“That’s my Georgia O’Keefe poster.”
He didn’t know what she meant until he saw it sitting there, the bright orange-red petals pluming from the stalk, sitting next to a saggy cardboard box filled with rubbish.
Last time he saw the poster it was facing the building, placed there the night before when he made one last trip to the storage unit with the most precarious selection of house wares: the young couples’ rug collection, an open bin of records, the vacuum cleaner, several power tools, a variety of knick knacks as well as the doomed painting.
A personalized code provided by Public Storage gave him access to the building where he retrieved a dolly and wheeled it to the back of their car to load it up with stuff. He pushed the cart a few yards to test the temerity of the pile and, passing the test, decided to go the rest of the way to his storage unit.
Walking backwards he pulled the cart through the motion-activated sliding doors, the mass of goods remaining steady, and nearly made it into the elevator when the last wheel caught on the threshold and sent a jolt through the cart. Most of his wares fell to the ground.
Cursing, he shoveled their possessions back onto the dolly, finding underneath all his junk the Georgia O’Keefe print. He regarded the slightly broken frame and the poster that barely hung within it before replacing them back atop the pile.
When the cart was jostled a second time by the same foil causing the delicate tower to fall, his patience cracked. The frame, now in two parts, was slammed to the ground and then thrown into a cardboard box sitting by the entryway. He then folded the poster and placed it alongside the rest of the discarded items.
Now here it was, on the side of the building, and she said it again.
“That’s my poster.”
Someone must have picked it up and inspected it before deciding they didn’t want it, only this stranger had the decency to place the piece in a way that it could be appreciated. Today, without the tension and exhaustion of moving hanging off of him, he wished he’d done the same.
Last night was supposed to be the final trip to the storage unit, but they’d found a few more things to pack and here they were and there was the print. Guilt flooded his conscience. He realized what he should have done: junk the frame and save the poster.
He looked at her but she already knew what happened.
Getting out of the car, she opened the trunk and starting unloading. Without saying a word he went and retrieved the poster, presenting it to her with an explanation.
“It happened last night, the frame broke, the circular saw fell on it, I got upset, I should have…”
She had already inspected the piece and set it on the ground.
“It’s fine, I don’t want it.”
“Honey, it’s still good. Look.” He demonstrated the poster’s resilience by reversing the fold and attempting to flatten it.
“No thank you.”
Her eyes stayed on the ground. He’d forgotten how happy she was the day they found the frame at Goodwill and the joy she took in filling the frame with the Georgia O’Keefe print and the pride she felt by hanging it in the living room.
“I’m really sorry. I know I hurt you and I’m sorry.”
They loaded up the last of their things and headed into the building. She held the poster in her left hand and though he knew chances were slim, he hoped maybe she’d forgiven him and would take it with them to the storage unit. There it would sit for the next 12 months. The next time she saw it all would be forgotten, and the fun of hanging it in their new home would erase the bad memories. But when he went to type his code into the keybox she walked to the rubbish pile and discarded the poster.
He wanted to protest but could feel it wasn’t his decision.
Silent all the way to the storage unit, they shared terse comments on how to fit the last of their stuff into the 10 x 10 concrete box. When it was finished they couldn’t help but share the pride of completing a difficult task.
“I feel like we should take a picture,” he said.
So he took a few snaps but was disappointed with the results.
“Doesn’t do it justice,” he said. “You can’t even make out the dining room chairs stacked on top of the couches.”
“What about a video?” she suggested.
She explained the storyboard, telling him the shots she wanted to get and the camera angles she would use. Using the dolly as a dolly, they slid past the open storage container with cameras rolling. He acted as her grip and sound tech, playing the background music while pushing the cart. They were laughing and having fun together, encouraging each other to waste time. Moving had been difficult and this was their first small victory in several days. He slid her backwards and sideways on the dolly so she could get the footage she needed.
“Okay now for this one I just need the texture of the storage units, so you can push me kind of fast if you want to.”
What she intended to be a brisk walk he took as a full-out sprint. He started running and she counted down to the camera cue.
When he looked down at his phone to queue the music their cart veered to the right and collided with the wall, sending her off the flat bed and into a metal cornice. It looked bad, sounded worse and though he wanted to ask if she was alright he din’t have to, the laughter spilling out of her was proof enough that she was fine.
“What the fuck?” She asked between rubbing her shoulder and looking back at what they’d run into. “What happened?”
An explanation wasn’t necessary. She was already checking the footage and planning the next shot.
“Okay, when I told you to go faster I didn’t mean lightspeed.” She sat down on the dolly. “Let’s try it again.”
He paused. “Darling, I don’t want to stunt your artistic vision but we just put a serious dent in that storage unit and almost your skull. Maybe we should flee the scene of the crime?”
After looking around a little bit and glancing at her phone with a long, wanting stare she agreed. On the elevator they joked and stood side-by-side watching what had survived the crash and laughing over the incident.
“You were more worried about the dent in the wall than you were about me.”
“Oh come on, you were fine.”
“Mmmm hmmmm. You didn’t know that.”
They purposefully bumped into each other on the way out and shared a brief kiss before getting back into the car.
But when they sat down and he looked in the rear-view mirror the painting was still there, like a solar flare amongst the garbage. He didn’t say a word, nor did he look at her, hoping she hadn’t seen the print and remembered what he’d done. But he knew then no matter how much laughter they shared or good times he put between them and this incident the hurt would still be there. It was something they’d both have to cope with.