Red cover, 9 by 12, one hundred per cent rag. She was good at art, the nuns said, and she walked home from school with her watercolor picture of the church tower, the outline of the bell visible in the shadowy window. (On the corner the drugstore where eighty years later she will have coffee with her daughter; she will be thin and light as a girl again, her bones as porous as a bird’s.)
But this girl, her thinking eyes, white blonde hair, her face smoothed of its need for happiness, this girl, picture in one hand, her dress a starched handmedown from a chain of sisters – she walked home to the house that eighty years later she will not be able to distinguish from the houses on either side.
Her sketchbook had 24 pages but only 6 are left. She has drawn a vase, a bird, a fern, a face begun and rubbed out, a tree with no leaves. (She will sit drinking coffee from a too-big cup, her wrist trembling with the effort.)
The tree has no leaves, it reaches off the page, branches lopped by the edge. (The sidewalk is slate, the trees in the park are new trees, the drugstore a coffee shop now, the house any house on a certain street. Her eyes, milky blue, look intently at her daughter, her shadow.)
Holding the picture of the church, she skipped, almost home, knowing its exact dimensions, the shrill creak and clap of the door, the scrape of the chair as she put the picture on the table. The tree leafless, is graceful, ends with the paper’s grain. The house is there, there, there.
Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection) — both by Random House. Currently, she is working on a dystopian novel about oldsters. She teaches fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.