BUW: Twelve Years Old

Monday, 10 December 2007

I know that was you.
You skip around me like a breeze, and there are no real breezes inside an art gallery. Just those of dead artists. It’s warm in here and there are paintings I know you’d love. You’d say “...that one reminds me of those slippers you use to have - you know - the ones with the mouse on the front...?” and I’d say “...the ones with Mickey Mouse? Remember Snowy - remember that little white mouse who sent himself mad on that running-wheel - round and round... where did he get to anyway? - he died, didn’t he...?” And you would say “...nothing ever really dies...”

I like going to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Rosa doesn’t like me going alone, but she lets me because she knows it’s a place I can truly be happy. Any excuse to get away from Pina and Lara. Rosa drops me off with money for a drink and the train, and tells me I must be home before five. Pina and Lara will be spewing because I have the afternoon off school. Rosa truly believes in the healing processes of grief and the need to be alone sometimes, so I get many afternoons off. Sometimes whole days off, too. What Rosa doesn’t know is that one day my Mum will be back. She’s just playing tricks on everyone. I think she’s amazing. She whispers to me in the night and promises me things will be okay; that we will one day see each other again. I am hoping and wishing for that day so much, that sometimes I have to squeeze my eyes shut from the pain. And when I open them, I hope with all my might that she’ll be standing there.
When I get to the Art Gallery, I stand for a time to look at my favourite colour - the chalky green on the bronzed statues at the front of the building. The statues are striped with black trickles from some dark rain. Then I look at the smooth sandstone building, yellower against the backdrop of green trees and blue sky. And then I take the steps, two at a time, into the building, where the ceilings are arched high enough to make you feel completely alone in there.
I really love the Rupert Bunnys. I’m the only person in our class to know that he’s not a rabbit. Rabbits could never paint pictures like these. They glow there, on the walls, with sunlight and living. I can hear music in them, playing softly in the creased paint.
But my favourite of all is the Monet. It’s a very small one, but I spend most of my time at it because Monet is who I want to be. At school, whenever we’re asked who we’d most like to be, I always say Claude Monet. Always. My Mum loved him so and she had many books. It was her dream to own a real Monet painting. But dreams never really come true; this I’ve learned. Dreams are for making life beautiful by pretending. So I pretend this Monet belongs to Mum. And she likes that.
I sit on the couch opposite and watch it because it’s her’s and because we both like it. Then I stand and walk. The painting changes when I move about the room. The light changes. The shadows lengthen and fall sideways and the petals on the flowers turn to face the sun. The paint gleams. I’ve never once touched it, though my fingers have ached and ached to. Once I got so close, I had to stop breathing in case I fogged up the paint. My nose was only a millisecond away and I could smell the painter himself. Dusty and musty, with a fine, piercing oil-painty smell.
I move closer now. I can see each and every one of his brush strokes from up close, so crazily slapped on, it seems - a stew of colour like a good vegetable soup with loads of green peas and bits of red pepper, stewed to the brightest scarlet. And then, as I move backwards... step by step... slowly... surely... a house emerges from the coloured fog... and a garden... and a chimney puffing smoke. A garden drowned in flowers in the sunlight. How could Monet touch petals with painted sunlight? I get closer but the petals and the light all blend together again so I race backwards, then forwards again with excitement in my chest so tight, I feel like squealing; and I can imagine Monet doing the same thing, racing around his studio, cape flying, in order to see where the light and the dark falls on petals in the sun. He must have been a magician to control light and dark. I feel frustrated because I’m not a magician, and probably never will be.
Mum sighs in my hair.

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