The Point of Vanishing & Other Dreams

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In my blog, I explore the themes that weave through my stories and dreams:

the need to belong, and the fear of loss; the longing for family and home and love; loneliness and the extraordinary power of the human spirit; depression - and hope; the clarifying presence of the natural world, and ways of being awake and alive in the only moment we really have: this one.

I hope you'll follow me beyond the storytelling, and join me on this very human journey....




MoonsilverTales

"Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world." ~Oscar Wilde

‘I dream my paintings and then I paint my dreams’. ~Vincent Van Gogh

The following little creations are taken from recent dreams, rough hewn and unpolished, mined directly from the unconscious. They are the raw material for future Wishing Tree tales, and they are very, very short .

Brushwork

Maddy MacLeod bore an unfortunate resemblance to a fish.  She couldn’t help it, of course; her eyes were enlarged behind her owl-shaped glasses, and her poor vision meant that she stared long and hard without blinking – which, in combination with her short stature meant she was generally gazing upwards, adding to the overall fishy effect.

As if this wasn't quite enough, her eyebrows and lashes were so faint that in addition to the fishiness she also looked like an interrupted sketch.  It was impossible for others to tell when she was angry or happy, puzzled or sad.  This had the result of making them so uneasy that they would cross the road whenever they saw her coming.  Maddy became so frustrated by this that one day, when she was six, she used a marker pen to carefully draw in her brows.  It was awkward making both sides match.  The resulting quizzical expression lasted for more than three months, thanks to the indelible ink.  (It also made her the laughing stock of her school, which, as it turned out was even worse than being ignored.)

Maddy also had corkscrew red curls, a freckled nose, and pale pale eyes, the colour of dirty dishwater.  She was chubby on account of eating so many gobstoppers and chips and pies, all of which made her feel slightly better at the time and ten times worse afterwards

Her favourite pastime was to draw.  She liked to use chalk, and charcoal, and crayons smudged on the tips of her fingers.  She wasn’t very good at it.  She wasn’t good at anything.  But she liked to see things that nobody else saw.  Once she drew a crack in the pavement. Another time she drew her big toe.  At school she drew the hole in Mrs Gilligan’s stocking, and a series of pictures featuring a slowly rotting apple.  She liked to draw while sucking on gobstoppers, especially mint-flavoured ones.  It helped her forget her troubles.

At school she sat alone, and during break she hid wherever she could, because if she didn’t she was an easy target for the gangs of girls or boys who entertained themselves by picking on anyone who didn’t fit in with everyone else.  Every night she dreamed of running away.  In her dream she caught a bus which took her to the ferry and from there she crossed the ocean and found a new land where she had shiny sleek hair and fine dark eyebrows and became a famous artist and was loved by everybody.

The MacLeods lived in a housing estate on the edge of a nondescript town. Maddy's parents were still together, which was unusual in that neighbourhood, but they were rarely in the house at the same time and when they were, liked to throw saucepans and plates at each other.  Both of them worked long hours on different shifts. Maddy’s mother worked at the vast supermarket in the neighbouring city, and her dad worked as foreman at a button factory in the industrial park on the other side of town.  When Maddy came home from school each day, the house was empty.  

She remembered there used to be a childminder called Becky who was hired for three hours until her mum got home, when Maddy was eight.  Becky talked a lot on her phone and watched soaps on the television and broke up with her boyfriend most weeks.  But when Maddy turned nine, her mum decided she was quite mature enough to look after herself, and besides, they needed the extra money.  Maddy looked up the word ‘mature’ in the Collins Dictionary at school and discovered it was when cheese was left to age and become extra strong in flavour and smell.  She didn’t really like being thought of as cheese, but she also didn’t like Becky.  So she said nothing.  Her mother studied her expression and, as usual, couldn’t tell what she was thinking or feeling.  So, ever since then, Maddy had come home every day to an empty house for three hours after school.  She didn't mind. Not really.

The house was full of odds and ends that her parents had found at flea markets or in charity shops.  The sofa was from the local tip, in ‘perfectly good nick’ according to Maddy’s dad, apart from a burnt fringe at the bottom and sagging springs in the centre.  The crockery was mismatched, which was declared in fashion, and chipped, which was shabby chic.  It was not unusual for Maddy to arrive home and find another strange item had appeared in the kitchen or living room. Gradually the house was becoming more and more cluttered, and it was getting harder and harder to move around.

And so it was that, one day Maddy arrived home from school, freshly miserable,  and found a new acquisition in her bedroom, hung crookedly on the wall beside the door.  

It was a painting. 

Maddy knew well enough that it was not intended for her but was on her bedroom wall because there was no space left anywhere else.

She stared at it, long and hard, trying to decide whether or not she liked it.  It was large, and busy, full of people doing things.  Generally speaking, Maddy didn’t like looking at other people; she found them unpredictable and full of expectations she couldn’t meet.  The people in this painting weren’t looking at her – except for one girl who held a small dog in her arms – but were all out and about in a snowy village. There were children sledding, wearing bright woollens, and women dressed in long gowns with hands tucked inside fur muffs, laughing at young men who posed in top hats, twirling walking canes. There were crows watching from white rooftops.  The houses had bulging windows from which light poured, spilling out onto the snow.  

Maddy couldn’t decide whether it was a good painting or a bad one, but there was so much to look at that she quite lost track of the time, and was startled when her mother arrived home with takeaway for dinner.

She thought about the painting the next day, while she was in school.  She thought about it during playtime as she sat on the bench in the rain.  She thought about it as she trudged slowly home, stomping through the puddles, watching a plastic bag waltz overhead and lodge itself in the nearest tree.  

When she got home, she began to examine it all over again.  She began to notice different things.

This time, she noticed that one of the children stood slightly apart from the others, watching them play, his face solemn.  She noticed his red jacket had a hole in the bottom left corner; she could see the snowy ground through it.  

This bothered Maddy a great deal. It was one thing to feel alone and lost and invisible yourself.  It was quite another to see someone else suffering the same thing.  She found she couldn't look at the picture without her eyes going straight to the little boy, and then she couldn't look at anything or anyone else.  

That night she couldn't get to sleep.  For once, the house was quiet; her parents weren't fighting, but the silence weighed heavily on her.  Finally, she got out of bed, switched on the light and stared hard at the painting.  The boy stood alone, as bereft and watchful as before. Maddy looked at her pens.  She looked back at the painting.

There was only one thing she could think of doing that might help.  She chose a small black pen and carefully, ever so carefully, she drew on the painting a long snaking line with a large hexagonal shape at the top. Mrs Terry, the art teacher, would have had a fit.  'What? Drawing on someone else's painting?  Maddy Elizabeth MacLeod!' Then Maddy fetched her painting brushes and painstakingly filled in the hexagonal shape with as many colours as she could.  When she had finished, she stood back and eyed her creation critically.

The boy stood there, his left hand clutching a red rope, which rose up and up into a colourful kite with a tail.  It wasn't a very good kite, but it would have to do.  Maddy selected her black crayon, and filled in the hole in his jacket.  And then, feeling reckless, she added a red bow to a little girl's hair. When she had finished, she went back to bed, and slept.

*

In the morning, her eyes went straight to the kite. There it was, brighter than she had remembered, and the tail seemed wigglier, but that was a good thing because it looked like it was soaring in an invisible breeze instead of glued to a cloud.  Maddy glanced at the boy's jacket, which looked much smarter, and was satisfied.  As she turned to pick up her own clothes, her eyes grazed across the boy's face.  

She froze.  

The boy's expression was not the same.  Was that - could that be - a smile on his face?  Only the tiniest smile, but his mouth was definitely turned upwards.  Gone was the solemn watchfulness. He looked less like he was left out, and more like he was on his way to join the others.  Maddy studied the children.  They looked the same as always, although - was it possible one of the girls – the one with the new red bow - was turned a little more towards the boy with the kite? No, of course it wasn't.  She was being silly.  She was being fanciful, as Mr Scott the English teacher would say.

Maddy went to school, kicking pebbles, thinking hard.

It felt like a very long day.  She got into trouble twice, both times for daydreaming, once in science and once in numeracy.  She was laughed at four times.  She lost her pocket money through a hole which had suddenly appeared in her jacket pocket, so had nothing left to buy a gobstopper.  When it was home time, she ran all the way, and she was glad it was raining so that nobody wondered about the water trailing all down her face.

Once home, she slammed the front door behind her and ran straight to the painting.  It looked the same as it had that morning. Maddy began to wonder if the boy had been smiling all along, and that she hadn't recognised it because she wasn't looking for it.  This was a most disappointing thought.  

Her eyes roamed over the picture again, and she noticed a vertical crack in one of the whitewashed walls of a cottage.  Well, that had to go!  She hunted everywhere for her white paint, and when she found it she filled in the crack and for good measure added some white spots to the scruffy terrier dog, and some white streaks in a woman's hair.  Then she decided there was too much white altogether, so drew a wonky black cat sitting down beside the boy with the kite, with mittens on its paws.  Just in case it was cold.

In spite of the wretched day she had had at school, she slept better that night.  

The following morning, when she opened her eyes, Maddy saw on the wall opposite her bed a long, jagged crack running from the ceiling to the floor.   Her eyes widened.  For a long time she stared at it, wondering if the roof was going to fall down, or the walls cave in, and where she would live if the house was gone, and whether it would be with Aunty Nora, who smelled like disinfectant and patted her on the head and said 'Never mind, love,' even though Maddy had not been minding anything except being patted on the head. This was not a good thought, and it made her sit up and throw the covers off her bed.

This time there was no doubt about it.  The painting had changed. All sorts of things were different. Tiny things, things which most people would never notice, but things at which Maddy was especially good noticing.  The girl with the dog was definitely turning to face the boy, her face now half obscured.  The boy had a wide grin on his face and was extending the kite to the girl.  The cat was looking up at the boy and had one paw raised.  The woman with the white-streaked hair had turned towards the front, taken one hand out of her muff and raised it in a wave – as if at Maddy herself.

Maddy didn't want to go to school.  She wanted to understand what was  going on.  This was both the scariest and most exciting thing that had ever happened to her.  

The day passed in a blur.  She heard nothing, saw nothing of what was going on around her.  Her pocket money was stolen from her remaining intact pocket, but she hardly noticed.  Teachers scolded her in every lesson, but she didn't care.  She thought and thought about that painting, and she began to have an idea.

Once home, she immediately fetched her paintbrushes and set to work.

She added details to all the other characters in the picture.  She added a hat to one gentleman whose hat was blowing away, and drew a hole in another lady's bonnet (apologetically).  She looked around her room for inspiration, saw her gobstoppers on the dresser and drew them inside one of the bay windows, and wrote 'Sweet Shop' above the door. Finally, she carefully copied her own scarf onto the neck of one of the elderly women leaning on a walking cane.

It took her a long time to get to sleep that night.  Twice she turned on her light and re-examined the painting, but nothing had changed. She could see her wobbly additions and they looked like nothing but a scribbled mess.

But the morning came - oh, sweet morning!  Maddy woke with the first light.  Never had she risen from bed as fast as she did that day.  

The painting had transformed.  Everything she had touched had changed in some way.  Some figures had turned where they stood; some were laughing where before they were not; one had even crossed the painting to the other side and looked as if he was deep in animated conversation with a startled looking woman who had a hole in her bonnet.  Maddy could not take her eyes from it.  She looked and she looked, and everywhere she saw signs of life.  The sweetshop now had children gathered around the window pointing out the gemlike treasures within.  Maddy beamed, and glanced over at her gobstoppers.

The gobstoppers were not there.  Not a single one.  Bemused, she scanned the rest of the room.  Nothing.  She looked back at the painting,  wondering.  The elderly woman who was wearing Maddy's scarf had her face raised and was in the middle of wrapping her new acquisition tightly around her throat.

Maddy immediately checked the pile of clothes on her floor.  Her scarf was missing.

At this point, she sat down again on the bed.  Her legs felt shaky. It seemed that everything she had drawn into the painting had come from somewhere, and by putting it there she had removed it from somewhere else.  That also explained the crack in the wall, because it worked in both directions.  

This was entirely mysterious, and magical, and beyond her wildest imaginings.    Maddy looked down at her hands.  They were trembling. Did her own hands do this?  Impossible.  Nothing else she had ever drawn or painted had come alive.  There was no question: it was the picture.  

She did not go to school that day.  She no longer cared what punishment she might receive.  She stared at the scene on the wall for hours, lost in thought, wondering, wondering.

Another idea was forming.  A terrifying, wonderful idea.  Her gaze lingered on the boy in the picture. She imagined him sitting beside her at school, jumping in the puddles behind her on the way home, drawing things with her that nobody else saw.  She would have a friend.  She would never be alone again.  He would protect her from the school bullies, and share her gobstoppers. 

Then she stared at herself in the mirror for an even longer time.

Finally she fetched her box of brushes.  

Later that morning the phone rang and the machine answered it while Maddy stood close by, listening. It was Mr Scott, informing Mr and Mrs MacLeod that their daughter was not at school, and to please contact them as soon as was convenient.  Maddy could almost hear him rolling his eyes.  She deleted the message.

That evening, she was as quiet as a snowfall.  This went more or less unnoticed, because she always kept out of her parents' way when they arrived home - but at least they didn't fight, on that night of all nights. 

She went to bed early that night, wearing her favourite blue jumper over her warmest trousers, and for the first time for as long as she could remember, she went to bed happy.

*

When Maddy didn't appear for breakfast, her parents found the bed empty, and the painting lying beside the bed on the floor with coloured pens and dirty brushes  scattered everywhere.  If they had bothered to look closely at the painting they would have seen a small figure in the snowy scene, wrapped in a blue jumper, holding a black cat in one arm, her other hand clasped by a boy with a kite, with the biggest grin on her face.  A face wearing owl-shaped glasses, with such pale eyebrows and lashes that she looked unfinished.  

But there was no doubt at all about how she was feeling.





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