Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Sally, interrupted

Sally's curly hair was tied back, but loosely. You could see blue and green highlights on the front, where her locks played weightlessly on both sides of her face. She always messed up her hair when she was painting, pushing it back out of her eyes with her messy hands. You'd think she was finger painting, the way her hands looked.

Her study was a colorful splash of work, with a multitude of canvas strewn together across the side walls, flanked by plastic covers and broken down easels piled up in a corner. Palettes of dried oils lay randomly on the floor, meshing with the thin, dirty carpet. And the sketches. Dozens of sketches were scattered about, waiting for completion.

She stared at us blankly for a moment and went back to her painting. Walter took me by the arm and guided me behind her. She was painting a field. An open field, in a prairie somewhere. There were trees and bushes, but it was mostly just open field with its contours.

"Sally, it's Mick," Walter told her. "You used to go out with him, remember?"

She didn't budge. If she remembered, she showed no sign.

We had gone together, her and I, in junior high. For a short while. Walter and I were friends, which had made things complicated. I wanted to sleep with her, but it went against the guy code. After high school she studied art. During her second semester she was violently raped in the campus parking lot. She was eighteen years old then. She never returned to school.

We stepped outside, into the living room.

"After the incident she became withdrawn. Hardly speaks at all, and then just enough to communicate her basic needs," Walter explained. "It's been almost ten years now, and all she does is draw and paint."

"Her memory?" I asked, gently.

"Oh, it's hard to tell for sure, but I think she remembers a lot of stuff. It's just that..." he hesitated. "Well, if she sees things the way she paints them, it's not hard to understand."

"What do you mean?"

"Her sketches are blurry. They don't have any fine lines in 'em. She doesn't commit to any definitive borders. Everything's cloudy. And she only paints with a wide brush, stroking gently and unevenly, allowing for a whole lot of interpretation."

"But, what's wrong with that?"

"Nothing. Nothing at all. But if she sees people and things in that same blurry way, it's not hard to see why she doesn't recognize anybody. If she doesn't give people any definition, they can't disappoint her. They can't hurt her."

I looked around at the bare walls.

"You don't hang any of her paintings?" I asked.

"She never finishes them. All her work halts at a midpoint. It gets interrupted, somehow, and is then left incomplete."

"Like her life," I whispered, shaking inside.

Walter smiled sadly. "Yes," he said, "like her life."

We said our good-byes. I promised to come by again, when I was back in town. He nodded. We both knew I wouldn't be back. It's too hard to look at human frailty that closely.

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