the stacks of small sketch pads and erasers and pencils. There was barely enough room to put a single foot on each landing, yet I made it all the way up without an incident.
I opened the door to my room, expecting to see the same mess, but instead I was met with posters of Bowie and Nirvana. My bed was still neatly made with the black and blue comforter I had when I left. The only things missing from my room were the CDs and books I asked for over the years.
I knew I had to check my closet to see if anything was different. I opened the door and saw the portraits I painted of my mom way back when. They were each neatly resting on the back wall, the only framed paintings I saw in the whole house.
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