Family Short Story – Dearest Estelle
In my living room, hanging right on the centre wall is a painting of a black woman clinging to a bible. The woman is beautiful, dressed in a silk cream-colored short sleeved suit, with a matching hat and gloves. I imagine that her name is Estelle. The hat has a large bow that covers most of the hat. Her head is slightly bowed, and her eyes are closed. The bible is pressed horizontally to her chest, and a gold cross on a chain dangles from her right hand. When you walk into my apartment, it’s the first thing you see. This painting has become my third parent, a guardian over the whole household. Although this woman’s eyes are closed in the painting, she seems to be watching and paying close attention. It’s as though my parents purposely planted her there.
It was there when I crept into my apartment at five in the morning from the drunken escapades of the night before. When I considered passing out on the couch, I would look up at the painting, feel extreme guilt, then decide against it. I would then be forced to drag myself to my bedroom, hoping that my parents wouldn’t wake up to find me in that state. It was there when a group of friends came over with the dirty DVD. I did not look up at the painting, but could feel Estelle burning at the back of my neck and invading my conscience. “Guys, let’s watch a comedy instead.”
It was very much a part of my family. I remember my first encounter with the painting. I came home from a rough rainy school day, sat on my couch, and stared up at the ceiling. I glanced over at the painting, and there she was. Stunning. I thought my mother had gone mad and had a painting of herself done. This painting replaced a previous one. It took me a while to remember what was there before Estelle. It was a dark painting that reminded me of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata; a simple bouquet of red and white roses against a dark brown background. She looked like an Estelle.
I sat there and stared at it long enough to realize that it wasn’t my mother, but she could pass for a very close relative. I quickly called my mother to inquire about it. Before half a ring, my mother quickly answered. Before asking about my day, or if I ate, she asked “Don’t you love the painting?”
I told her I thought it was beautiful.
“I know! Doesn’t she look like me? I’m beautiful like her. When I saw it I had to get it. I went to this thrift store and I looked at all the paintings because we needed a new one, and she looked just like me. I have a hat just like that, maybe I’ll wear it on Sunday and buy some gloves…”
As she dragged the conversation longer than it needed to be, I became extremely annoyed with the painting. My mother didn’t even ask me about my day and continued to ramble on about the painting even when she came home later on that evening. She went on and on about how beautiful the painting was, and how beautiful she herself was. I thought to myself, I look better than her. I realized I was acting weird because of a painting and quickly rushed the idea out of my head. It’s just a stupid painting.
This was how Estelle came to be. As people came in and out of the apartment, they marvelled at it. My mother didn’t lose a bit of enthusiasm about the painting. In fact, it seems that she glowed every time she came into the living room and stared at the painting. I would roll my eyes every time a wide grin crept up on her face.
“One day I’m gonna burn it,” I would jokingly say.
She would laugh and say, “Don’t be jealous. I still love you more.”
A few days later, my mother revealed that her glow wasn’t because of the painting. She was actually two months pregnant and very excited to have another baby.
“I couldn’t wait for you to have one, so I’m doing the job instead.”
I faked a shriek of excitement and hugged her. My eyes filled up with tears. Not because I was happy for her, not because of the idea of a bundle of joy would be entering the world, but because we’ve been here before. My mother was pregnant twice after me. She lost both babies because of a fibroid in her stomach.
“Don’t worry. I have a good feeling this time.”
The following months went by quickly. My mom continued to come home, and give that painting her best smile, and then proceed to tell us about the things she bought for the baby, and colors she would want for the crib. Something in my gut kept bothered me about how everything was going. She was much more positive this time though, so I figured I should think positive as well.
“Mom, how do you feel about Samantha for a girl? Or Matthew for a boy?”
The thought of a baby in the house was a little exciting. I wouldn’t boss him or her around like my older brother bossed me around. I would teach them everything I know, especially how to be cool. Yes, this baby would be the most cool, beautiful, spoiled baby ever. I loved him or her already.
A few days later, I came home later than usual and didn’t get a single call from my parents. Hmph. If that painting had gone missing, I’m sure I’d be getting some calls. All the lights were on, but the apartment was eerily quiet.
“Mom? Dad? Marc?” No answer. “Estelle?” I laughed.
I went into the restroom and what I saw gave me a heavy blow to my chest. I covered my mouth, fell to my knees and cried bitterly. The toilet was filled with blood. It happened again. My baby brother or sister was gone. I ran to the phone and called my father. He answered with a distressed voice,
“Mommy’s fine. She’s sleeping. We’re gonna spend the night at the hospital.”
At that moment, I wanted to be near her. Mom decided that she couldn’t go through with this ever again and had her tubes tied. I ran to the living room, and fell to my knees, crying. I couldn’t believe it happened again. I looked up at the painting wondering how this could happen to my family. Estelle had failed. It was her fault. I took my shoe and threw it right at her face. The glass cracked, giving the painting a look of distortion. I stared at her and realized how much more this woman resembled my mother since the first time I encountered. I was sorry. I was sorry for my mother, sorry for giving the baby names, and I was sorry for ruining something she loved. She would come home upset about the baby, and now upset about the painting.
The next day, I stayed home from school so I can await mommy’s arrival. I heard the keys jangling at the door, and immediately ran to it. My dad came in first, then my mother followed.
“Hi Leen!” she exclaimed, cheerful, with a huge smile on her face.
I was shocked, but then I saw her eyes, gray and shadowy from tears. I avoided them, and returned the smile. We exchanged a hug.
“Don’t worry, that’s okay. I have the best two children in the world any way.”
She went straight for her bedroom, and didn’t give the painting a single glance. I was relieved that she didn’t notice I broke it, but on the other hand, I wish she did. Was it over for Estelle? Would my mother consider her bad luck and return it? I didn’t want to add to the stress she already had. I sat underneath the painting, and just stared at it.
It really was beautiful, and I could see why my mother loved it so. Perhaps she purchased the painting because she envisioned Estelle as herself clinging on to a little bit of hope. Later on, as we tried to go back to normalcy, she replaced the broken glass and moved the painting to her bedroom. Her hope still remained. It looked even better between her mahogany bedposts. To the right of the painting was a smaller one of a mother and her daughter, holding hands and laughing as they looked at each other. They resembled us. I knew she thought of me whenever or wherever she bought it and I was happy.