She should not have died. If anything he should be the one lying peacefully under the rich earth, sodden by the rain that drummed down upon it. Illness should have swept him up in its sickly, muggy embrace and smothered him silent. It should not have been her.
Beatrice Jacobi was always full of life, which was why it baffled her elder brother so much that he had outlived her. She was such a creative soul, with one of the greatest imaginations he had ever known, and so smart too. It was no doubt that she would have done well in her education, she would have gotten a good job and lovely husband, raised a family with whom she could have shared her stories with, and when she was in old age share them again with bright-eyed grandchildren who would hang onto every word she said. She deserved to live that.
The same could not have been said for George, who at thirty-two looked back on his life with regret and disappointment. He seemed to have lost his passion - once he could have been just as creative as Beatrice, he always fancied himself a writer - perhaps it had died along with the rest of his family. A depressing notion but true all the same. Their father had died long ago in war, their mother stolen by cancer halfway into his twenties, older members of the family seemed to drop like flies. It would not surprise George if he was to go next.
He plucked the saturated bouquet of sad purple flowers from the grave that some friend of hers had likely dropped -- no, carefully placed there at the funeral some days ago. He would get her some nicer, fresher flowers for the next visit; begonias, perhaps, she always liked those.
Trudging his way back to the car he relinquished a sorrowful sigh as he remembered the next destination. He had hoped to go back home to a cup of coffee and central heating but instead he decided it was time to collect his sister’s belongings from her flat. Her roommate had been ringing him up to whine about it still being there, but he didn’t exactly want to go through it all. It was like clearing out a dusty attic, tiring and a cause to make his eyes water, and continuing so fast would just blow more dust up into his eyes. He just wanted to clear it out slowly - everyone should mourn at their own pace.
The rain had not let up when he got there and everything still felt so dreary. Even when he was let inside to the warmth.
“Um, it’s through there,” her roommate pointed vaguely in the direction of the room he already knew the position of. “I put some of the things that were hers in here, but I haven’t touched her room.”
“Oh, okay.” George nodded and took the cardboard box he was presented with, haphazardly packed with various trinkets and a worn pair of shoes which sat on top of a navy blue jacket.
“Take as long as you need.”
He nodded again and walked toward his sister’s room, making sure not to drop the flat pack boxes he carried under his arm when he opened the door. It was a good thing that Beatrice was never a messy person. Her room was relatively neat, everything unnecessary put in boxes under her bed, this made the moving of her belongings easier but it didn’t help with the sorting any. He placed the full box on the corner of her bed and the flat ones propped up against it before he closed the door and took a sigh.
Unsure of where to begin he settled for the desk where most of the clutter congregated. It was piled with papers, work that now meant nothing and text books she would no longer need, pens sat nestled in a pot itching to be used, but it was the small diary that sat amidst it all that caught George’s eye. He didn’t want to pry into her personal life, it was nothing like that, but she had written ‘Our Wonderful Week’ on the front, a phrase he had come to know. She often would bring it up, there was no wonder as to why.
Gently he lifted it up and opened it, her handwriting neatly formed the beginning’s of a story, “It was those lazy summer days. I remember the long journey on the train, the endless chugging, the whirring image of the countryside flashing by my window..."
The imagery sent his mind back to that summer, he was nineteen and she was just eight but the memory always stayed just as vivid in her mind as the week in which it occurred. Of course he didn't forget it either, it was a strange and brilliant time. George walked back and found the bed, he sat on the edge and skimmed through the little book, it was filled with the story of that week, every little detail - the memory of what had been said was impeccable, some things George had forgotten. It wasn't the full story though, there were some memories that were his own.
He brought the diary down and settled his gaze on the floor. Beatrice had always wanted to write a book, and that time in their lives made the perfect story, George guessed that she planned on publishing it. She would never know the thrill of having a copy of it in her hand, name plastered across the cover. It had been worked on a long time, he could tell by the slow change in handwriting style and the differing colours of pen - some words had been written out as the pen gave no ink and hastily scribbled over the top with fresh - sometimes she had used pencil and there were many words scribbled out in frustration, paragraphs written out in multiple different styles, annotations and doodles covering the small spaces at the sides. He blinked to focus his vision again, eyes catching on something he hadn't noticed before. A small golden corner poking out from beneath a cloth, or rather it was a very faded gold. In all that time he had forgotten that it was in Beatrice's possession. It was his now, he supposed.
Putting the diary to one side he leant over to remove the cloth. The painting was just as it had been all those years ago, it felt so strange to be seeing it now. A young woman posed in front of some trees, still and calm, fair skin tinged with redness around her cheeks and knuckles; hands held together in front of her. Her dress was the same, and as was that shy smile, that sparkle in her eye. A small smile tried to appear on George's own face at the sight - he could not tell if she was as beautiful as the first time he laid eyes on her, less so or perhaps more. She was eternal, always....just as she would ever be.
After a few moments he turned away and decided to bring his focus back to the belongings which did not belong anymore, to carefully pack away.
"Aunt Lenora, who is she?" Beatrice inquired, tilting her head. "She's very pretty."
"I don't know, my dear, she came with the house. There might be a name on the back," Great Aunt Lenora replied.
George, being the eldest child and the nearest, lifted the painting from where it rested against old boxes and carefully turned it on its corner. It was dark in the small attic, the only light coming in through the stairway and even then Lenora's broad frame was blocking out some of the light. He frowned as he focused on the back, looking for any indication as to the identity of the girl in the portrait. He could just make it out.
"There," he pointed so his little sister could see. "Can you see what it says, Bea?"
The girl walked closer and focused hard on the area he pointed to, there was shaky cursive lettering that lifted up as the writer had no indication of a straight line.
The rain had slowed a tiny bit by the time George had gotten home. He left his sister's things in the hallway, too tired and just perhaps a bit too lazy to move them anywhere else.
It was late afternoon, already dark by the sullen grey clouds that packed the sky, and he had just removed frozen leftovers from a few weeks previous from the freezer. He would heat it up later for dinner, he couldn't be bothered to cook. Not yet.
He was stood looking at the sad tupperware tub, playing with the ring on his finger when he was startled by the phone's shrill ringing. He thought about letting it ring out - if it was important they would call again - but decided against it. He could use some human interaction.
"Hello?" The same mildly chipper greeting came out of his mouth.
"Hi, darling. I know you said not to bother you and that you're fine, but really, George, how're you holding up?" The familiar warm tone flowed through the phone. Julie, his fiancee.
"I am fine," was his reply.
"Really? Come on. I know you're just sayi--"
"George, darling. You are."
He sighed, he was.
"Okay so, yeah, I'm not good but that's...that's expected, that's all right. I've been through this before, I can handle it."
"I know, I know, I'm sorry. I just wanted to make sure that everything is okay. Beatrice was all you had, she was your sister. I just...if you need me..."
George paused, carefully trying to order the words so that he didn't say "I don't need you."
He shut his eyes tight, mentally cursing the fact he had actually said it. Quickly he began to stutter as he backtracked.
"N-no, not that I don't need you, but just...I-I'm fine. Honestly. You have work, better things to do than watch me mope around all day."
"If you're sure, but please, if you need me I'm here."
"I know. I love you."
"I love you, too. Talk soon?"
He hung up, putting the phone back in its place. He had known Julie for a few years, and had asked for her hand in marriage just a few months prior. She was kind and hardworking with honey coloured hair and pale blue eyes. Their relationship was rather complicated, and often it was placed at long distance, she took a job further away from George not soon after their engagement. Of course he implored that she take it, and she did, but it set hopes of marriage back. Yet George didn't really want to get married so soon anymore.
He flicked on the kettle, a gentle hiss beginning to rise from the machine as the water inside began to bubble, before he left the kitchen to switch on the other lights in the house. He didn't want to live in a metaphor of sadness; a dark, empty house with rain lashing against it.
The lightswitch for the hall was placed behind the pile of his sister's things, all it took was for him to lean across to reach it but he never even made it anywhere near. He stopped in his tracks, feeling his heart lurch as he noticed it.
The woman in the painting was gone.