She darts around the bed, opens the window and makes a point of breathing in deeply. “It’s such a glorious day.”
“Did you sleep last night?” I ask.
She jumps onto the bed and straddles my knees. “I have something for you.”
She’s been up since last night’s fight. She has paint on her skin and it adds to her beauty. She reaches under the bed and retrieves a canvas wrapped in brown paper. She always decorates the wrapping paper herself. This time she’s drawn a fine-line lily in black ink; its long stem weaves around itself in all directions. Its roots sprout from delicate blades of grass, which look as though they’re blowing in an indecisive wind. The petals spiral into sharp-edged tight points.
“Are you going to open it?” She pushes the present onto my lap. Her voice is starting to tremble. I won’t be able to hold her attention much longer.
“This lily looks like you.” I can tell that she likes the comparison, but I doubt she knows what I mean by it.
“That’s just the wrapping paper, silly.”
I’ve been handed many paintings over the years, each accompanied by the purity of the moment. It all comes from the same place; the joy, the sadness, the excitement and the anger are all a part of her, in equal measure. The paintings never last much longer than a week or two. She rips them from the wall where they hang above the bed. Spits on them, stamps on them, throws them out the window and screams wild accusations into the outside air.
“Open your present.”
“I love you.” I say.
“I’m sorry for everything I said last night.”
“I know, sweetheart.” I brush her face with the backs of my fingers.
“Are you going to open it now?” The bed is shaking according to her jiggling legs.
“Do you know I love you today?”
She leans in and kisses my mouth. “And always,” she says.
“Then I’ll open it.”
I turn the gift over and gently tug at the tape, taking care not to rip the lily. I’ll hide it later with the others, somewhere secret where she won’t think to look when her colours run out and the white in the next canvas becomes too bright. I drop the paper to the floor on my side of the bed, turn the canvas over and gaze at the two ladybirds with feathered wings. They are free-falling, in each other’s arms, from the petal of a deeply coloured flower.
“It’s us!” She snatches the painting from my hands and hangs it on the naked nail in the wall above our bed then leaps down and dances out of the bedroom, shouting, “I’m going to paint a whole series of them, starting now!”
I close the door, fold the brown-paper lily and hide it with the rest. She’s singing now. I can hear her brush-strokes. I like it when she paints naked. I sit on the bed and look at my gift, those strange creatures, embracing and falling. I wonder how close they are to the ground.
Matthew J. Hall is a UK writer based in Bristol. His poetry chapbook, Pigeons and Peace Doves, is available through Blood Pudding Press. He reviews small press titles for the small press book review and at www.screamingwithbrevity.com.