The Painting - 48 hours to turn back time

Episode 5 – Aileen: New York, 22 October 2001, 9:45 am

‘You’re about as useful as an inflatable dartboard.’  Aileen watched as her younger brother tripped over the pile of books she had just gathered together, scattering them in all directions. Even in his fifties he gave the impression of a gangly teenager.

‘I told you I wouldn’t be much good at this. I don’t know why you asked me to be here.’

‘Because you’ve got the car and can take all this stuff away when I’ve sorted it. Go and make us some coffee.’

‘Great idea.’ Aileen watched as her brother’s lanky form disappeared down the attic ladder. She wondered just how helpful Collum would be in sorting out their mother’s possessions.  Throughout his life he’d managed to do stupid things but hopefully she could trust him with a drive to the Junk shop.

She sighed as she surveyed the scene around her, a lump forming in her throat. ‘Can’t cry now,’ she said to herself. ‘Gotta get this job done. It’s a daughter’s job and I’m the only one that can do it.’ Her other brothers all lived miles away and Collum was never going to be any use in deciding which of their mother’s things to keep.  Left to him he would have dumped the lot; perhaps that’s just what she should do.  She hated the thought of her mother’s treasured possessions languishing in a junk shop, but what was the choice?  There wasn’t going to be room for extra stuff at the new condo in Florida.

She picked up one of the scattered books and moved it closer to the light, her fingers caressing the frayed edges of the spine. The cover shifted to reveal the first page. ‘Presented to Bridget Sheehan for helpfulness and neatness. St. Luke’s Primary School 1934.’

Aileen smiled trying to imagine her scatty mother as a neat and helpful eight-year old. She put the book down. Reading all the books wasn’t going to get this job done; it was just wasting time. Determinedly she worked through the items, carefully sorting them into two boxes; one marked ‘Keep’, the other ‘Junk shop’.   She looked around the attic hoping that she’d finished when she saw a large brown tightly taped box nestling snugly under the eaves.

‘Collum!’ Aileen shouted down to her brother ‘Make your muscles useful and help me with these boxes.’

‘Can’t make coffee and shift boxes.’ Collum always had a ready answer not to do something.

‘You’ve been ages with the coffee – leave it and help me with these boxes.’

Between them Aileen and Collum managed to get the items down the attic stairs. Eager to open the sealed box Aileen tugged at the tape.  It was reluctant to yield but eventually Aileen prised open the box. Carefully she pulled out a sheaf of papers, half-finished paintings with scenes of rivers, fields and cottages.  She turned to Collum in amazement.

‘This is the house where I was born,’ she said, pointing out one of the cottages to Collum. ‘Granda Sheehan’s house.  You won’t remember – you’re too young.’

‘No, I don’t remember. What’s this?’ Collum was holding a small package bound with an elastic band.

‘Where did that come from?’ asked Aileen, taking the package from him.

‘Must have fallen out of the box when you took the paintings out,’ said Collum.

Aileen turned the package over and as she did so the elastic band disintegrated in her hands. Fragile envelopes fell on the floor.

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