Tattoos like stamped patterns on folded silk. Sheíd gotten them in Paris when she was eighteen, when
a beggar was her friend, the concrete her pillow, and a hard knock her income.
She wakes now with sun glinting off tin, silver hail, surrounding the homestead. Australia -- the place where
she was born and where she will now die. Beginning with nothing and ending with fourteen dogs. Thirteen roam
free in the yard and one hound lies in bed beside her. Twenty years her junior, Bob, the quiet shearer, stares as
though her stringy hair were the sunís own tendrils. She rises from bed at first light. For him the sun is her,
for her the sun is the creator of rainbows. Once, in New York when she was twenty-five, a man with dark-rimmed
glasses stared at her drawing, all he saw was the dark. Though his opportunities would feed her,
she knew she could live purely on the light.
Her skirts that hadnít been washed for three days caught again on the wire. The wrinkled mouth laughed. More purple strands to decorate the pen. More colour in this already colourful life.
She was heading out to the shed, ignoring a subtle growl from within, for todayís breakfast would be oils... She owned nothing fancy to show for her sixty-seven years, except the productions of her soul. Her shed was a relic of the many faces she had been, some laughable in this old, wise state. Hindu, Christian, Buddhist eyes, shadows and light, a child and a woman. She never portrayed men, she had never known them.
Her magenta lips pursed at the eyelids of yesterdayís subject. Her today self did not approve. One hour and forty-two minutes later a replacement colour had been chosen. The hound now stirred, but was not barking and snarling like the others, just peering through two screen doors, knowing not to disturb the master in her oily haze. She had bought this house, and the mattress they slept upon.
They were to have visitors today, to view the art. The art the visitors saw was not just the paintings,
but their maker. A framed woman whose energy refused to age, a woman who controls laughter, poetry tastes, ways of seeing, and her pets.
For this visit the epitome of colour took out the teabags, cut up some oranges, and delved into the
bookshelf for her quote. In the back of her mind remained a vision of eyelids, completed in her latest undertaking --
or were they? The new rose-pink glared at her from her mindís eye. Never had she been such a perfectionist! Perhaps she was finally losing her inner sight.
"Oh, sorry, I was far away, what did you ask me?" A group, four Music students, they told her.
"I just asked how you manage such incredible colour mixture, colours most artists would never think of
putting together... and it works!"
"Oh..." a passionate young mind, flawless skin stretched over her bones. "I just... do." The girls nod.
Miss Fandilla, eyes clouded with nostalgia, now notices the girl at the back. She rises, to point out a painting,
a sleek cat in the world of hounds. Her feline hand on one side hooks her hip, the other fingers are fluttering
feathers reaching for one of the artistís faces. She turns to face the old woman. The old woman sees her face
among many. Paler, newer, without slanted eyes, without a velvet coat, without a mark. The girl only wears black.
The artist wonders why.
"Miss?" she asks.
"Yes?" the girl, indifferent. Did her friends merely drag her along? Was she really a law student? Maths major? Not scholarly at all?
"I would like to paint you."
Miss Fandilla considered. The request had surprised even herself. "You donít like anything."
The girl is herself a canvas.
"I like plenty."
"Maybe you havenít decided exactly what you like."
The girl peers around. "Like you then?"
The feline smile twists into cynicism. "You donít know me."
"I donít need to. But I could look into you."
The girl peers at her friends, eyebrow raised. They are perched, anticipating.
The artist has tried fuschia, and then a deep, lascivious red for the subjectís lips. Lisa sits still silently, patiently, licking her paws, watching her reflection, and days go by. The artist has never had this problem. For once she leans on her hound and he cowers away. What is this worry? The girl agrees to come again and again. Tea and sometimes wine, the kitten toddles. A smile still canít invoke a colour. She tries dressing her up like a doll, a princess, a fairy, a man... still no inspiration.
"Why donít you just start drawing?" The artist pulls her red straw hair out in chunks. She hasnít
been depressed for twenty years, now she feels a wave of it overtake her. She wants to draw blood
from the girl. How dare you override my vision! Memories flood back -- being slammed against a Parisian
headboard; the beggar boy, mangled by a truck; a child, somewhere, sometime...stinking rot.
Her teeth grind, her brain burns the back of her eyes. And just after not eating for three days, when an
old ladyís weakness is beginning to kick in, her Parisian sketchbook glares at her from the bottom drawer.
Page after page -- with no drawing materials she had filled them in with whatever she could find, black/white,
white/black. Pieces, nothing whole. No colour... no life, just death, darkness.
At one a.m. she calls the girl.
"I have returned to a place with no safety, before present time. I am seeing things in black and white."
"Iíll be there soon."
Three hours later, a tall, shaded, inky print is placed in the middle of a sea of colour. A girl peers out, a girl seeing her future clouded. Lines of simplicity but a more complex picture left hanging amongst its sunny rivals.
The hound wakes early for once, surprised not to find his master in the dusty bed. Outside, in the blinding morning light, the first day of summer, the artist is lying on the dewy grass. He runs over, scalding himself with the tea, and turns her face up towards the sun. A fuschia smile like the curve of the earth is tattooed on his brain forever. Passion is burnt into the back of his eyes, whether open to the light, or in darkness residing.