Mildred Hopper bought two pots of white paint and a paint brush on the 68th anniversary of her fiancé’s death. She creaked her way up the wooden, spiral staircase to her fourth floor flat. She smiled at her neighbours who approached with their offers of help or their coos of ‘good morning’ whilst keeping a firm hand on the bannister. As she opened the large oak door to her home, she pulled the rusted keys from the lock and let the door slam shut behind her. She took off her Clark’s Ciera Pier leather boots and placed them neatly on the floor of the cupboard before hanging her red Burberry coat. She waddled further into the room where her large black leather armchair stood facing a small T.V. with little antenna’s pointing into the ceilings corner, and her mahogany coffee table was covered with a thin, white sheet. Her large red rug had been rolled tightly and placed underneath the window seal. She placed the pots of paint onto the table before hobbling over to her bedroom and changed from her black trousers and red silk shirt into a loose grey t-shirt and grey tracksuit bottoms.
Back in the living room, Mildred decided to look at her intricate paintings on the wall for one last time before she painted over them. Looking at each individual image, Mildred saw the memories behind them begin to trickle past in a slow flurry.
“Oh, I remember this one.” She smiled, her gnarled fingers caressed a faded image of the Brooklyn Bridge. It wasn’t nearly as intricate as some of the other images of the wall she had painted over the years, but it was one of the first. Her mind wandered back to 1947. She could see her sister, Doris, storming into that very apartment, hands on her slender hips, to tell Mildred exactly what she thought of Mildred huddled beneath the covers of her bed.
“Mildred, for goodness sake! It has been a year. Lying in bed all day will not bring him back!”
She could almost hear the shrill voice of her sister as she pulled back the curtains. She had forced Mildred into that dreadful green poker dot dress with the large white collars before dragging her out for a walk in the ‘beautiful Brooklyn streets‘.
Doris decided that they were going to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and head for Manhattan.
“Tony’s just dying to meet you, Mildred.”
They walked slowly together, their heels tapping along the concrete slabs to the same beat, bare white arms hooked as their heads tilted close together.
“I’m sure he is.” Mildred had rolled her eyes at the thought of Tony.
They had continued to talk about things, the little things Doris had declared to be ever so important back then. But as they came to the other side of the bridge, Doris gasped almost comically. Her arm quickly unhooked from Mildred’s as she cupped her palms to her mouth. Wide eyed, she stated with practised ease that she had just remembered something of great importance that she simply had to pick up at that exact moment.
Mildred would have shrugged the whole thing away and walked home with a small smile playing on her lips at her sister’s dramatic response if it had not been for the fact that Mildred had spied her high school sweetheart, William Clark, as Doris gasped.
“William,” Doris had cooed as she turned around. “Maybe you could make sure my sweet sister makes it home safely?” She winked, patting him on the shoulder as she walked away, her hips swaying with satisfaction Mildred knew she was brewing.
At the time, Mildred had laughed and shook the whole incident away.
“Doris, hey?” She turned to William. “She has zero subtly.”
William had laughed and offered her his arm. She took it, admiring the slight stumble that had started to grow on his chin.
At first, Mildred remembered, she was pleased. William was always so polite with her; opening doors, asking her how she felt about things rather than telling her how she should feel, but as they got half way across the bridge her pleasure turned bitter. Suddenly all William wanted to talk about was the loss of Harold.
“I’m ever so sorry, Mildred. About Harold I-I mean. He was a d-decent man.” William removed his arm to try and place a hand on her shoulder, but Mildred had shaken him off with her heart beating heavily in her chest and her fingers clenched. She had assumed that he would stop after that, but he didn’t. He continued to ramble on, asking her how they had met, how long they had dated, how he had died. On and on it went until Mildred finally reacted by pushing him in from of a car. She almost stopped to watch.
But she didn’t.
She continued to storm along the bridge, only vaguely aware of the sound of brakes screeching and the thump of his body hitting the bonnet and a distant cry for help. Mildred never gave the incident a second thought and her sister never brought it up.
She trailed her finger along the wall, stopping on one of the newer images. Unlike the image of Brooklyn Bridge, this one was less comical. She had attempted to make it realistic, but the advertisements on Time Square ended up being blank squares of colour. She had decided on the trip last minute a few years ago, not particularly wanting to deal with civilians but needing to get some fresh air. Once she was there, a young woman had taken to following her like some mindless puppy. Mildred remembered how she had stopped to look at the bright flashing billboard with its scantily clad women. It was hard not to notice the woman trailing behind her. Her hair was tightly braided across her scalp showing her snow white skin, eyes circled by bold, uneven black lines. Mildred had simply turned away from the woman and marched on. Her heart started to beat heavily in her chest and her fingers clenched tightly.
The woman finally approached outside that ghastly store, ‘Forever 21‘ with its barely clad mannequins asking for money. Mildred had stepped close to the woman, enough that she was almost knocked over by the pure, undiluted, smell of sweat and cheap perfume, with undertones of something that Mildred could not quite place. She said nothing as she sunk her golden letter opener into the woman’s stomach. She quickly removed it, pushing the woman away with a gentle chuckle and a mutter of “nice try” before hobbling on her way home. The poor pet died slowly on the pavement. At least, that’s what Mildred had read in the papers, anyway.
The Statue of Liberty painted in 1997. Joining a group of tourists as they made their climb up the statue, she had found them to be a great pleasure to be apart of with their jokes and accents. Their polite way of including her in their group made her almost falter at the base of the statue. Then as they made their way to the balcony of the torch, Mildred had found herself alone with a 30-year-old man whose name she had long forgotten. As the group began to make their way down, he had started to talk to Mildred very slowly and loudly, his hands moving to exaggerate his words. Mildred remembered how her heart began to beat heavily in her chest, her fingers clenching tightly when he tripped into the side of the barrier. Mildred had taken the liberty of pushing him off before starting her own descent. By the time she reached the bottom, the paramedics had arrived and nobody had noticed her sudden appearance. When they finally did, she had shrugged and said it took her a while to climb down those blasted stairs and they wrote his death off as suicide.
The painting of Central Park during the winter of 2000. The sky was pure black with sprinkles of white; the moon a slither of its former self. She was making her way back from a friend’s house when some fool had tried to mug her. She had laughed at him and said she would gladly hand over her cashmere scarf if he simply put his ‘gun’ away. As she unwound her scarf, the man had lowered his ‘gun’ and even lowered his head as she wrapped the scarf around his neck again and again until he was clawing for breath.
Chinatown,1957. She had taken a job in the kitchen and had slipped hemlock into one of the soups a waitress had served.
- She had to go in for a scan after taking a fall; how she had flicked the switch off on a life support machine of some random adolescent man.
Mildred’s heart began to ache.
“Dreams,” she muttered. “Nothing but stinking dreams”. She turned away and approached the paint slowly. Her gnarled fingers slid across the smooth surface of the lid, almost knocking it over as it suddenly popped off. Then she grabbed the red handle of the brush, dunked it liberally in the paint and turned back towards the wall. This time she did not hesitate as the brush met wall and she started to wash her masterpiece away.