Putting aside her fears for Jonah, Willow felt triumphant as she looked over her work area. Several brushes held remnants of paint, and tubes of color looked dropped or tossed onto her worktable. She had painted and without any visions of flames or bees dancing over the body of someone she loved.
She stepped back to examine the work. The emerging picture still needed many more hours, even days, for saturations and shading there and there, but in her mind she saw the completed image: a huge, century-old turtle in a wash of gold light. Inside and beneath the great dome of its carapace, she sat cross-legged and wide-hipped. Her figure was a composite of a wrinkled old woman and an oak tree. The tree crowned, green-leafed from the top of her head while her wider hips formed the tree’s base. In her lap lay a picture, not of a sister she inadvertently sacrificed, but a picture of herself now, as a young woman.
The painting had come from the space of her dreams, and the magnitude of its message unspooled slowly. She lifted her hands, touched them to her face, her eyes, her cheeks, her breasts. No loose and creped skin, her face and breasts still vital, not the empty purses of Mémé’s last years. In the painting though, she’d reached arch age, an oak’s age. A rush of surety rose up through the soles of her feet. She would live to be the ancient crone who looked down at a younger Willow with motherly love.
Willow’s euphoria expanded. She didn’t doubt or question, she closed her eyes, reached her arms out, and opened her hands. Reality was not the hard ball the world supposed. Reality was more a balloon—able to stretch on all sides to accommodate the miraculous.
When the surge settled, she headed for the stairs and the people two stories below. If she remained in the attic even to clean her brushes and recap her tubes: Madder blue, Prussian green, terre-verte, and cadmium, she might pick up a brush, dab it in color, and be swept away for another twelve hours. She needed to hold Prairie, to tell her that from now on everything was going to be all right.
Coming out of the staircase into Mémé’s room, Willow hurried across the floor, tossing her robe onto the bed, and pulling on the jeans she wore the day before. She opened the drawer on Mémé’s stacked sweaters and settled on a raspberry-peach of wool and angora.
Hurrying made her dizzy. She came down the main stairs slower, with one hand on the rail, and her mind buzzing with excitement. She would paint more portraits like the one in the attic. Not copies of faces but inspirational works, trying to imagine and capture the essence of a person’s highest, not-yet-realized divinity. The world was saturated with lavish imagery of the saints, angels, and gods, which humans were trained to venerate. Didn’t un-realized gods also deserve spiritual images? Weren’t they still gods, the way a sapling was still a tree?
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