Bob and Mary, husband and wife, parents of two grown daughters, stood in the room, he had a can of paint in his hand; she had a coffee cup in hers.
“So,” Mary said, “why are we painting the room?”
“We are getting the room ready for company,” he said. “We are going to start by taking everything off the wall and shelves and dresser.”
“What’s wrong with the paint that’s on the wall now?” Mary asked, warming her hands on the coffee cup.
“Nothing’s wrong with it, but it’s the color of a little girl’s room.”
“This is Amy’s room,” Mary said. “This is where she was a little girl.”
“Fifteen years ago,” Bob said, setting the can of paint on the one place on a shelf that wasn’t full of books, “but she’s a grown woman now with her own place and neither she nor her sister need us to maintain their rooms as shrines.”
“We’re going to do Ellen’s room too?”
“Eventually, but first we need to update this bedroom.”
“What does that mean, ‘update’?”
“It means we paint the room and put things into storage,” Bob said.
“Most things. When my sister comes to visit I doubt she’s going to want to read Little House on the Prairie or Black Beauty, and I don’t think she wants to stay in a room that has little stuffed animals in every drawer you open and in on bookshelf spaces.
“The Little House on the Prairie series is in Ellen’s room. Amy has the complete set of Tolkien books.”
“Does that matter anymore?”
“Yes, Bob, as a matter of fact it does. The books and the stuffed animals and the pottery and the inspirational sayings that mattered enough that Amy and Ellen put them on their bulletin boards all tell us who our daughters were.”
“I think we know who they were without reading an inspirational saying.”
“I’m not saying we don’t know them; I’m saying the things they bought and arranged in their rooms and maybe looked at every day leave a trail–like what they touched left a little bit of their emotional DNA.”
“There’s no such thing,” Bob said, “as emotional DNA. There’s just physical DNA and then there’s the books and all the other things that children don’t bother taking with them when they move out because they know they aren’t that person anymore. They are someone else now that they want to be and that needs all sorts of new stuff.”
Instead of answering, Mary walked to the window and stared out at the street–the street where her daughters, on the day the family had moved into the house, had run through the stream of water that flowed past the curb following a late afternoon downpour. Finally, Mary turned back to Bob and said, “What if right now I choose one category of things that represent what I’m talking about and we agree that that stays no matter what?”
“One category of things, like books or animals or inspirational sayings?”
“Then we can put everything else in storage and begin to paint?”
“Okay. Name one category.”
“Everything stays that Amy touched.”
Bob looked at his wife; started to speak and then stopped; started a second time and stopped a second time; finally, instead of speaking, he reached down and picked up a small stuffed rabbit with a faded pink body and white floppy ears. He looked down at the rabbit in his hands, and for a moment, just for a moment, he thought he could feel, faintly, an almost imperceptible glow of heat in his hand.