Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Writing Prompt: Seeing Green

When Cattie was a child, the world was still a riot of colors. Blue sky, white clouds, the black and brown swirl of distant mountains. And in history books, she could see yellow flowers, purple butterflies, and bright green grass.
She was eight when she first asked the question. Clutching her picture book, she opened her mouth and said, "Grandfather, have you ever... seen green?"
"Of course I have," he answered brusquely, annoyed at her interrupting his work. He tapped a calloused finger on her book. "Right there."
Realizing that he was probably not the person to ask, she interrogated her grandmother instead.
"Why are you asking me?" her grandmother replied. "Do think I'm so old that it was still around when I was a child?"
“No, I…” she began, but gave it up with a sigh and reflected, like so many other children before her, that maybe there was no one in the world to understand her.
But when Aunt Cathy came to visit, she realized she was wrong. Aunt Cathy always listened. Aunt Cathy always understood. She whispered her hopes aloud inside the blanket fort, quietly so her grandmother wouldn’t hear. Aunt Cathy answered back in the same tone, and it was like the one she used when she was telling Cattie a story.
Cattie wasn’t quite sure if her Aunt Cathy was so special to her because her mother had given her the same name, or if it was because she was closer to Cattie’s age than she was to Cattie’s grandparents, or if it was just because Aunt Cathy was old enough to be wise but young enough to share it without lecturing (like her grandparents did).
The story Aunt Cathy told that day was so wonderful that Cattie didn’t know whether it was really true or just another of her aunt’s fairy tales. She went to sleep that night to dream of The Peninsula, Aunt Cathy’s words echoing in her head: “And when the clouds part and the morning light shines down, you can see, for a moment, the green grass growing, just like it used to before all green was gone.”
Time marches on. Cattie grew. She went to school. She left her grandparents’ home and moved away to go to college. She kept in touch with her Aunt Cathy and made sure she was updated when she made the decision to study art, but that she should keep it quiet; her grandparents wanted her to study “something worthwhile.”
Then came the day that Cattie threw down her brush and stormed out of class. She contacted Aunt Cathy that evening to vent her frustration.
“I can’t do it,” she gushed. “How am I supposed to paint green when I’ve never really seen what it looks like? It feels like being taught to speak a different language by someone who learned it only by eavesdropping on the conversations of native speakers.”
To her surprise, Aunt Cathy offered a simple solution that Cattie had not thought of before: “Go find it, then,” she said, in her quiet storytelling voice. “Find green for yourself.”
It wasn’t easy convincing her grandparents that she was going to take a semester break from school. But soon she was on her way, tips and hints from Aunt Cathy to help her along.
Lugging an easel, canvas, palette, and paints all the way to the equator would not have been her first choice, but there she was. She thudded down a disused road to a slab of ancient crumbling concrete. The view had probably been worth coming for in the past. Cattie couldn't see much worth seeing, and as she sat down to eat a lonely lunch, she wondered if she would ever find what she was looking for.
Was it really true, Aunt Cathy? she thought. Will I really get to see green?
Exploring with a heavy pack tired her out, even on a cloudy day, so Cattie abandoned her things and walked down a strip of land toward the water. Her feet stuck in the mud, and she was glad she didn’t have a heavy load to carry. She was especially glad to have left the easel behind.
She sighed and shook her hair out of her eyes, and that’s when the clouds parted. The afternoon light shone down, and there it was, right in front of her.
Finally, she thought.
Cattie was torn between rushing back for her equipment and plopping down right where she was to take in the majesty of the color. It never occurred to her to go down to it. She would never have disturbed it, feeling that if it were an illusion, it would certainly vanish if she were to get near enough to investigate it closely.
When it finally got dark, Cattie turned her back on the color she’d longed to see her whole life. She returned to her canvas and her easel and her palette and her paint.
She would never forget what she saw, and that fact showed in every single piece of art she ever produced. Her most famous work, The Peninsula, hung in her Aunt Cathy’s house until her death, when it was given at her request to the National Gallery.
Though there weren’t many colors to see when Cattie was a child, she did her best during her lifetime to fill the world with color once more.

Writing Prompt #429

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