As she walked out onto the pier after a long day of work and stress the breeze welcomed her forward, her heart singing out to the blue salt. Her golden retriever ran up ahead to check for danger. Claudia found her nausea clearing, giving her space to breathe. The sun pierced the sea line as it finished another day’s work. She was barely thirty but with the grey tufts of hair framing her wrinkled face she could pass for older. The memory of her family smeared all over her face like a thick foundation creating a shadow of sadness. The old, croaky pier never changed for as long as Claudia could remember. With its sun tinged wooden planks, the brown colour had faded to a white showing its age. The pier, like Claudia, had been made in 1982 close to the family home which she grew up in and was now selling. It was too big for Claudia and her dog and it was only good for bringing back the memories of her family. Most nights after work Claudia would escape to the old pier which was rotting away from all the years of salty breeze eating away at it. But the smell greeted Claudia all the same. She exchanged smiles with the people that walked past. The pier was decorated with rock towers that families left behind as memories from their holiday. Both sides of the pier had amazing pops of colour. The old painted pictures had faded, but the new ones shone bright enough to make up for it. Claudia had only ever painted one, which was faded close to grey but was still recognisable. She never looked at it, as it brought back to many memories. But today, on the 10-year anniversary she did.
It was an old rock, about a metre long and half as tall, but it was decorated with the most beautiful family tree, with four stick figures below. Two young girls and two adults. Claudia’s mother was a painter, she produced the most extraordinary works that bled colour and feeling. All her other works she sold for money, leaving Claudia with only this rock. One look and Claudia was pulled back to the exact day remembering it word for word. Like an old record that she played on repeat.
“Girls, don’t run off too far, your father won’t be long. You know how slow he is walking up the pier.” Mum said as she poured the paints out in front of her. The colours flowed like a river, creating a rainbow serpent. She sat down in front of the golden, brown rock, crumpling her face as she thought of what to paint.
“What should mummy paint girls?” huffed dad as he ran up behind Chloe, picking her up and soaring her higher than the highest plane.
“A big giraffe,” I said. I loved giraffes, they were in all my picture books and in every story I wrote.
“Not a giraffe, that’s stupid. I want a tree.” Chloe said as dad placed her back on the ground. He then crept up behind mum, who was still frowning at the rock. He gave her a big cuddle, wrapping her into his chest.
“Paint a family tree, with all the colours of the rainbow and a giraffe eating at its leaves,” said dad. Who then let go of mum and ran after me. I thought dad was as fast as the wind, catching me in only a few strides, grabbing me around the waist and lifting me into the air. From up here I felt like a giraffe, grazing through the big leaves and smelling the sweet scents of summer.
Mum sat for hours painting the tree, putting careful details into the roots, right up through the leaves. The big giraffe was white with brown spots and a pink nose. Dad, Chloe and I ran up and down the pier all morning creating a ruckus. Stomping our big feet like a dinosaur or flapping our wings like giant birds. Our imaginations running wild until we tired and sat around mum. Watching her every stroke. Paint covered her hands right up to her forearms, leaving a rainbow mess. Her eyebrows twitched with every movement, but her hands stilled on the rock. Chloe grew bored of watching mum and quickly went back to chasing dad up and down the pier. But I didn’t move from her side for the rest of the day. Mum even let me paint the family, four little stick figures in bright rainbow colours. She laughed as I made a mess of her masterpiece, then wrote our names on it. I held mums’ hand as we walked back home, the wet paint that was all over her hands covered mine as I squeezed her fingers. Chloe was on dad’s shoulders, our smiles matching as we ended what I thought was the best day of my life.
Tears bubbled out of Claudia’s eyes as she turned away from the painting. She looked at her hand which was once smeared with paint, to only be met with pulled, hollow skin. Claudia whistled to her dog and walked back down the pier, wiping the tears off her face. Her golden retriever ran up behind her, huffing and puffing, wagging his tail and looking at Claudia with concern. He licked her hands, leaving them wet and sticky, just how her hands felt when they were covered in paint. Claudia missed her paint covered hands, almost as much as she missed her rainbow family.
By Hailee Pickering