I am working in my slacks, and my black undershirt. The button down tie and shirt I worse to the funeral are draped across the seat of my friend’s truck. Later, the boxes will all go in the back of the truck, which I am borrowing for the day, and will get taken down town, to my place, where they will crowd the living room until I find a place to put them.
My 15 year old sister is sitting a ways away from me on the floor in her dusty black funeral skirt, one hand propping up her tired head, the other sketching in charcoal. When I glance over, she automatically puts her hand over the sketchbook to guard it from my eyes. I smile at her. In my hand is a small, fat, pink and blue vase with spiky green leaves in a psychedelic design. I dust off my shirt, “How are you doing?”
“Fine,” She brushes off the charcoal on the hem of the skirt she is wearing. Not hers, but my wife’s, although I don’t mention it, her hand goes up to the bruise under her eye.
“It looks better,” I say. The truth is, while the swelling has gone down, and the color has lightened a little bit, it still looks bad, almost as bad as it looked a week ago, when she ran away. It is a deep bruise, and one that will stay for awhile, and when I look at her, I can almost feel it. I look away for a second, then smile at her again, “It really does.”
“Whatever,” She isn’t even looking at me now, she has gone back to her work, sketching with one hand, and hiding her work with the other. She makes long curving motions with the charcoal, and I follow her movements with my eyes. She looks up at me, “What?”
“I’m almost done,” I say, motioning to the almost empty stack of vases on the shelf. “Want to go see a movie or something after this?”
“Mom’s dead” she says as if I don’t know, as if I had not been cleaning out the woman’s studio all day
“I know she’s dead, I just want to get out of here, you know? Go somewhere, get my mind off things.” There’s a film out me and my wife were planning on seeing, and normally, we would just go, none of this planning, this cajoling.
“Go on without me,” she says, waving me away, smoothing out the charcoal with two fingertips.
I turn the vase over in my hands, feeling the slightly smooth contours in my hands, the green glaze. Standing still now after a day of wrapping, picking up, and boxing is making me restless, I shift my weight between my legs. “I’m not leaving you alone like this,” I say.
“So...” I choose my words carefully, throwing around connotations in my head before I speak “So upset”
She almost laughs when I say this, and tosses the charcoal on the concrete beside her “Upset? What’s wrong with being upset? You’re the one who shouldn’t be left alone, you were almost laughing when you got the news.”
This is not true. I almost threw up when the police officer came to my door three days ago and told me, Alcohol poisoning. It’s just that I though ahead a week, to the custody hearing what I no longer had to deal with, to the social workers we no longer had to talk to.
I can feel the blood churning around inside my head, and my voice rises. “ I fought back, you never-“ I stop myself. I won’t blame her.
My sister is staring at me, or perhaps through me. She is still only for a moment, the she looks away, pushing the hair behind her ear, “Forget it.” She picks up the worn down piece of charcoal and begins drawing again. “I’m trying to sketch”
“Why not talk to me”
“What’s to talk about?” she is sketching roughly, filling in an area with black.
“You tell me?” I ask
“I don’t need your therapy,” She sneers.
“I just mean, tell me anything, tell me about your drawing, shit I’m just sick of your one word answers to everything.”
“Sorry,” She says. I see the edges of a snide grin on the outside of her face.
“Fine. Forget it” I set the vase I’m holding back in the shelf, and walk out into the driveway. The April air is hot and thick with the smell of grass. The cardboard boxes are piled with pottery and waist high. I unwrap the upper most piece, it is a large, black and red dotted vase. It makes a noise like a million ice cubes when I drop it onto the concrete.
My sister jumps up from her spot when she hears the sound, and rushes over to me. Even in her hurry, though, she keeps her sketchpad face down, away from sight. “You Jerk!” She Screams, I cannot help but grin, high on adrenaline. I would unwrap another piece but for her standing on the way. She kneels on the concrete and starts picking up some of the larger black and red pieces. I wonder if the smaller pieces are digging into her knees, and I wonder if she notices. She gathers the pieces into a pile and places them into the cardboard box.
When she stands up, tears are in her eyes, mingling with her black eyeliner, running down her face. “It was Art,” She says.
“It was a vase,” I say
“It wasn’t just a vase, it was Mom’s Vase”
“Yeah, and that’s not just a bruise.”
This is when she lunges at me, starts punching me in the shoulder. Her fists are powerful, and I let her hit me once, twice, three times before I grab her wrists and force them down to her sides. “You won’t hit me,” I say, but I realize it’s unnecessary. Her eyes are already wide, crying, her mouth opening and closing, but no sound coming out.
When I release, her hands fly to her face to dam a flood of tears.
We sat in the driveway, each of us crying silently as the sun goes down. The sketchbook is still lying where it was; she closes it carefully and places it besides her purse, then lays out the broken pieces of pottery in front of her, arranging them in a mosaic pattern. I watch her moving the pieces around on the ground, arranging them into an abstract pattern on lines and triangles. After a minute she looks up at me. “Break another one.”
I laugh “Are you going to hit me again.”
“Break another one,” She says. “Maybe an orange one, or a yellow one.” Her wide, dark stained eyes are staring at me, intently. For a moment, I feel self conscious.
I wander over to another box and unwrap a piece, then stop. “Break it yourself”
She nods and comes over to where I am. I watch her hands as she slowly, sacramentally waves her hands over each cardboard box, unwrapping each piece just enough to see the colors. At last she unwraps a shallow orange bowl, flecked with yellow and black, and when she sees it she unwraps it quickly. I stand away from her, and holds a bowl parallel with the cement with the ground, releasing it. It shatters, and I flitch, even though I am expecting it. This is the noise of dishes hitting the kitchen walls late at night, the noise of containers crashing down from sloppily opened bathroom containers, the noise that, even ten years later, tells me to get the hell out.
We stand solid. For a moment, she is stunned by what she did. She steps back from the orange shards, staring at them. “Now come on,” I say “Lets see your new masterpiece.”
“I need yellow first,” She says, and I laugh.
I sit on the stool in front of my mother’s pottery wheel, watching my sister arrange the brightly colored pieces in front of her, the broken bits of orange and red and yellow forming a mosaic.
“That’s very artistic” I say aqwardly, feeling like I should speak, but not knowing what words to use.
She pushes a piece of black hair out of her eyes and looks at me. “It’s just broken pottery.”