The doorbell rang.
“Are you expecting anybody?” I asked moving toward the door.
“No,” Richard said following me. He stood behind me as I opened the door, I came up to the bottom of his chest.
My older sister, Lenora Jane, and her husband, Steve, stood on the front porch. Lenora Jane, five feet tall with heels, shoulder length brown hair, hazel eyes and the same thin nose as me, held a thin, long package covered in plain brown wrapping paper. All five feet eight inches of Steve, shifted back and forth between his feet, running one hand over his graying temples and through his short brown hair while wiping his other hand on his khaki Dockers.
“Did El call you yet?” Lenora Jane asked tapping on the package.
“No,” I said shaking my head, “we usually call each other in the evening, but you already know that.”
“Are you going to invite us in,” she asked smiling, “I come bearing a gift.”
I stepped back from the door and swung my arm wide. Steve pulled at his collar of his Polo shirt and followed Lenora Jane into the house.
“I’m sure mom already told you, we’re moving into a new place,” she said sitting on the sofa in the living room. Steve sat next to her.
“Yes,” I said nodding, “she said you got a condo down on the Tacoma waterfront, but that it was smaller than your old place.”
“We’re so excited,” she said her eyes beaming. Steve shifted in his seat. Leaning forward she said, “which is why I couldn’t wait to tell you the news in person.”
“You couldn’t wait until our regular call tomorrow morning?” I asked scratching my head. Richard nudged my elbow.
“No this couldn’t wait until tomorrow,” she said fanning herself with the package, her feet bouncing on the floor. Steve cleared his throat.
“Which brings me to why we’re here,” she said her smile glowing. “We want to present you with this,” she said handing me the package.
Running my fingers under the tape, I separated the paper.
“Don’t rip it, I can reuse it,” she said leaning forward reaching her hand out.
“This isn’t my first rodeo,” I said laughing.
The paper fell away from an artist’s canvas. The back of the canvas faced me. I turned it over. Richard stiffened. I laughed.
The canvas covered in red and yellow oil paint smeared together by my two-year-old self creating a color somewhat near newborn baby poop and proudly given to my sister for her fifth birthday.
“I knew you’d love it,” Lenora Jane said squeezing Steve’s arm. “I told you she’d love it, I don’t know what you were so worried about.”
Steve shot Richard a look of sympathy across the room.
“Now that’s funny,” I said laughing. “Let me guess, you gave El back the picture she painted for you when she was five with the cats walking in the garden dreaming of tuna,” I said laughing so hard tears streamed down my checks. “Now I get why you wanted to know if she called.”
“I thought you might like to frame it and hang it in the hall outside your bedroom,” she said laughing, “you could call it your ‘wall of fame’. Oh and I claim visitation rights.”
I looked at Richard who looked stricken. Clearly, our taste in modern art differed in this area.
Smiling like a cat with a spider in my mouth I said, “Richard, I think this would look great in the office.”
The whites of his eyes showed but no sound escaped his lips.
“We could get a frame for it this afternoon,” I said winking. “If you don’t want to go,” I said bumping him with my elbow, “I’m sure Bunny or Clarissa will go with me.”
The plastic smile of a newborn politician spread across his lips. “I’m sure they’d love to go with you.”
After Lenora Jane and Steve left Richard cornered me. He turned pale and his stomach made a few sounds of protest. He said his eyes looking pinched, “Fannie I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but that smudge you call art looks like baby poop and makes me want to puke.”
“Good news, bad news,” I said, “bad news first, when Lenora Jane claimed visitation rights, that meant there’s no where in this house we can hide it without her finding it and she’ll know if we get rid of it. Good news is, I’ll find a frame appropriate to this grand piece of artwork and we’ll hang it in the office, at my eye level when sitting, in the open space next to the door. Then we’ll realize we need a second file cabinet and the only place left to store it is next to the door in front of it. Will that work for you?”
“Just so long as I don’t have to look at it, it really does make me ill.”
“Since we’re meeting for our coffee klatch this afternoon over at Bunny’s, I’ll just take the picture with me and explain the mission.”
I walked across the street with homemade Snickerdoodles and the Smudge. Bunny opened the door. I handed her the plate of cookies. She stared at the painting tucked under my arm.
“Do I even want to know?” she asked with her refined Texas accent, her long blond hair swept back into a pony tail behind her head crowning her statuesque figure. She wore a light blue blouse which matched her eyes. Her shoulders appeared tense.
“This is not a gift for you, if that’s what you’re worried about,” I said laughing. “It was a gift for me that I need to get framed. When Clarissa gets here, I’ll explain the mission.”
Clarissa pulled into the driveway. She carried a bag of Valhalla Coffee’s Ethiopian Harrar. “I have something new for us to try,” she said waving the bag, her short red curls framing her round face. She met us on the porch. Laughing she said, “Oh my god, I haven’t see that since we were in junior high.”
“You know what that is?” Bunny asked her eyebrows knit together.
“Fannie painted it for Lenora Jane when she was knee-high to a tadpole,” Clarissa said laughing, “for years it hung in Lenora Jane’s bedroom. The burning questions is why do you have it?”
“Lenora Jane and Steve bought a condo on Thea Foss waterway, it’s smaller than their rental house and they need to downsize. So to downsize, she’s now re-gifting back to the original givers,” I said laughing. “I need to get a frame for it so I can hang it in the office.”
“How did Richard take it?” Clarissa asked laughing.
“You know how he is about baby poop, I’m glad he didn’t vomit on the spot,” I said. Laughter shook my body, tears spilled over my eyelashes, “you should have seen Steve, he wanted to be anywhere but our place. After they left, Richard called it the Smudge and wanted to get rid of it.”
“The Smudge,” Clarissa asked, “that name is too perfect, it should be illegal. Did she claim visitation rights?”
“You know my family, when don’t they?”
“You can’t get rid of it now,” Clarissa said taking a Snickerdoodle from the plate. “Lenora Jane’s radar will light up like Las Vegas at night.”
Bunny stared at us like we’d lost our minds.
Two hours later Bunny drove the Classic 54, Bunny’s husband George’s restored 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300, with Clarissa and I stretched out in the back seat like it was a vintage Chesterfield sofa. We pulled into a space at Artco’s front door.
Bunny and Clarissa standing head and shoulders above me flanked me as we walked to the back of the store for the frame. People stared at us like we were two of Charlie’s Angels and a child in training.
“What size frame do you need?” Bunny asked as we stood in the aisle staring at the numbers.
I turned the canvas over. “Sixteen by twenty,” I said.
“Over here,” Clarissa said walking down the aisle to our left. Frames of every description wrapped in plastic sat stacked in neat rows on the shelf.
“How much do you want to spend?” Bunny asked looking dubiously at the Smudge.
“Oh, I think Richard would have a fit if I spent more than twenty-five dollars on this,” I said running my fingers through my short brown hair. “So whatever it is,” I said my green eyes twinkling while making air quotes, “it just has to blend with the green.”
She started digging through the bins on the far end of the aisle, Bunny took the near end and I started in the middle. On the bottom shelf in the very back a dark brown pressed wood frame with a faux beryl grain sporting a yellow sticker proclaiming $18.00 fell onto my arm.
“Ladies, I think we have a winner,” I said sliding it out over the other frames.
“Fannie, that frame almost makes it look like real artwork,” Clarissa said nodding her head, her lips hinting at a smile.
Bunny shook her head, her blond pony tail in agreement. “Well, you certainly can’t beat the price.”
“Then it’s official,” I said holding the Smudge up to the frame, “I dub thee the eighteen dollar Smudge. Laughing and wiping away a mock tear I said, “Lenora Jane would be so proud.”