by Helina Li
Issue: Nostos (Winter 2019)
On a little wooden chair in a little grass clearing, there sat a girl with straight black hair and almond-shaped eyes, painting. She had been here for the past few days, arriving a bit before the park officially opens and leaving a bit after so she could listen to the sound of the stream while painting without having to hear the tourists as well. They were loud and annoying and always came in flocks— always wrapped in woolen sweaters and always led by tour guides. Sometimes, she wondered how they could be so awed by nature and yet fear it so much.
But, although irritating, other people were not important; her main focus was the painting; the hair needed to be perfect. So she busied herself with making sure it was.
The visitors came with the sun and the heat, chattering and happy, but got a little disgruntled when the girl did not move when they asked her to. How rude! They quickly got over it, though, the same way they got over most things because to them, she was nothing more than a strange girl. So they did not care enough to step closer and peer over her slender shoulders; they did not see that she was not painting water over rocks in some no-name national park— she was painting a girl with flowing black hair and almond-shaped eyes. They could have seen; they could have understood. But they did not see. All they did was follow their tour guide happily away when they were told to.
When the colors were getting too blurred and ambiguous in her tired eyes, she finally looked up from the canvas and spoke for the first time since the morning. “I’m here because I want to paint hair that flows like water.” She paused. “And I want to paint in her the song of nature…”
She trailed off, feeling stupid when she noticed that nobody was there to hear her. It would be nice to have someone care.
The girl sighed, opened her mouth as if to began again, but noticed a slight spot in her painting. She picked up the brush again and instinctively touched her fingers to her jawline and cheekbone, to try and identify the delicate angle she had missed.
She lost track of how much time she spent moving the undried paint to and fro on top of the canvas before suddenly jerking back to her thoughts and saying, “It will be a wild song… And all will look on her and hear that song and they will marvel at it: this glorious girl with her talent and beauty, more than they will the others because… because…”
And again, she was lost, lost in the back and forth motion of the brush, the back and forth dream that one day, she will look like the girl on the canvas.
She was almost done when, from within a harsh-gray car amid the young branches, came a call— she needed to go. The girl nodded at the silver beast once, then looked at the painting wistfully. The hair was not perfect, and the face shape was still a little off. It was unfinished, and she would never come back to finish it because—
this place was not worth returning to.
The girl took a breath. Then another. On the third breath, she brandished a box of matches. One more breath, one smooth motion, and the painting was alight.
She did not stay to watch flames crackle up and down the canvas, the paint melt and blacken. She did not stay to watch the ashes float to the ground like dead leaves. She did not stay to watch the fire go out hours and hours later, its little embers winking away under the fluffy blanket of red and yellow and orange above.
She simply got into the purring metal cage and sped off into that gray sky, on those gray roads, heading