Once inside the high-ceilinged, darkened hallway, Esther relaxed a little. She walked to the bottom of the stairs, listened for a few seconds then turned left past the stair cupboard and went into the kitchen.
She blinked as the brightness from the room attacked her pale grey eyes and headed blearily towards the large metal table in the centre. She laid her walking stick against the leg and smoothed out the print on the surface. Once it was flattened, she stared at it like a mother on seeing her newborn baby. Smiling, Esther moved her fingers across the thick paper feeling the shapes of colour as though they were painted in Braille.
She placed both palms on the picture, closed her eyes and imagined herself as the girl in the painting, sitting on the back of the strolling lion; thighs clenched into its ribs, the short fur tickling her flesh as the beast ambled through the trees and ferns. Esther lifted her head up and behind her lowered lids saw the hovering bird. She felt the wind from its beating wings brush against her flushed face and breathed in its smell. A mixture of pungent jungle earth and clean blue-sky that filled her lungs with the breath of freedom.
Esther let the imagined air leave her body in one long sigh. She opened her eyes and stared around the brightly lit kitchen. It was painted white with cream cupboards. Thin fluorescent strip lights buzzed below the large wall cabinets, and round spotlights sunk into the ceiling illuminated work areas and the cream cooker. It looked as though someone had spray painted the room with buttermilk. Esther searched the place for a spot of colour to break up the even tones, but found none. Not even a speck of dirt, or a blob of last night’s pasta sauce on the grey speckled worktop. The decor had a dullness that was almost tangible. It gave Esther a headache. She massaged her throbbing temples, and with one hand on the table to support her, grabbed onto the pink striped walking stick that Peter had named ‘Her candy bar’ and hobbled towards her studio.
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