: : : : :My fingers lingered on the door handle for a moment. Turn it or let it be? I knew what I would see-it never changes. She never changes. I examined the door, two inches from my nose. Its grains ran in jagged zig-zags and lines that dropped off into nowhere. Its texture was sharp and splintery, and I avoided touching it. I could hear her-saying again and again, "Don't lose sight of the things in front of you, you hear me? You've got to actually see what's around you. Don't let the end of your nose just slip right off your face."
: : : : :I touched my nose, turned the knob, and pressed gently into the room. Bright yellow light cut across the carpet, slicing through the faded orange curtains.
: : : : :The room was a mess, as always. I side-stepped the canvases, carefully avoiding haphazard piles of sketches that lay motionless on the floor. Canvases of all sizes and at different stages of completion leaned wearily against the walls. Their angles and emptiness cut my soul like shards of glass.
: : : : :She sat in the disarray like a large, chipped sculpture, ignored and neglected. Her hair, once black, was piled up carelessly. Little pieces of it stuck out here and there. She resembled a humbled Medusa, the arc of her back casting its bowed shadow across the yellow light on the floor.
: : : : :Last night I woke after a dream. In it, I stood facing a painting of a woman, trapped within layers and layers of oppressive impasto strokes. The woman's hands pressed against the painting's imaginary barrier. Her face was contorted in anguish. The jagged brushstrokes that defined her slashed across the painting at odd angles. Completely unblended, its oranges and reds and deep mournful blues imprisoned her. A voice from behind spoke to me in the dream: "Make a wish," it said. Then another voice, echoing the voice in the dream, whispered, waking me: "Make a wish ... a wish . . . wish
: : : : :This was not a new dream. Nor was the scene now before me new. The paintbrush was perched in her hand-suspended in midair, in mid-breath, suspended in a lapse of reality. Though I couldn't see her face, I knew she was staring at the empty canvas, willing it to reveal its secrets.
: : : : :Her head leaned forward. She must have been glaring under her knitted eyebrows. But there was nothing, no response, no inspiration, only the mere shape of a human being. I opened my mouth for a moment, but the thought of speaking made too much noise. The room's pervading silence was mud-thick, suffocating. Her brush bobbed gently in the air now, its feeble dance lacking ceremony and spirit. She had become one of her empty canvases: blank, stationary, and unable to communicate.
: : : : :Light slashing through the curtains intensified, blinding me with yellow daggers that became orange, red, and blue on the underside of my eyelids.
: : : : :The acrid smell of turpentine opened a passage to a memory's tomb. I remembered. Her face, the way it lit up at every finger painting and tooth-pick sculpture. I remembered how she used to warn me about the eyes in the back of her head. I remember how the room claimed her, how the orange curtains became her shroud.
: : : : :Suddenly, she sat bolt upright. Her shadow slit a black line across the wall next to me-a long, dark outline. I stumbled aside to avoid it. The humbled Medusa, the neglected statue, tensed suddenly, becoming erect and rigid. Her brush stopped moving.
: : : : :Slowly, deliberately, she began to turn her head. A panic. My heart exploded in a thousand directions. Its shards speared my stomach, my lungs, my throat. I wanted to flee but my shoes stuck to the puddles of half-dried gesso on the floor.
: : : : :She stared at me. The circles under her eyes and the downward curve of her mouth, all of it, everything, testified against the orange curtains, against the weary paintings. Shivers raced along the back of my neck like tiny ants until I began to shake. My eyes fell abruptly to her throat, to the small, childish plastic bead necklace between the collars of her smock. Tears swarmed in the wrinkled curve of her cheek. I choked, surprised by the sound of my own voice.
: : : : :"I'm back."