By Jennifer Baruta
Lily and I were expected to coordinate, not to each other, but to the surroundings, like a set of damask curtains (two shades darker than the wall color), or a pair of Kintsugi vases whose gold veins complemented the rims of the tea cups.
Because of her symmetrical bone structure and exquisite coloring, Lily’s quality of beauty allowed her the instincts of the chameleon. So perfectly blended was she, with our mother’s aristocratic sense of décor she practically melted into the wallpaper.
“Beauty is a careful construct,” our mother said. “A pretty girl, like a pretty vase, should be useful, while never bringing attention to herself.” Lily learned to camouflage early. Demure and solitary, she was like a gothic ghost, roaming the halls in rustling taffeta. Part of me didn’t truly believe she was actually alive. By adolescence I stopped asking, “Where’s Lily?”because, though invisible, she was always around somewhere, like a set of spare keys.
Somewhat more rounded, with skin too pale and hair too dark, I did not have the luxury of evaporation. Instead, my mother regarded me as one does an heirloom she felt obligated to display, as if I never quite suited the day’s standard of décor.
Immediately following Lily’s fifteenth birthday, four men arrived to update the tile work in the downstairs powder room. It was around that time Lily lost her powers. It started with changes only my mother could see. A shade of lipstick too warm in tone and so garish against the cool blues of the sofa. A rose-colored dress that upset the modest tranquility of Sunday’s table linens.
It was the tool bag that did it, in the end. My mother did not think a tool bag complemented the theming of a teenage girl’s boudoir.
After that, only three men came to finish the powder room, and Lily evaporated again into the woodwork.
They found her, those three men, two days later, wedged between the wall joists as they were applying the finishing touches to the baseboards. Red blood had seeped through the drywall. Lily’s delicate colouring had turned to something reminiscent of aged stone.
My mother cried, though I’m sure she gave Lily credit for the effort. Grey had become quite fashionable that season.