He had flowers growing out of his lungs now. The same ones growing in our garden; spray carnations, daisies, lilies, orchids. The whole lot, really. I didn’t have the heart to leave any out, not when his own had gone into them both in life and death. So I added as much variety as I could on the 24 by 36 inch canvas, which was slowly but surely filling up with the vibrant colours of petals.
“You okay up here?” Jared's deep voice floats through the wooden room, reaching me before his warm hands do. He’s been baking, because they smell of fresh bread. The scent makes me feel homely, but not enough as I jerk my body away from his large hands on my shoulders. His touch had come unexpected, and what was supposed to be a dahlia was now a messy blotch of pink.
“Shit,” I mutter with a wince, instinctively looking for a cloth to dab the paint with. My arms are flailing as I rush to find one before the mistake dries, and they hit the rest of the colours behind me. A burst of light and dark hues spread on the floor, the splinters in the wood amalgamating with them to create a design. As if having an unintentional rainbow on the floor wasn’t bad enough, the cup of murky paint water that was next to my dad toppled over from all the commotion, creating a multicoloured river that seeped towards the door. I’m horrified as I shoot Jared venomous daggers, but he’s looking past me, wide-eyed. Please no I silently pray, turning to witness what he was staring at.
It was nothing short of a horror movie. My dad was drenched, head to torso, the paint flowing down his head, his face, his neck, his flowers. It looked as though he was crying, streaks of red, blue, pink, purple, yellow, orange. No, I continued pleading, although I knew there was nothing that could be done. His features were already half missing, and the flowers had almost completely wilted away. He was dead, somehow even more so than before.
“SHIT,” I exclaimed again, half whispering and falling to the floor, burying my head in my knees. I didn’t even care about my newly washed overalls, or the wet paint on my butt, or the fact that Jared was saying something. All I could think about was my dad, wonderful and bright and then dull and gone. My dad, tending to his garden and then us, my mum, my sister and I, tending to him. My dad, regaling the exaggerated but captivating stories of his youth and then how much he loved us on his hospital bed. My dad, alive and then dead.
“...alright?” Jareds voice popped back into my conscience as I felt his hand caress my shoulder again.
“Stop,” I snapped, not wanting his actions to cause more damage. His soft expression turned into disappointed confusion for a moment, but just for a moment. Almost instantly, he was back to his strong self, joining me cross legged on the floor.
“Don’t...your favorite jeans-” I started, but he motioned for me to keep quiet.
“It’s fine. You haven’t cared about me turning into a mess as of late, right now won’t make any difference…” he veered off and the weight of his words crashed into me like a ton of bricks.
“No, you know what, that was uncalled for. That’s not how I meant it...it’s fine. Honestly, not to worry.” He presents a wide smile, but his shaky voice suggests that he is everything apart from fine. I’m almost feeling bad for him until I’m not, mad at the fact that he doesn’t get mad, won’t get mad.
“Just fucking get angry at me for once. Can we just have a fight like a normal couple? Is that too much to ask for.” The tiredness I’ve been feeling for months emerges in my timid voice, and I immediately regret taking it out on him. It isn’t fair, but I still wish he would say something. Instead, we’re quiet for a long time, the blistering summer sun starting to fade through the open treehouse door, engulfing us in crisp wind and soft light.
I scan his face, the face I fell in love with six years ago. It’s an exquisite face, truly, but it also holds weariness that wasn’t there before. He looks...older. The bags under his small black eyes indicate that he hasn’t been sleeping well. Has he been sleeping at all? His jet black hair is tousled, but not in his sexy bedhead kind of way. It’s messy, like he hasn’t run a comb through it for days. It irks me that I’m only noticing how haggard he looks now, after months. He notices me noticing him, and I know that he’s thinking it too. He gives a small smile and laces his fingers through mine. This time, I don’t pull away.
“I still feel like this isn’t right,” Jared remarks for the tenth time, looking from the house to me.
“Okay, but that’s how you feel. At the end of the day, it’s my mum and therefore it’s my decision, and what I’ve decided is that this is our place now.” I realize I sound like the typical wife, which is dangerous this early in the marriage, but now’s not the time for changing minds. I needed to live here. For him.
“Inayah, I just want you to be sure, you know? Not make decisions based on your emotions-”
“Jared, I know. Look, I know, and I’ve weighed out everything already. Umma is completely fine moving to our smaller apartment. Besides, what is she possibly going to do living in this big house all by herself? Without Papa…” my voice cracks, the memory of my deceased dad still fresh.
“Okay, okay. Alright. Come here.” Jared pulls me into a bear hug, my body instantly warming up to his comfortable touch.
“Damn, is that the famous treehouse? Your old man really did have a way with his hands,” there’s awe in Jared’s voice as he pulls away and walks towards the wooden house atop my favorite sycamore tree. Around the base of the trunk, a circle of my dad’s horticultural zeal takes shape in the form of flowers; spray carnations, daisies, lilies, orchids. The whole lot, really, just how I remembered it. You know, back in Pakistan, it was way too hot to grow half of these beauties. God knows I tried, but they kept wilting. That’s the thing about plants; you can’t let them get too hot or too cold. Much like life, the right balance is all you need. My dad’s voice, British with a Pakistani twist, comes back to me, as I revel in the scents of his garden.
I didn’t realize how difficult staying in my childhood home would actually be. The tendrils of my dad’s memory drifted around the house, catching me at my most vulnerable moments. My parents, dancing around the house to “Om Shanti Om.” My dad in the kitchen, cooking his signature curry. My younger sister, complaining about having to wear itchy indian attire to the houses of relatives we didn’t even know. All that, mixed with the never ending ache of my papa’s absence made it hard to feel alive.
“What if you got back into painting,” Jared would slip in every few weeks, unsuccessfully trying to get me out of my slump.
“What if you got back into painting,” I would always mock back, though I knew he was just trying to be a good husband. Hard, when your wife was far from it.
“I’m really sorry about your painting,” Jared squeezed my hand, pulling me away from my downward spiral of nostalgia.
“That’s alright,” I relented, and it was. It was because the reward wasn’t the end product; it was the fact that I had started. I had picked up the paintbrush and brought colour back to a world I thought had become permanently dull.
“My father is always with me, full and bright and alive where I need him most.” I lift our intertwined hands onto my chest, feeling my heartbeat finally calm down after what felt like months.
“I’m glad to finally have you back. Have us back. Inayah, I love you. So much. Even though your dad is gone, you have your mum. Your sister. Your friends. Me. You have so many people that love and support you, please don’t ever forget that.”
This time I’m the one who squeezes his hand.
“Thank you,” I whisper, silent tears rolling down my cheeks. After a while, we leave the treehouse and make our way down to the main one, eager to eat Jared’s bread. With his hand in mine, I look back over my shoulder before stepping in. The flowers, his flowers, are blowing in the slight summer wind, and it’s almost like I can see his ashes swaying with them.
And in that moment, all the anger, the sleepless nights, the distance I had created between those I loved the most, all of that was let out in my breath.
The right balance is all you need.
They blew away, far into the distance, leaving me with the feeling that my papa was right next to me. Forever blossoming.