The painting had lain forgotten in a cupboard for years.
by Marion Rankine

It was a Christmas gift from their mother, crafted in a period of low funds and high homemade ideals. She hated it. So did he. But they’d never thought to throw it out, because it was a Christmas gift from their mother. She wiped at a moist sifting of plaster dust on her upper lip.

The wall that once divided the hallway and kitchen was settling into its new shape on a pile outside. A fine mist of kitchen innards drifted through the room. They eddied around the picture in his hand.

Well? he asked. The possibility of throwing it out worked in his veins like a drug; he was riding the rush of disposal. Every riddance was a paring-back, each item emblematic of the connections missed, friendships fraying, all that was untidy and unsatisfactory in his life.

He weighed the picture in his hand. Eyed the pile outside the window. Catching the indecision on her face he said, well, I understand if it has some sentimental value to you, so if you don’t—

No, she replied, it’s ugly. I really don’t care—

Feeling the tug of the small betrayal. She looked at it, comparing her memory of it emerging from Santa-printed paper with the reality in front of her, seeing anew the tortuous curves, the desiccated slugs of paint strewn across the canvas. She tried to find some angle from which it could be considered art, or valuable. The brute physicality of the brushstrokes brought to mind her mother’s face, taut with concentration as she hovered over the picture. The thousand miniscule adjustments she would have made to shape it to its final unfortunate form—

It wasn’t so much the image they were throwing away, she knew, as the sheer weight of devotion embodied by those gnarled outcroppings of paint.

Well if you’re sure, he said. His hand twitched, impatient to restore lost momentum, and her eyes moved with it, compulsively, protectively. He paused, are you sure? he asked. She laughed uncomfortably. She couldn’t not be sure now, she’d already censured. It was an ugly thing; besides, impossible to measure love by the treatment of a picture in a frame, her mother would never know, couldn’t find out, it couldn’t hurt her—

Toss it, she said, carefully careless, turning away so as not to betray herself, so as not to see the act, the final fall amongst broken cupboards and electrical goods.

She heard it though, the sharp report of the wooden frame against some solid corner, the shivery landing on the loose sheaves of plasterboard and rock and rubble. She turned back and saw it crowned in a puff of dust, face-down, ignominious.

She lay that night listening to the play of rain on the roof. She wondered what the water would be doing to the picture. Was it oil or acrylic paint, did it matter: were they both, neither, waterproof? She imagined her mother’s face if she’d known, and turned over impatiently.

Every day, covertly, she checked it as she passed on the way to work or from. Once she lifted it with the toe of a shoe. The frame had snapped and the canvas was wilting. Dust colonised the cracked face of the painting. There was relief with the deterioration, less possibility of reclaiming it in a moment of madness, yet still the mute reproach. It’s just a picture, she chanted.

They shovelled everything into the skip and when it was done she saw a little flag of red. She reached in and tugged the limp canvas free. It was a dusty travesty. She let it drop and wiped her fingers on her jeans. Rummaged for the key as she reached the front steps.

Marion Rankine is a London-based writer, editor, cook and professional dishwasher. She tweets @merrrrrrr.