Portrait Writing: Travelling Companions
Short story inspired by the painting Travelling Companions, by Augustus Leopold Egg
He hadn’t really thought about how everything had stuck with them. That was the problem with parenthood. Any information you gleaned was outdated by the next day. Patricia and Liz. Just Liz. He had been against that. There’s no where to go when the name is simply Liz. Every nickname would have to be longer or fabricated on shared experiences. Which were seldom in the early years and lost in the latter. Why had he bought them the same dress?
It was the first time they had seen each other in two years. Patricia’s hair seemed lighter than it once was. She blamed it on the sun when they first saw each other. His hair was the same color before it balded and greyed, but he didn’t feel like that was worth mentioning. Liz seemed caught up in something. She said it was nothing, which meant that it could be anything and felt like everything. That made him smile. Briefly. Smiles weren’t really meant to last on his face. His skin was leathery after working in the sun most days of his life. His daughters had nice skin. A few blemishes, but otherwise, the kind of skin you get from sitting inside. The dresses would look nice against the grays and greens.
“If you don’t watch out the window, you won’t know where you are.” That was a stupid thing to say, he thought. Seemed they agreed as Patricia kept with her book and Liz clung to the insides of her eyelids. His fingers gripped and tore at each other. Impatient, he’d always been impatient. Never really had a place he enjoyed being. They were all just the place he was. Their dresses shimmered. A satin blend that caught in the sunlight. That’s true, it was a sunny day, so they might be a little distracting. He was surprised they wore them at all.
The train was nearing its destination. The funeral was for a cousin his daughters knew well and he knew by mention. James was the boy’s name. Twenty-three as his daughters told it. Seemed an oddly young age for his cousin, but there were parts of the family he didn’t know. They said he died jumping from a bridge with friends. He had jumped from that same bridge around that same age. Only, he had swum back up after. He hated being in the same place too long, the bottom of a river was no different. Have a place to go and get there. Patricia and Liz would have no idea where they were, no idea how to go back, where to start or where to end. Maybe that was best. They had those dresses and nice skin and hats with stupid red leaves sticking out of the top. Liz had had that idea.
The train came to a stop around noon. He hadn’t checked the time exactly, but he never really needed to. It was internal, he knew. They all got off and were met by the family. His mother and father and brothers and sister, all with their best expressions of sorrow. His face always looked a bit sorrowful, so he didn’t have to try so hard. After some initial pleasantries they all walked off towards the end of the road. Before they turned his mother plucked the leaves from his daughters’ hats and then complimented Patricia and Liz on their dresses. Maybe that was why he had bought them the same dress. He had always known his mother’s taste.