Once, there lived a boy who fell sick. Due to his parents also being sickly, the boy was cared for by his elderly grandfather. After seeing him through the worst of the illness, the boy’s grandfather carried him out into the garden and sat upon a swing. Extremely tired, the boy sank deeply into the man’s steady arms and closed his eyes. The old man kissed the boy’s forehead and, taking a moment to clear his throat, began to speak:
This is a story about The Woman; what kind of woman she was will be decided by you at the end. Just lay back and listen. Feel the motion as we’re rocked by the swing. Where was I now? Oh yes, I remember! The Woman was a child once, hardly any older than you are right now. Her dreams were dreams of a child, too: large white houses drawn on grass, green as lime. That house was always a colonial, red-brick chimney holding up Crayola-blue skies. She slapped a fat, yellow sunburst in every right corner. And when the girl drew herself, it was on a string of her family; each connected, with a smile, hand in hand.
There were a thousand pictures on her family’s refrigerator. Plenty were good ones, as a matter of fact. Since The Woman was five, she’d had a vision: she knew what she was good at. And she found that liked it, too. She’d draw twenty pictures and toss them. Draw a hundred, but only keep two. Traded in crayons for a pencil, traced the world from it straight down to the nub. She learned things and soon taught herself: grass looked all the more greener in shade. Don’t just draw the sun: make them search for it! Lure the eye to where the light catches, you see.
Soon, those colonial houses looked as real as a photograph. Her father sent it on to the paper. It got published. Next day. In a week, the town started writing her. People requested she draw them something, too. One writer had even sent money; she took that job first, drawing Ms. Doris’ cat. The girl drew it all, strange or common. For Suzanne, draw a Sunflower. The Jolly Rodger for Rodger. Or was it for Johnny? But for Janey, draw a portrait of the photo from the card.
After she’d drawn quite a few, she drove straight to the store; well, The Woman couldn’t drive yet so it was her father that took her. She roved the art isles piling paints by the pale. She strode to the front with the shelves carried with her, slapped the envelope stacked fat full of $10 bills. As she pushed past the door, she told them, “You keep the change. I won’t need it now.” They filled the car to the ceiling with the girl’s shopping bags.
In a month and a half, she had used them all; every inkwell drained empty, no eraser left living, each paint tube crumbled down to the dregs. From one thousand and two, she pulled out the one. Bought an ad in the paper. Again. The ad had only a word for the title. Windows. It was something no one’d thought of before! She’d drawn a window so deep you could fall in it; it looked so real it could have really been there. The grass damn near moved in the summer breeze and the sun warmed your skin to the touch. If you set it on the ground, you’d think God poked a hole in it—you stared through the looking glass into a bright, shining world.
Well, the people went crazy for it. Letters came by the truck-load each day. She could draw anything. Anything! You’ll never understand how miraculous The Woman’s Windows turned out to be. Whatever you wanted was yours at a letter, every dream dwindled down to a fee. Abraj Al-Bait for the architects. Gold Coasts in every guest bathroom. The Taj Mahal installed just above the frame of your bed. You could travel through time for a woman you’d loved: send her photo, get back a moment from her day! They are powerful things, Windows. They can spell disaster if they’re done wrong.
She would draw things but one. Never did any repeats, although sometimes her subjects were the same. People soon seemed intent to exhaust her but she rose to the challenge at every left turn. A family in Vancouver vexed her once, wanted twelve Windows and only gave her three words. “Glass of Water” nearly drowned them all, so the story goes. Lucky their windows were open that day. She filled every page by the gallon, full brimmed watered your mouth and your eyes. With one look, your shoes soaked straight through. It sits behind a glass an inch thick in the Louvre now. As it’s been since re-opening day.
Sometimes famous names signed The Woman’s Letters. Mr. Kirk sent her three sheets a day! Fifty Tigers for Memphis, please, he would write her, for the price of some Fifty-one fees! In three months, she had made a menagerie; Memphis Tigers glaring eyes glinted behind bluish bars or horse-grey. She sent Kirk two for free, one for each of his daughters—the youngest cried when she saw it on opening day. A few hang in their frames at the Hall of Fame. From back in ‘96, the same year you were born!
The Woman sold enough Windows to purchase a cornerstone. Raised a house right on top: a drummed-up, dream-house Colonial, its chimney stacked high with red brick. Some years passed and she stood with her family, hand in hand, toes touching lime grass soaked very deeply in shade. For each child, The Woman painted a room—just like her Windows yet, somehow, more wonderful still. So special were they that the Walls can hardly be described. But I will try my best to describe them. Just for you.
For the first, she gave Space. She created the Cosmos: seven planets roved ‘round the windows and straight up the walls. If you looked too long, they seemed to be moving, each sphere spinning slowly on its tilted, tulle axis. Should the lamps turn out, or a bulb burned out, the Walls birthed out billions of phosphoresced stars. You couldn’t count every faint, far-off flicker; even Guisnesse tried until more blinked into life. She installed several skylights. Every restless night, her son bathed in a warm, moonlight wax. It brought his thought to a boil, before melting his queries to sleep.
For the second, The Woman built the Tide Wall. Stretched the sea out to a sightless expanse. For his safety, she’d provided a carpet-boat, wove of ten shades of brown and of tan. On the West Wall stood Winter, bearing turbulent tides. You could catch a fold from the chafe of those waves! Fall fell fast past the North when the Wall went up: it rained fat drops azure-green. Clear-moss blue. Through the South sailed Springtime, singing sweetly in pails atop pale, pink foam. The fourth was painted in Summer, on its very first morning, when the Sun poked its head in through a solid, gold frame. Every morning, due East, light filled up the sea. Imagine, a lake of gold liquid every day when you opened your eyes.
For the third, she shipped wood in from Babylon. Baltic Oak at $1,000 a board! After she laid out the floor, she went on and chiseled it: from dead wood rose the Earth, both living and true. She carved it out soft so the seed might hold, buried it deep in the grain with her paintbrush-pickaxe. Field and flower sprung up from beneath her feet, blades of grass softer and greener than the Mullein’s silk leaf! On a hill, held fast beneath white cloudsmoke, you stood beneath a bay of blue sky. All around you was nothing but the open air; from the second-floor corridor, you’d walk out of her house! Only the Wall to the West gave the room’s trick away, its white sill floating up from the floor.
Each evening, it held host to the setting sun; soft cotton clouds gilded as the youngest got ready for bed.
She’d worked some Walls to be proud of, and she knew it too. She took several photos, sent them off to the Post. She had named them, each like the first, with a single word: Michael, Francis, and Matthew. The names of her boys. In the bottom right, The Woman wrote a note, explaining her project had now reached its end. The last sentence expressed some of her gratitude:
Thanks much for the paint and the pens.
The Woman was old now, quite due for retirement. So she’d sidelined her sable brush. Called it quits. Sacked the smock. Yet the letters poured in, writ by poor, pleading parents, requesting their ‘Jackson‘s and ‘Jessica‘s. Their ‘Jean-Claude Laurent‘s. Paint the sun for sweet Simon. Sprout Daisy for Rosey, too! They nearly forgot to read the note The Woman left behind.
When they did, they were angry! Where are our children’s Walls, the throng wailed, why won’t you build them? What are the Nicholas’ and Nicolette’s now meant to do? The people caused such a commotion that they soon went to court; The Woman was summoned on Sunday one day! She only sighed soft as she shuffled the floor, scuffled up to her place on the stand. Of their questions, she would answer none. To the judge, she would ask but one.
“What sort of woman do you think I am?”
The courthouse fell silent as the Judge did, too, as the Plantiff’s argument replayed through their heads. Simply put, The Woman had mocked them by placing the Ad. In giving a glimpse, she had now deprived them all: no one more than the children. The Ad was an attack against the body of Youth. A Window was nothing now they’d seen what Walls could do; The Woman should serve her life sentence by building them one Wall per day.
The Judge thought so hard that his wig fell off. He sat so long in the silence that the sound stopped time. Not even the clocked dared make noise as a question came to his mind whose answer he needed to know. He chewed until curiousity, but not courage, brought the words to his lips.
“Why post the pictures,” the Judge judicated, “if the ad was already closed?”
“Because fter a lifetime of practice, my project is done.“
The Walls were her Windows, you see.