Mari looked again at the small drawing pad on her paint-spotted desk, a red pencil poised between her crooked fingers. Today she was going to create something, even a single stroke, the merest sketch. But her hand dangled, the pencil nodding in expectation. Every day for four weeks, the space between the pencil and paper seemed to become denser, more resistant, until now the prospect of graphite scratching a mark seemed impossible. Mari let her fingers open, the pencil tapped onto the desk, and rattled to the floor. The blank paper remained an assault. Mari held the back of her hand over her eyes.
Even when she had been diagnosed years ago, the shock of chronic illness, the hospital visits, the dreary days of affliction, she had still seen the colour in the world. Lying in hospital beds she had seen clouds drift on the translucent azure sky. Sitting by storm lashed windows she revelled in the glory of winter, let it etch its monotone palette onto her brain. Her husband presented himself in ochres and crimson hues. Her children and now her grandchildren, inhabited a world between sparkling gold and darkest midnight blue. Even in bleakest resentment, she had understood and conjured the world in line and colour.
But now? How to draw the undrawable, express the unknown. She was cocooned. The term conjured safety, ease, time, love. At first, she imagined herself new-born, a child again, larval. Later becoming plump, pupate, her needs and development looked after. Now in the cocoon, swaddled and wrapped, waiting to become a butterfly. But there was no shield from the news, the daily counts, the horror stacked on horror. How to launch into such an inhospitable world?
Inconsequential. The word hovered beneath her hand, shimmering as if written in invisible ink, revealing itself whenever she prepared to attack the paper. Inconsequential. Mari swivelled away from her desk, deflated, a pupa flattening. Through the window, another day of sunshine-dressed grass and waving tulips beckoned. Another day of deep unknowing. A movement drew her eye, the neighbour’s cat, a black shadow on vivid grass, crouched motionless, poised. On the fence, a spotted thrush, indifferent to stalking cats, sang clear timeless notes. The call for a mate, the start of a new season. Mari felt a smile lift the corners of her mouth as her face relaxed. The breeze rippled across the cat’s jet fur, and the thrush tilted its head, as if giving him a sardonic nod. Their regard for each other, those seconds of quietness, a lifetime. The cat pounced, the thrush soared, and an early butterfly pulsated past. Now Mari smiled, inhaled, and let her head fall back.
Then pushing herself off the stool, she cleared a space on the wall. She took her widest brush and her blackest paint. Swift, strong, sure strokes. On the wall’s magnolia blankness, the chrysalis erupted, the butterfly emerged. Wings spread and revealed to the sun, it launched, resplendent, into this new world.
Bríd McGinley is from Co. Donegal. A latecomer to writing, her work has appeared in The Bangor Literary Journal, The Honest Ulsterman, Sonder Magazine. Say hello on Twitter.