Fran stared at the barren wall with her weathered hands on her denim covered hips. Flecks of packing peanuts clung to her grungy tee-shirt and upon her sagging ponytail. Cardboard boxes surrounded her in untouched towers. Folded flaps were nestled inside each other with thick creases on each edge. Fran’s strict penmanship coated the sides in thick black marker, noting the current contents around previously scratched out labels. Her thick curls waved with a breeze from the propped open front door.
Tina’s slim form filled the doorway and she leaned against the threshold, panting. The square box in her arm jangled with the loose pots resting within the dented sides.
At the sight of an entranced Fran, Tina rolled her eyes and tried to catch her breath. With a heave and a clank of metal, she strode down the hallway, passed Fran’s pensive position and maneuvered through the maze of towers to reach the bursting kitchen. She found a spot by the glistening oven and bent down to drop the box onto the floor. The cardboard landed with a clash and a pop in her back.
Tina straightened with a grimace on her face and a hand on her spine.
“Only four or five more,” she said.
Tina found her water bottle hidden in the shadows of a pair of boxes she had recently slid onto the faux marble counter. One was the third labeled dishes while the other, utensils. She took the plastic bottle with tired fingers and tilted it for a sip. As the warm water hit her tongue, she wished she could remember where her purse had been hidden. A nice, full bottle of aspirin was nestled within the mess of her squat brown bag. She swallowed and set the bottle aside. She padded back out into the labyrinth covering the beige carpet coating the living room.
Tina scanned the right angles. “So…do you want them in here or the bedroom?”
Fran grunted again.
Tina tossed her bangs with a weary exhale. She shook her head and came to stand at Fran’s side. Two bubble wrapped frames, large enough to reach Tina’s hips, leaned against the brick hearth and a gaping wall rose above the mantle.
“Made up your mind yet?” asked Tina.
“No…” Fran crossed her arms and frowned.
“Maybe you should take a break. You’ve been staring at it since you brought them up.” Tina glanced around the room, noting the array of boxes she had brought up the two sets of concrete stairs in the meantime.
“Maybe,” Fran murmured. “I think I’ll feel better when I’ve made up my mind about it.”
“How about this.” Tina reached down and ran her nearly numb fingers around the first frame. She pulled off the clear packing tape and drew away the opaque bubble wrap. With a flare of her tired arms, she hoisted the freed ocean scene upon the mantle. “Take a look from the other side of the room.”
Fran let out a worried grumble and did as she was told.
Tina squatted down before the hearth and repeated the process on the sailboat painting wrapped carefully within another mile of bubble wrap.
“I like how the orange in the sunset matches the brick…” mused Fran after a shuffle of boxes enabling her to reach the back wall.
Tina glanced up. “I can see that…” She gave Fran a few more moments of consideration. “Now close your eyes.”
Tina glanced across the room and saw Fran had dutifully shut her lids even after the tentative murmur. Tina took the painting from the mantle. She rested it against the hearth and replaced the void space with the sailboat. Bright foam rushed against the bow and the sails seemed to fill with the gust coming through the open door.
“Now look again.”
“Hum…” Fran mused. Tina held her tongue and hoped for a decision. “I think…I think that works better. It’s smaller so I think the sconces will fit too.”
Tina let out a long exhale. “Great.”
“No. No althoughs. That’s what your instinct said so for now, go with it.”
Fran sighed. “You’re probably right.” Over the maze of cardboard Tina saw Fran blink her once singled minded eyes from the mantle. Fran’s dark gaze widened as if realizing the state of clutter filling the rest of the room. “And anyway, once all these boxes are out of the way it’ll look totally different.”
“But we better get the rest out of the truck. No sense in trying to decorate in this mess.”
Tina let out a light snort. She leaned against the mantle supporting the large frame. Her elbow jutted towards the bow. “You think so?”
“Of course…” Fran trailed and she paused halfway towards the door. Her cheeks flushed. “I guess I got a little distracted.”
Tina smiled and stepped off the hearth. She patted Fran’s shoulder and guided them both back down the hallway. “You get the two marked books and we’ll call it even.”