She lived in the old house, last in the row of dwellings on the road that snaked through the village. Her parents perished when she was little and she grew up on the alms and kindness of the villagers. She worked for every household in gratitude for the food and tinder they gave her. She was kind, but rarely smiled and always kept to herself. Her very sad eyes, deep and bottomless, made many feel like they were about to lose their mind.
As she was growing, she became more of a hermit spending her spare time making small crafts that she later sold at fairs and reading books that her parents left her. They were not many, but they opened the world to her – all that laid beyond her house on the edge of the village. She also wrote a lot and liked to paint. Her stories were about far away lands, fantastic animals and people who fell in love. In her paintings, she created unearthly landscapes and heavenly star constellations. She enjoyed spending time with children. Even when she grew up, her friends were the many neighborhood kids who came to her to listen to and look at her stories. Children were not afraid to look into her eyes because there they were able to see the faraway places and brilliant stars.
Adults on the other hand, grew very fearful of her. Silence made them uneasy because they suspected she was plotting something against them. Her love for books and stories was too frivolous for a woman, they said. She was told to think about marrying a good man. Though she had many suitors, they were not good because they were all married. Men lost their heads, when they looked into her eyes, and women lost their tempers. Neighbors stopped needing her help. Their children were forbidden to be her friends lest they contract the disease she had in her mind. But younger kids were still sneaking into her house at times bringing her food and eagerly listening to every word of her magical tales.
Thus, she lived alone on the edge of the community, becoming more and more a part of the forest that surrounded the village. One evening, when she was painting sunset, which under her brush looked like a miniature reality, someone knocked on her door. She rarely got visitors and didn’t expect any good news from the ones that rarely came. With a sigh of premonition, she walked to the door. She opened the latch and saw one of her neighbors – man with a red face and a paunch. He couldn’t breathe properly because his corpulent complexion wore him out of breath.
He wanted to see her painting, but she knew his interest was feigned. He wanted to listen to her stories, but his ravenous eyes gave him away. She said No and asked him to leave. When he hit her, she felt on top of the easel bringing it down to the floor along with the wrecked painting. The golden hues of sunset turned dark foretelling a tempest. He begged her and then threatened her. He tried to force her to give him what wasn’t his. She said No. And so he took a big kitchen knife and cut off her right hand so that she was properly punished for rejecting him when it was so easy for her just to say Yes.
He slammed the door behind him, leaving her alone with brushes and paints, with pens and notebooks. All knew that it would be a very long time before she could touch them again; if ever she found strength to learn to write and paint with her left hand. She got up, wrapped what was left of her arm and closed her eyes. She traveled far to find solace. She went where there was a lot of light. Her parents were there. They loved her and so did every soul in the light. She was home. She asked them to let her stay. But they did not have the power to decide her journey. So they offered her to stay and heal her soul, share in their love and tranquility, and regain her strength. They invited her to come back anytime she wanted. They would be always waiting.
Inspired by “Pandora” painting by Stephen Balleux. On view at Patrick Painter Gallery, Los Angeles, until 05/05/2018.