Friday, January 28, 2011

Flash Friday #3: Hanging Pictures

Gertrude sliced the tape open with the letter opener she had specifically not packed in any of the neatly labeled boxes. It had rode in her pocket along with a sharpie and an extra roll of packing tape, all to find its purpose in this moment. That's why she first opened the box that held assorted counter-top objects, like the pen holder and the letter opener stand. Those were set up quickly, then the books, and her clothes - all the easy stuff. Nearly last were the purely decorative items that had to be arranged around the furniture and other things of every-day use.

For instance, the knick-knacks she'd gotten over so many Christmases and birthdays. The translucent elephant her grandmother gave her over a decade ago, the year before her death. The bright orange miniature vase that her little brother had given her when she moved out. The dancing fairy Richard had given her just two years ago, before he'd left her for someone thinner and cheerier. The glass tulip Shayne had given her just a month ago, for her birthday. These she had to chose from the plethora of gifts she considered sentimental. One from each person, and each had equal standing on the shelf above the couch.

The last box had been double-tapped and her lungs froze as she slit it open. She could never throw them away, not photographs, and once a photograph made it into a frame, it was forever sacred, and it had to go up on the wall. Gertrude pulled out the easy ones first, those of her immediate family, most of which she set aside to go up in the hall. The rest went above the TV across from the couch. Old classmates, pictures of herself alone, and a few co-workers. There almost wasn't any room for Shayne. She had to stretch and lean to put ones of him up to the left of the rest. To the right, above the vase of flowers Shayne had just had delivered to her, there was only room for one large picture or two smaller pictures of Richard.

Gertrude frowned down at the three in her hand. There was the largest, the both of them smiling with the Rocky Mountains as the backdrop. Their honeymoon. Two smaller ones might also fit side by side - Ricard holding her hand at the zoo, the both of them at her sister's wedding. Those she might be able to look at every day. She held them both up against the space available, stretching on the tips of her toes to hold them level. Technically they fit, but the gap looked to be less than the minimum one inch she allowed. She tried holding them slightly further apart, but then the one that came up against the other pictures overlapped the shelf below it by at least 1/8th of an inch. Carefully, she set those two down and picked up the larger picture.

His smile was so... genuine. She wanted to find something in it that might predict his betrayal, but there was no crookedness of the eyebrows, no evil glint in his eyes, and no tenseness around the corners of that wide grin. He looked happy. They had both been happy. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad remembering a time when she had been happy. She lifted the picture up and centered it above the shelf with the knick-knacks along with the pencil she would mark the wall with. She could already see that it was a perfect fit for the space, even if she'd rather leave the space empty. But this would balance her life. It would show the whole truth of it. It would hold nothing back. She had been married before, and divorced, and Shayne accepted that.

The wall, it seemed, did not accept that. Maybe it was because beside Shayne's pictures there was a gap about the same size as the one she was about to fill, making the whole collection off-center. Maybe it was because the chair had uneven legs and the living room had hard-wood floors and not the more traditional carpet. Maybe it was because in that moment Shayne turned the lock in the door, arriving home from work.

Gertrude slipped off the side of the chair and fell against the knick-knacks with her cheekbone, against the bookcase with her diaphram, and finally against the floor with her back and the back of her head. There was the loud clattering of her, and of the knick-knacks, and the picture, the pencil, and even of a few books. Then there was the loud stomping of Shayne's shoes arriving next to her head. He knelt over her, fussed over her, and helped her sit up. "What were you doing?" he started to ask as the panic of her well-being wore off. Then he saw the frame that had fallen and shattered its glass around them, and his tone grew harsh. "You were putting Richard on our wall?"

Gertrude put a hand to her forehead where she was sure there was an imprint of fairy wings. Her eyes darted over the glass, over the bent pages, and over the broken glass tuplip at her feet. "I'm sorry," she whispered as her vision blurred with tears. "Forgive me." She didn't know if she meant it for the tulip, or for the picture, or for so many little things that she hadn't yet told him.

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