(Inspired by this post by Stephanie)
“I’ve told you my Bella, I want this picture to be of you. I want to remember you at this age, forever.”
“But this is me, mama. I’m not letting go.”
“Please, just this once do what your mother asks. Please put Maria on the floor. I don’t need a painting of her. I need one of you. Just you.”
“I love Maria, mama, she goes everywhere with me. I bet you couldn’t think of me without Maria as well. I want her in the painting. Please?”
Rosetta smiled, and lay the brush carefully on the side. The shaft of light from the side window was fading, highlighting more of the dust from that morning’s baking than the features of her child stood stubbornly in her finest clothes. There would be no more painting today.
– cut –
“Mama, do you remember when you lost me in the market? Do you remember how you found me?”
Isobella’s mother laughed and flew her arms upwards in mock despair; “Yes, I remember. we looked for hours until we saw Maria bouncing through the crowds. You’d sat her on your head, just so we’d see her head above everyone else. That’s my clever Bella.”
The little girl skipped up and jumped on her mother’s knee hugging her tight, Maria’s floppy form swinging against her side.
Rosetta tried again, “But Bella, you’ll change. You’re turning into a big girl now, then you’re going to be a beautiful woman. I want to be able to remember you like this, my clever, funny seven year old child. When you’re old like me, Maria will look just the same. She won’t change like you will.”
Taking the doll with both hands, Isobella gazed seriously into her lifeless eyes.
“But I might lose Maria, mama. She might break or get thrown away by accident. Do you remember when poppa put her on the woodpile? I want something to remember her, just like you want to remember me. It’s important, mama.”
Rosetta knew when to admit defeat, and smiled. “Ok. tomorrow, we’ll finish the painting of Isobella and Maria. Now go wash, poppa will be home and want his food on the table. I need to clean my things away.”
A lifetime away, an old woman was cursing the dust and her bones in the store room of her house when she came upon a canvas draped in an old greying sheet. Her age forgotten, she knelt and slowly removed the cover.
Tears started to well as she touched the face, tracing the girl’s outline with her gnarled finger. She touched the doll’s head and silently mouthed her name.
“Mama,” she whispered, “Thank you.”