There was a regal, awful magnificence to the old paper; faded from years of sunlight and duty, and still ugly. It had to go. So they scattered around themselves the paraphernalia of intent, and scraped and steamed through the long, bright morning.
By lunchtime the floor was a sea of curlicues, and their arms ached contentedly. There was only one patch left to strip, around the doorway through to the empty hall. She made sandwiches, and he made tea, and they sat with books of colours. There was nothing there, in that metamorphosing room, nothing but their drifting words and their future.
He left her, when her mug was refilled. A purely male mission for some engineered thing, something that would serve them better than a simple brush and pot. She smiled and pushed hair from her face with the backs of her hands, lifting the steamer with the resolution of the near-finished. It came away cleanly, satisfyingly, that last long strip down the left side of the door. As if, she thought with her eyes on the bared wall, it had been poised to show her this. To proffer it in one last reveal. She knelt down in the forgotten debris and reached out, cold-fingered.
They started perhaps two feet from the floor. A line, a name, and a date. Michael, August 1962. A little higher, David, August 1962. And tucked beside this, and differently coloured, Evangeline, May 1965. The names tracked on upwards. She smiled, touching the lifelines of those distant childhoods; hearing her own mother’s voice. ‘Come on girls, let’s measure you up!’ They would stretch their spines against the wood, her and her sister, toes flexing with the need to have grown. She remembered the day she was the taller. The incandescent joy, and her sister’s grudging grace.
She rose up now, onto her knees, tracking the story of these children. Who had ended up taller, of the boys? How tall the girl?
She frowned, fingers and eyes scanning again, and then again. Sinking down onto her heels as if she were backing away, as if she needed that small distance so that she could breath. The skin of her throat tightened to the point of pain, and her ribs ached.
Evangeline, February 1969. It was the last time that she was there, on the wall, and the ink of her name was smudged and softened. Then there was a gap, before the boys returned, alone, tracking their accelerating path upwards, their two names enclosing an emptiness, an absence marked out in a sparsity of lines.