If a woman wasn’t careful, she could lose so many little pieces of herself through the years that she’d wake up and look in the mirror one day, and no longer recognize herself as the one staring back at her. All those little slivers were whittled away one curl at a time, landing on the floor and piling up softly at her feet, ignored and unseen. Later they would be swept away and forgotten, as if they had never at all, been part of the original. It was the sudden, stunning realization that she might have been party to that herself, had even been the one that did much of the carving that eventually changed the face of who she was, that kept Isabel up all night. She stood in front of the mirror studying her reflection, dark shadows under her eyes. She wondered how it was even possible that someone she once loved so much, could have just disappeared without her ever even knowing about it.
She dressed quickly and without much thought. The sun was just coming up behind the trees and she needed to be out there. Gathering her smallest easel and a blank canvas, along with the brown wooden case she carried her brushes and paints in when she was heading outdoors, she tossed them into a basket at the bottom of the stairs and turned the coffee pot on. She stood at the sink wearily, waiting for it to brew and the rich smell of it made her stomach growl. She found a muffin wrapped in plastic and wondered only briefly how old it was before putting a few pieces in her mouth and brushing the crumbs off the counter and onto the floor. She’d deal with it later. She could see the clouds already beginning to light up in the sky and right now, she just wanted to get out there before it was too late. It always surprised her how quickly a sunrise was gone. More than once, she had pulled the covers over her head and slept “just a little bit longer” and missed it altogether.
Outside, the sounds of the morning were just beginning. Water was lapping gently on the shore and she thought she heard an owl in the distance. It was still mostly dark, but there were lights on the stairs that led down to the water. It was a long, steep walk from the house to the dock and it was pretty slippery, so she gripped her things in one hand and held onto the handrail going down. The smell of pine surrounded her and the air was cool on her face. She felt her muscles already relaxing, with the exception of that one spot on her left shoulder blade that had been plagueing her of late. She supposed she really should have the doctor take a look at that, but she dreaded the physical therapy that would likely result so she kept putting it off for another day. It was amazing how many things could just keep getting shoved into the background of a life, like that. Thankfully it was her left shoulder and it didn’t effect her ability to paint.
She set her easel up on the dock, grateful that the air was still, so it wasn’t bobbing too much. Painting always cleared her head and she sorely needed it this morning. She would have hated to put it all away after dragging it down here. Placing the canvas gently in front of her, she pulled the small table from between the two chairs over beside her, and laid everything out, just so.
For as long as she could remember, she had organized her life like this. When she was writing, everything had its place on the table: the pretty zen garden to her left, with the four tealights that signaled she should get up and stretch, by winking out one at a time... the vase of fresh flowers to her right, including tiny fragrant rosebuds because she loved the smell of them... her lamp, with the bronze meandering leaves curving upward as if seeking light too... And her headphones. There was always her music. She had tried working in silence a few times when she was first learning to put pen to paper, but it quickly became obvious, that when she did, the end result wasn’t as special. Something about lyrics and music and even simple pure sounds like the ocean waves and seagull tracks she always listened to...lulled her to a space where time was irrelevant and place was only what was in front of you.
It was the same when she painted. All the paints were lined up neatly in rows, caps carefully closed, arranged in the order she liked. Each one had a space in the box, like the silverware that lined the drawers in the kitchen. Order was important to her. It made it easier for her to concentrate. The ironic thing was, when she was busy creating something, the rest of the house was a total disaster. The dust was an inch thick and there were little fuzzy things all over the carpet. Books were in stacks on her desk and there were bowls full of unknown substances on the coffee table. (It was usually chocolate ice cream, for which she had a major weakness.) Her clothes were laying on the bed, on the floor, and on the backs of chairs all over the house. She never even noticed... until she was done. And then she looked around in shock at the hurricane that had apparently destroyed her house. She giggled then, remembering the first time John had visited her at home. The look on his face had been priceless and he told her once that his only thought was that he better hire a housekeeper.
She put her music in her ears then, and took out a paintbrush. Jack was watching her from the upper deck of the cabin, but he didn’t let on. He thought how she looked like a conductor stepping up to begin a symphony. She tapped on her canvas, hands up, quietly surveying her surroundings. Drawing in a deep breath of the spring scented air she called the stillness of the morning to her and then began. Her long hair was lifting up at the bottom corners and moving softly in the breeze. The only sound was the swish of her brush lifting the paint and filling her canvas with color and the gentle lapping of the water against the dock. A blue heron squawked in the distance and then silently flew low over the water, toward her. Slowly, the pink and blue began to dance in the foreground and a small rowboat that was anchored just a few feet out, appeared like magic out of the darkness to her right. She was lost in her own world and he sat down on the old rocker behind him to watch. She began to sing and her voice was clear and strong. He could hear every word across the water.
Have the images I've painted
So distorted who you are
That even if the world was looking
They could not see you...the real you
Have I changed the true reflection
To fulfill my own design
Making you what I want
Not showing you for divine
Would I miss you now if you left and closed the door
Would my flesh cry out "I don't need you anymore!”
Or would I follow you...could I be restored?
I wonder, I wonder
Will I ever learn
I wonder, would I know you, now....
It made his heart ache.
Somewhere far on the opposite side of the lake, Titus stood on the pier looking south toward them both and whispered... yes.