"Bullshit," she told me, pointing up at the words scratched onto the blackboard. "We're all dying anyway."
That was the day that Attica and I took some black paint and wrote words on the wall. There was only one requirement: the words had to make you feel something. Attica wanted someone to walk into her basement and be struck with inspiration by the phrase "get busy living, or get busy dying". Except, Attica didn't want to put that one up. As she said before, it was bullshit, it was something that made you think you could control the uncontrollable, and that was just evasive.
Attica started by writing "hardware" with a shaking hand across the back wall of the basement.
"What's that for?" I asked her.
"Hardware..." she got off the couch that was pushed up against the wall and looked at it from a great distance, passing me as she walked backwards, her head tilted to one side. "It's just...hardware." She walked back up to it, as if now she was facing some fear she had created for herself and plopped herself on the couch in front of it. "You see," she told me, patting the empty couch beside her, offering me a place to sit, "you just write the first thing that comes to mind. That's what true inspiration feels like; it's something that sneaks up on you and sometimes you don't even know it's inspirational until it's written on your basement wall in big, black letters.
"Okay," I told her, and she handed me her paintbrush.
F...I...S..., I etched out onto the opposite wall.
"Hey, Attica," I turned around. She was curled into a ball, only taking up a tiny portion of the fake velvet green couch, watching intently as I worked as if she was trying so hard to find inspiration in the letters F, I, and S.
"Mhmm," She was so still, even her eyes seemed to be glued between the S and the blank wall next to it.
"Whose going to be mad when they come into their basement and find seemingly inspirational words written on their wall?"
"I dunno," she said, moving her head just slightly so she could watch herself flex and unflex her toes.
"Okay," I said, and went back to writing.
"FISH!" Attica jumped off the couch as I connected the two vertical lines with a shorter horizontal one that made it a complete letter H.
"Fish, fish, fish," she said it over and over. She was trying so hard.
"I once saw this video," she told me, sitting down in the middle of the carpet, seemingly done with the couch for the time being. "It was a stop motion video of a fish. He was all made out of clay and things kept growing around him and you could start to see all of this wildlife growing around him, with corals and plants but never any other fish, but then at the very end they added a bowl into it and you could see the fish was in captivity. The colors of the clay kept changing with every picture they took -- I mean imagine how long every picture would take -- and then right after you realized he was in captivity, the fish slowly turned over onto his back and he was dead." Attica was now so excited that she had laid down onto the carpet and when she said "dead" she flipped herself over onto her stomach for emphasis.
I stood there.
I looked at Attica, her hair fallen onto the carpet and her feet pointed towards me and then I turned back to "FISH" that I had written on the wall. It no longer seemed like my fish, but a dead fish that had brought Attica so much joy.
Finally, I turned back to look at her, still face down on the carpet.
"Oh," I said.
We slept down there that night. Attica was content for the time being so I had gone upstairs and watched Bones with her dad. When I returned an hour later, she had drawn a fish under "FISH" and was curled up on the couch, the same way as before, fast asleep.
~ ~ ~
That's how I remember Attica, curled up on the fake green velvet, exhausted from the excitement that I had created for her. It was reassuring to me to know that I had made her happy, even if it was just once, just for an hour or two.
When I was cooking breakfast this morning I saw the paint spill on the street outside the apartment and it took all of the willpower I had not to find a paintbrush and paint "FISH" across the front of Collingwood Heights. Maybe it would be on the news after I was arrested and Attica would see it. She'd come to the jail to bail me out and laugh the whole time, so proud of everything I was trying to do to make a difference.