I had one job to do, just one job, and I blew it. When my friend Becky prepared to move to a new house, she brought me Aunt Selena swathed in bubble-wrap and blankets.
“Just keep her here until the dust settles,” Becky said. “I don’t want her to get damaged by the movers. The frame is at least a hundred years old and very fragile. It crumbles if you so much as look at it.”
We surveyed the ornate gilt frame surrounding Aunt Selena. Blackened with age, it was a battered remnant of its formerly splendid self. But nothing could detract from Selena’s commanding presence.
“Okay, sure, she can stay here,” I said.
Aunt Selena glared at me from her fragile frame, light glinting off her round glasses. She had those eyes that followed you everywhere. From the looks of her high, tight collar, she must have been fighting for every breath. No wonder she seemed cranky. But Becky loved her ancestor, warts and all, and the portrait always hung in a prominent place in her home.
We propped Aunt Selena against a table in a quiet corner of my basement where she would ride out the commotion of moving vans and packing peanuts until she could be tenderly installed in her new digs. Should have been a simple favor for a friend, end of story, right? Wrong. One day when I was cleaning, I bumped against the table where Aunt Selena leaned and sent her pitching face-first onto the hard tile floor.
“Oh, nooooo, Selena! Are you okay?” I wailed, rushing to inspect the damage.
She was okay. Her icy stare was intact behind unbroken glass, but oy vey, the frame! It was not composed entirely of wood. The ornate rosettes and scrolls were made of something else – papier mache? Plaster? Insulted by such rude treatment, Selena’s frame shed like a shaggy dog. I gathered up the fragments, some the size and consistency of dust, and took Selena to a handy friend.
“Can we glue the pieces back?” I pleaded.
My friend looked at me suspiciously. “And when you say we, you mean me?”
“Well…yeah. You know I’m not good with my hands.”
She got out her brushes and paint pots, her glues and magic potions, and bent over Selena’s frame. Hours later, the larger pieces were glued back into place, but the frame still had bare, pale spots where pieces were missing. To make them less noticeable, she brushed on a mixture of copper, gold and black paints, blended to match the existing colors.
“How does it look?” she asked, standing back and squinting. “Like crap,” she answered herself. “I guess you’re going to have to find a new old frame.”
“But maybe this frame is part of what makes Aunt Selena special,” I said.
“Well, she isn’t special with all those bald spots. Go shopping.”
Which I did. For once in my life, the stars aligned. I happened upon a frame of the same vintage in an antiques store not a mile from home. It was in good shape – a bit too shiny, but an application of black wax took care of that. Carefully, we transferred Selena’s portrait. I imagined her beady little eyes looked a trifle less disapproving.
Next came the hard part: telling my trusting friend Becky that I was a veritable Wreck-It Ralph and Aunt Selena had suffered in my care. In my mind, I ran through several scenarios.
“Look, a better frame for Aunt Selena! It’s your housewarming present! Isn’t it great?”
Too hard to sell. How about groveling? “I’m sooooo sorry, I’m a clumsy clod, not worthy to be your friend…”
Groveling never works for long; everyone gets bored. Maybe a stab at the supernatural.
“Selena’s portrait just fell over, like she was a poltergeist or something. I think she was trying to tell us she was tired of that ratty old frame.”
Becky would never go for that.
Finally, I settled on the truth. “I knocked Selena over and chunks fell out of her frame, so I reframed her. If you don’t like it, I’ll put her back in the old one. I’m really sorry about the missing parts.”
Becky nodded, but said nothing. She looked at Selena’s new frame. She compared it to the old one. I waited breathlessly. Would this be the end of a long friendship? Becky spoke.
“You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble.”
“Well, I know how much you love her, so….”
“No, I mean you shouldn’t have. I’ve decided on a new style in my new home, minimalistic and modern. This fancy gilt frame just doesn’t go with my décor. I’m not sure I’ll even hang Aunt Selena again.”
I gasped. “You mean you’d put her in the attic?
Becky shrugged. “That’s where I found her in the first place, in Mom’s attic.”
I darted a glance at Selena to see how she was taking it. She met my eyes sternly. I’m not sure, but I think she winked.