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The Last Piece

Raw canvas lay across the floor, shredded and mangled with muddy footprints. The sink had been left on, drain clogged, and the floor was a long, imperfect mirror, showing the wreckage left of the studio. Amber sunk down in a crouch, cocktail dress dipping in the water, and ran her hands through her hair, trying not to cry.

“The police will be here soon,” said Peter, turning off the tap. “They told us not to touch anything.”

“What’s left to touch?” asked Amber, looking at the cracked frames, ruined paintings, the paint-spattered easel standing alone in the middle of the room.

“You can paint it again,” he said, as if reading her mind.

“No I can’t,” she sighed, stood up, wavering in place, the water soaking through her shoes. “I can’t do it again. Not the same.”

Outside, the sun was setting, drawing long shadows across the room. It was beautiful, the shades of orange and red. She wanted to paint it so badly, she made a fist to calm herself.

“Look,” said Peter, squeezing her arm gently. “I’m sorry. I know how hard this must be for you—”

“It’s all I have left of her,” she muttered.

“You can do it again,” he said. “Maybe not the same, but you can re-create it. I know you. I know you can.”

She shook her head, buried her face in his chest, holding back a sob. He held her, strong hands pressing into her back, holding her tight, and she gave in, let out a mournful cry.

“I can’t lose her again,” she gasped. “What if I can’t do it? What if I can’t capture her the way I remember her?”

“You’ve been looking at that painting every day for five years, Amber,” he said, rubbing her back. “You’re going to remember.”

“I’ll remember the painting of her, but not her. I don’t even know if I remember her face, or the strokes I used to make it.”

“Are you sure there aren’t any photos of her anywhere you could—”

“There’s nothing,” she said. “Everything was lost in the fire. Even aunt Julia came up empty. It’s like she doesn’t exist, Peter. It’s like she never met my dad, had kids, fixed my dress on our wedding day… none of it was real.”

“It was real,” he said, holding her tighter. “I remember her. You remember her. It was real.”

She looked to the side, to the easel, the red, black and blue paint down the legs, the stool tipped over, seat half-soaked, a darker shade of ochre. It was a gaping hole in the room, warning her to stay away.

“I worry I’ll wake up one day and the memories will be gone,” she said. “And I use… I used that painting to hold on to her a little longer. It’s like chamomile tea when my heart was broken, and it’s gone. It wasn’t her, but it was something.”

“I know,” she said, kissed her head. “I know.”

She stayed there, wrapped in his arms, staring at the easel, still shocked at how empty it seemed. Footsteps and quiet radios in the stairwell warned of the business of taking stock of the day. What was gone, what was ruined, what could never be replaced.

By the time she went to bed, early the next morning, she finally realized she’d lost her mother for good, and this time seemed to hurt worse than before.

This 1kStory was written for Nancy ("a paint-splattered easel").

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