She didn’t know how long she wept, only that she had been inconsolable. Meadow had taken what she regarded as a sacred writing to her bed, holding it close as a mother would her needy child. Her eyes were dry and sore, her pillow wet from regret.
It was clear now that Koay had understood far more than she had intuited, perhaps to a degree greater than what she knew of herself. The painting had fascinated her – so young, so old. Somehow, he had drawn a perfect composite of two Meadows. The youthfulness of it held out hope and imagination. But the sadness in the gaze overpowered everything else, and she couldn’t escape it. It held her fixed and, again, hopeless.
It was only after a time that she realized the writing beside the portrait was decipherable. Each journal entry from the month of July had something to say and, after some considerable effort, she came to understand that it had been his writing from some time in the past. It was clear that it wasn’t from his youth, but sometime following. Then, as if by magic, she saw her name spread, interspersed through the penmanship. She peered harder until she felt a bit dizzy. The writing spoke of her divine gift, her ability to put on canvas almost immediately what would take an average painter three times as long. Some of the sentences had been cut off by the brush strokes, which annoyed her, but he had extended the margin of some of the sentences so that they would flow onto her face. Within the contour of her cheek, she saw a written assertion of how her talent had seemed to touch the face of God, and that of humanity. And a further thought that whatever it lacked in depth of soul was made up for by sheer refinement.
One of Koay’s sentences was clear enough: “She only requires her older self to become a complete artist.” That was what he had talked about in his note. “Can you not sense her calling to you?” he had penned. Truthfully, she couldn’t – the future Meadow was as dead to her as her past self.
And then the tears re-emerged, as she felt abandoned – imprisoned – in the cave of her present. Stuck in neutral, that’s what she was – incapable, despite all her energy, of going back or forward.
Her travelling case sat by the wall, but now she wondered whether it was right to leave. Too many loose threads were still dangling through the narrative of her life. What of the dream? Of reconciling important aspects of her in it? And what of Duyi Koay? Somehow, any hope she had of working out the puzzle and drama of her life now seemed to lie with her old Chinese instructor and his ability to see beyond the merely physical.
After reading his note one more time, she rose and showered for a lengthy time. The hot water was strangely soothing. Meadow used conditioner to help untangle the knots that had been created from her restless tossing and turning during the night. When wiping away the steam from the mirror, she could see her eyes were hopelessly red. Nothing could change that. So she concentrated on fixing her hair, applied a little make-up, and put on a pair of smart slacks and a blouse and then proceeded downstairs.
To her surprise, she ate heartily. It came to her that she hadn’t consumed anything for almost 24 hours. And the coffee was good, slowly stimulating her struggling brain to overcome the lack of sleep. Meadow was happy just to be left alone at her table in the corner, watching the two waitresses efficiently work the room. They toiled hard, she noticed. As had she – for years. Was this what she wanted for the remainder of her life? She knew the answer, but what else was there for her? True, she could find another job, but it would pay about the same and she would miss Les and the friendship they shared. Having never gone to college, as she had hoped, her odds of getting something better paying were pretty much nil.
She journeyed back upstairs, brushed her teeth, grabbed the truck keys, and headed to the parking lot. This was going to be difficult, she knew. It wasn’t that she would feel humiliated in heading back to Koay’s cabin. He was never the kind to instill that negative emotion in someone – especially a former student. No, it was that she didn’t know what to do next.
He didn’t answer her knock at the front door, and she worried for a fleeting second that he had gone away again. But then she heard the sound of something crashing from back in the studio and she wandered around the perimeter until she came to the door – it was already open. She walked in to see Duyi Koay attempting, with his partially paralyzed arms, to pick up a number of paint brushes that had fallen to the floor. She saw the broken glass of their container everywhere. He was on the floor, and didn’t initially see her; he gingerly picked up the brushes as best he could. In an instant, she was on her knees beside him, attempting to locate the larger pieces of broken glass. He looked up, smiled, and said, “Well, this is a bit embarrassing. These brushes just happened to be on the bottom book shelf and I knocked them over with the broom handle by accident.”
“When did you last use these … the brushes, I mean?”
“Every day,” he said. “Every day.”
Meadow looked at him, perplexed. “Many years ago, my specialist for paralysis told me that my painting days were over and that no medication or physical therapy would bring my motor skills back again. I didn’t – couldn’t – believe him, and so I set up a regimen where I would attempt to get my coordination back.”
“But, that was over 40 years ago,” she blurted, effectively interrupting him.
Koay nodded his head, almost imperceptibly, in assent. “And I will continue to try until I can no longer breathe. As long as the gift, the vision, are still inside me, I will seek to honour them and the God who granted such treasures.”
Which is exactly what I haven’t done, she thought to herself. Recalling the message she had listened to earlier at her parents’ old church, Meadow realized again that she had become more than preoccupied with a mundane life. She had been living “under the sun.” Her world had become so suffused with the pressures of living that along the way she had put aside the great transcendent qualities of life for those that only left her feeling empty and dissatisfied.
Once the brushes had been put in a new container and the floor swept of any remaining glass shards, they both looked at one another as if wondering what would come next.
“Your painting and note touched me to my depths,” she began. “I realized how much toil you must have gone through to produce it with that marvellous technology of yours. And you were right – I amimprisoned with what seems like no hope for any kind of parole. But can I ask if the words in the transcript were originally what you wrote of me all those years ago.”
Koay merely nodded in affirmation.
“I am not sure that I like what you painted of me, Sufi, but it was accurate. And in some way, it was comforting to know that at least one person saw me as I truly am. It makes sense that the person would be you.”
Meadow paused for a moment to look out the tallest of the windows, facing the mountain ridge far in the distance. “But I was – and am – confused about what you meant concerning the woman in the future. I would like to talk about her.”
“We can do that,” he said, as if gratified that this was what she came for. “But first we must go back to the beginning and you must tell me your story of what became of you after you left here.” He pointed to the two chairs by the window, and they both moved towards her appointment with discovery.