[[Next|1-2]] (if: $beginning < 1)[ (set: $beginning to 1) No one ever knew what to get her for her birthday. A fountain pen, a wooden model, things she might have appreciated in middle school, but she was thirty now, and certainly more than a devoted amateur. “Oh I love it,” she said as she opened each present. “I couldn’t have wanted anything more.” They all knew she was an artist, but either they didn’t know what that meant or they didn’t know how serious she was. Someone bought her tubes of paint, a beginner set, with a paint by number unicorn on the box. “How did you know?” she said, throwing the kit in a grocery bag with everything else. She wasn’t bothered by the gifts, or by the thoughtlessness of their givers. They were her husband’s friends more than hers, engineering types who judged art by how realistic it was. They didn’t know any better, and she didn’t need any presents anyway. After a lentil soup dinner with her husband, she spent a while working on some drawings, little doodles really, but the doodles of an established artist. “Don’t stay up too late,” her husband said from somewhere. It buzzed in her ear. She stayed up until she was sure he was asleep, and wrapped her drawings in light brown paper. She grabbed the bag of presents and some leftover soup and got in the car. The drive happened automatically, as though the car knew the way better than she did, up a winding road in the mountains and then off of it, through a lifeless meadow and a cleared-out forest. She stopped just before the edge and grabbed her sketches, scrutinizing them under the headlights of her Toyota Tercel. One by one, she dropped them into the void, her trusty bottomless pit, and everything else she had.] (elseif: $beginning is 1) [ No one ever knew what to get her for her birthday. They knew she was an artist, and did what they could to support her endeavors, but they seemed to be under the impression that she was just starting out. They got her some nice oil paints, but just like the ones she already had. “Oh I love it,” she said as she opened each present. “I couldn’t have wanted anything more.” Someone bought her a set of canvases, unaware that she set and stretched her own. “How did you know?” she said, throwing them in a pile with everything else. She wasn’t bothered that the gifts were useless. The guests were her husband’s friends more than hers, engineering types who judged art by how realistic it was. They didn’t know any better, and she didn’t need any presents anyway. Her husband made chicken parmesan, and after a short but relaxing birthday massage, she took all she had accumulated in the day back to her studio and used them all industriously. “Don’t stay up too late,” her husband said from somewhere. It buzzed in her ear. She ignored him. He still had no insight into her processes, but that wasn’t what he was for. He provided some amount of emotional support when she needed it. She almost never needed it. The rest of the time, he was a provider or something. Whatever made him happy. She improvised a landscape and a self-portrait and an allegory for the migratory patterns of birds and ideas. These were not masterpieces, but she was making them. If she made enough, eventually something would be good. This strategy was less heartbreaking than the alternative. ] (elseif: $beginning is 2) [ No one knew what to do for her birthday. She had only started celebrating them. Her parents had found the custom narcissistic, and thought it discouraged a greater perspective. As such, she didn’t know how to respond to the show of attention. “Oh I love it,” she said as she opened each present before she’d even seen what it was. “I couldn’t have wanted anything more.” Everyone had gotten her various jewelry because they’d never seen her wear any. Her husband made enough money that she didn’t need to worry about finding a real career, not that she wasn’t trying to make her hobby into a real career. She resented when his friends acted like she didn’t work. “When are you going to have kids?” somebody’s wife asked. Kara answered diplomatically that they would have children when they were ready. “If you wait for everything to be right, it’ll never happen. At some point, you just have to make a decision and damn the consequences.” Kara told her that she was probably right. It was the only way to end the conversation. Another of Jeremy’s friends was an artist herself, and every time they met, she would give Kara unsolicited advice on how to get started in the industry. Their conversations always motivated Kara, at least for a day or two. As much as she felt like art was her only talent and what she was meant to do, she wanted to give the same patronizing lecture back to Margarita. Her husband made breakfast for dinner, and they ate together, but all the while she was considering what she needed to do. He looked to her with a lonely and expectant stare. “Hey, let’s celebrate,” he said. At least she loved him. ] (elseif: $beginning is 3) [ Though they weren’t really her friends, her husband’s coworkers organized a surprise party for her anyway. She was more surprised than they’d anticipated. When she explained to them that she’d never celebrated a birthday before, they didn’t believe her. They refused to believe her, preferring to believe that they had gathered their resources together for an ungrateful liar. She refused presents. She wouldn’t know what to do with them, and she wasn’t worried about seeming rude. She was in the process of making something that would justify her life. An object of transcendent beauty. No one knew what she was making, but it was more than they expected of her. Her husband’s friends were nice to her, but they were obviously contemptuous. Because she’d never showed her work, they assumed she didn’t actually have anything to show. They presumed her a conceited, pretentious dreamer, and they all existed firmly in the world. She did not consider herself a dreamer. She focused on craft, and the only reason she hadn’t shown anything is because nothing she’d yet made was up to her standards. Jeremy always invited his friend Margarita to these get-togethers because he assumed that Kara would enjoy talking to another artist. “What are you working on these days?” the willowy woman would always ask, and Kara never knew how to answer such a broad and boundless question. “I’m working on life itself.” Eventually, they left her alone, and so did her husband, who wanted to sleep with his friend Margarita. Kara wasn’t jealous. She wanted him to, just so he’d stop bothering her when she was trying to work. He should spend more time with Margarita. At least she loved him. ] (elseif: $beginning is 4) [ No one brought any presents. They only brought themselves. One by one they showed themselves to her, and invited her to choose the ones she wanted. A few of her husband’s friends were as beautiful as her husband, and she undressed every man and woman alike and had some birthday wishes. They gave her birthday spankings and birthday massages and birthday clitoral stimulations as her husband watched. He’d have his turn later. She brought them to her studio and covered their bodies in latex paint. She chose colors for every one of them, and let them mix together organically. This wasn’t an original idea. She’d seen it in a movie, but she covered the living room in a sheet and let the bodies touch each other. It wouldn’t be art. It would be hers. Jeremy was touching Margarita’s feet. Her feet were green. His hands were red. “What are you working on these days?” the willowy woman asked casually, as her husband moved his way up her legs. “I’ve already made everything I’m going to make.” In time, she left them all to have their fun without her. She didn’t like to be the center of attention. That was the only reason she wasn’t famous. The few shows she’d had had been in small galleries, and for almost no money. Luckily, she had no desire to be famous, or to be anything at all. She sat in a recliner in her studio, lined with ducks and owls and pigs and flowers and landscapes and portraits of herself and one abstract piece of pure beauty, and was satisfied with herself. Jeremy moaned with pleasure at Margarita’s reciprocal touch. It was a good sound. ] (elseif: $beginning is 5) [ She never celebrated birthdays. She found them narcissistic and shallow. Their only purpose was to impose individuality in a homogenous and indifferent world. Self was a lie, and and unhelpful one. She’d written about it in an article for Rolling Stone, and had received a lot of good feedback. Her career was just starting to take off, and she had no intention of wasting time on an arbitrary celebration that she wouldn’t even enjoy. She couldn’t imagine what people did at birthday parties. Pointy hats and too-sweet cake? Today she was working, unfortunately not on art, but she was busy nonetheless, with household finances and administration. The Tate was displaying a few of her best pieces next week, and she had to write blurbs about them. The materials, the dimensions, and then a few sentences about her process and her influences. She hated these kinds of statements, as she was certain she’d said everything she wanted to say in her pieces alone. They did not need supplementary materials. Still, she was going through the motions. She was new. When you’re new, you do everything you’re told. “The wash of blue is the underside of a blanket, where the viewer waits for the monsters to go their separate ways.” She hated the way artists wrote. She was an artist. It wasn’t her fault. Her work had meaning that was more than descriptions of meaning. For long stretches at a time, she stared at the forms in front of her. They had pictures on them, tiny black and white photocopies of photographs of what she had made when she wasn’t paying attention. Each time she realized she wasn’t doing anything, she wanted some tea, and she boiled water in her electric kettle. She sat down. She waited to be done. ][[Back|1-1]] [[Next|1-3]] (if: $beginning <= 1)[ (set: $beginning to 1) As she looked over yesterday’s paintings, she tried to decide whether she liked them. What she liked never sold, and tended to invite rude criticism. Fortunately, these were awful. They made her sick to look at, and she had produced so many somehow. They didn’t feel like hers. The colors were oversaturated and the shapes were too precise. She had used the new oil paints she had gotten for her birthday, and now that she could see them in new sunlight, she could tell that she had been trying too hard. “Hey Honey, I’m leaving for work,” her husband announced from somewhere. She gave a thumbs up for him to see, wherever he was. They used to have breakfast together. She didn’t miss that ritual. Now she could microwave a little of last night’s chicken parmesan when she got hungry, and she wouldn’t have to pretend to be hungry just for the sake of routine. Compromising her body to appease ritual seemed an absurd sacrifice. When she was alone, really alone, she tried to fix her paintings. She wanted to be satisfied with them, even if her tastes were at odds with the world at large. She added a duck to a landscape, right on top. A little wood duck, some life in an otherwise hazy landscape. It looked out of place. When painting began to frustrate her, as it inevitably did, her aesthetic sensibilities just out of reach of her technical abilities, she made her usual inventory around the house. She picked up some uncomfortable shoes and threw them in a pile with books she’d never read and paintings she’d made and hated. She never went in the day, but all she wanted was to be rid of everything. All she could do was wait for night.] (elseif: $beginning is 2)[She was slow to get out of bed in the morning. Though she didn’t remember enjoying herself, they had had plenty of alcohol. Sometimes that was like celebration. “Hey Honey, I’m leaving for work,” her husband had told her in a dream. He caught the fog and floated off. They used to have breakfast together. She didn’t miss that ritual. When they had done it, it had been his ambition to get her up early. She’d never felt like herself then, and she certainly didn’t have a creative instinct. All she could think about was sleep when she was awake. Art was for when she was sleeping. Now that she could wake up when she wanted, she could actually put her ideas into practice. She made a pot of coffee and set it beside her in her studio and found the right mind. It took an hour or two for her to get started, but when she’d started, no force on earth could move her. Jeremy came home at some point. She heard him come in, but she was busy. Something had compelled her to make flowers, and she wanted to do justice to them. She wanted them to seem inspirational and beautiful, the reason people paint flowers. She’d filled several canvasses. Some of them were realistic, but most of them were something better. They were idealized, the way flowers looked to other flowers in love. She wouldn’t let anyone see. She could hear Margarita saying they were very nice. “You could sell them to a hotel or a dentist’s office. An OBGYN even.” Encouraging words that would destroy her. She’d never seen what Margarita’s art was like, but she was certain it had no right to be anything worth saving.] (elseif: $beginning is 3)[She awoke some time after her husband had gone to work. She’d wanted to get up earlier, but if she was up before Jeremy, he would want to spend the morning together. Her mind would be wrong the rest of the day. For the same reason, she rarely answered the phone or turned on the television. She had to keep her mind free from noise. Even the newspaper was too much. Of course she couldn’t have a job. In her studio, she uncovered her canvas. She scowled. It wasn’t at all what she remembered. As she recalled, she’d been working on an abstraction, beauty in its purest form. What she saw in front of her was a baby pig, doe-eyed and sad. At first she thought someone must be playing a joke on her, but as she considered the possibility, it seemed more likely that she had dreamed about her other piece, as beauty has no pure form. If she tried to recreate what she remembered, she’d only have a few smears in bright colors. The pig seemed familiar, and it was cute. She touched up its shadows and made the lighting more dramatic. When the phone rang, she was grateful to go to the wrong mind. Everything she was doing was mechanical, boring, automatic. “Hey Kara, this is Margarita. We talked last night? Well I was talking to a friend at the Tate and he told me he’d love to see some your best work. When can I pick up your portfolio? I want to get you displayed!” Kara looked at the pig, her whole body of work. “Give me a couple of days. I need to update my slides. I don’t have any examples of anything recent.” Kara sighed. Her mind was wrong. ] (elseif: $beginning is 4) [ (set: $beginning to 5) She woke up in the night. Everyone was still around. Jeremy had a plastic bag over his head and handcuffs on, and that was fine for him. She looked at him clinically. Artists look at naked people. They are subjects. Her husband had his clothes on and was reading the morning paper. She sat beside him because she wasn’t sure where else she was supposed to look. “Did you have a good time last night?” he asked, not glancing up. She didn’t know who he was, she realized. He looked angry, and she didn’t like anyone who was angry at her. He continued, “I hope you don’t expect me to clean up after you and your Bohemian friends. You’re lucky I’m so understanding. Most husbands wouldn’t let their wives do the things I let you do.” She agreed with him. She appeased him. And when he told her that she needed to get real and get a real job, provide a service for the world, she told him she would start looking, today even. “Good girl,” he said. Never mind that she had her first big show next week. Never mind that her name was just getting in the paper. As he gathered his briefcase with all its papers, she started cleaning up what she could while everyone she knew stayed where they were. Some of them were still drunk. Some of them could have been dead. She picked up bottles and underwears. As he started to leave, she stopped him. “I feel like we’re drifting apart. Why don’t we do something nice tonight?” “What do you suggest?” “Let’s go out to the mountains.”] (elseif: $beginning is 5) [ She hoped that she would have the energy to do something she wanted to do today, but the possibility seemed unlikely. Even necessities required effort, and once she’d done the basic maintenance required to remain a human being another day, she couldn’t imagine having anything else. She was so discouraged that she answered the telephone when it rang. “Margarita, is that you?” a male voice asked. Kara told him he had the wrong number, but he didn’t seem to hear her. “I’m sure that’s you. Listen. I don’t know if you’ll remember me. I don’t know if I remember you even. But I’ve been following your work, and I’ll tell you, it seems familiar. Not just familiar, identical. Your paintings are me. Even the ones that are landscapes, even the blotches of color. They are me. I see myself in them. I am them.” “That’s very flattering,” Kara said, “but you’ve got the wrong number.” “It’s not about quality. I’m not flattering you. They are me. It’s alarming. And I did some research. Did you know we went to the same high school and the same college, and all at the same time?” Kara didn’t want to hear any more of what he had to say, but she couldn’t hang up the phone either. “I’m sorry,” she interrupted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know you. I don’t know anyone. I’ve never known anyone.” He said some more. He said he felt a kinship with her. Part of her remembered him, but that was just her open-mindedness. “You could have a point,” she said, and though she didn’t hang up the phone, she left him in her studio, talking, infecting all her work. He could have it. It was already his anyway. ][[Beginning|1-1]] [[Back|1-2]] [[Next|1-4]] (if: $beginning is 1)[ (set: $beginning to 2) At the edge of the void, Kara examined her paintings for the last time in the headlights of her Lexus. What they lacked was detail. She just wasn’t a good enough painter to make anything specific, so she made broad strokes of color and pretended she was making a stylistic choice. Somehow she’d filled over a dozen canvases yesterday, and she had them in a stack beside her. Each one was harder to look at than the one before. She knew everything that was wrong with them. Perhaps she could fix them if she took the time, but she was too aware of their fundamental vagueness to fill anything in. Only satisfied self-loathing made her strain her eyes to look at them once more. She dropped the current landscape into the current landscape and picked up the next piece. She stared into a portrait of herself staring. As she let her face tumble into the void, she felt her expression change. The serious face that had been so in front of her grew alien and strange as it bounced against the side of the abyss. Not quite a smile, but something less artificial. “The harder I work on anything, the worse it ends up being,” she spoke aloud, uncertain whether it sounded true. After she'd repeated it a few times, it sounded false. She wasn’t sure what that meant. She threw a bag of laundry into the pit. She took off her shoes and threw those, too, and some odds and ends from the backseat. Everything that reminded her of who she was today had to go, and she leaned over to make sure it was gone. She stayed where she was.] (elseif: $beginning is 2)[ (set: $beginning to 3) Kara waited at the edge of the void. She’d come here automatically. She was satisfied with her work today, and regretted the journey, but this was her routine. She told herself it was for the best. Keeping anything was burdensome. If she left art in her home, anything could happen to it. Destroying it was the only way she could be sure. This is what made her an artist, her willingness to start anew. Margarita probably held onto everything she made. She cataloged and archived prints before she sold anything. That was fine for her. Her art was worth money, and preservation only got her more. Kara threw her favorite of the day’s work into the hole and felt a little better. If she’d put anything of herself into that piece, she had it back now. As she let the rest of her work go, one at a time, she was overcome with both pride and regret. She felt like she remembered things that couldn’t have happened. This was her routine, but she couldn’t remember being here before. She’d never made anything bad. She’d never made anything. “My life is only about creation,” she said to herself, as the last canvas fell out of sight. “I am devoted.” If she held onto anything, she thought, she would be burdened with her ongoing narrative. She wouldn’t have the freedom to make anything she wanted. She would have to protect her husband and her family, she would have to hold onto an idea of who she was and what she meant, not only to herself, but to the world at large. She stared into the abyss and considered the responsibility involved in simply being alive. Everybody does it, except the ones who don’t. ] (elseif: $beginning is 3) [(set: $beginning to 4) She covered the pig in paper and took it to the car. She’d deal with it later, but not until dark. Meanwhile, she started work on what would surely be her big break. As soon as she’d primed her canvas, her husband came home from work, and because she wasn’t in the middle of anything, she felt she had to talk to him. He never said things like, “Other wives have dinner waiting for their husbands after a long day’s work,” but when he came in, he would often look in the dining table and make a face. Whatever he thought was easy enough to ignore. She came to the door and kissed him, like a conversation. They pretended to have a conversation, until she mentioned the possibility of an art show, and she saw the contemptuous look on his face that said, “When are you going to give up this absurd fantasy?” “Oh, that’s great,” he said. “Maybe you can draw me sometime.” After she’d taken a minute to cover up her works in progress, she let him into her studio for the first time. He took off his clothes before she’d given any instructions, and that was okay. He did have a great body, better than she remembered. As she took down his likeness, she wondered if her painting would be more interesting if his body was more human. He looked better than her painting, and she couldn’t fix it. “I think you should go to bed,” she said, covering the painting in a sheet. “Can I see it?” Without answering, she grabbed the painting and left, up a mountain, through a meadow without vegetation, an empty field with an empty pit, and studied her lines with a flashlight. She threw him in. She kept the pig.] (elseif: $beginning is 5) [ Her husband looked good in the morning light. She thought it would be a good subject for a painting. She couldn’t believe that she had never captured his likeness after all this time. She wasn’t sure where she had gotten him from either, but she couldn’t think about that. She pulled the blanket off of his shoulders so she could get the full contours of his chest. He was asleep. He was best that way. His likeness was made for depiction. The task was effortless, though she was only copying reality. But she had made reality. But she had nothing to do with reality. Part of her was capable of making art. She had a portrait of a pig. She had a portrait of herself. She was an artist. She told herself she was an artist. She drew herself as an artist. Jeremy moved his head in his sleep. She didn’t know who he was. She drew him anyway, and he looked oily. The sun gave him long red splotches like paint. He was impressionist. He was rococo. Abstraction. Beauty in its purest form. Before she finished, he woke up, and told her he loved her, and she loved him too, though she had no idea who he was. He went back to sleep. If she could think of anything but art, she would be a worthwhile person. If she was more than what she did. If she had other thoughts than who she was or what she was supposed to do. She wanted to live in the mountains, make nothing, contribute nothing, create nothing. She wanted to be empty. She painted her husband. He made her career. He was the reason she was a famous artist. She was a famous artist. ][[Beginning|1-1]] [[Back|1-4]] [[Next|1-6]] (if: $beginning > 1) [She couldn’t use her studio — this was fine, she needed a break — so she spent the day cleaning. She wasn’t sure where these domestic urges came from, but she latched onto them. Cleaning was a better process than art. It had right answers. Once she’d tidied up the kitchen, she started on the living room. A few pillows were on the floor, as well as a few chip wrappers. She wanted to burn it down and start over, but with some perseverance, she bent over a few times and made it work. In her bedroom, she finally made a place on her shelf for the jewelry her husband’s friends had given her. She didn’t wear jewelry much, but at least they hadn’t given her art supplies. She winced as she considered the insult that would be. She was glad they had class, even if they weren’t really her friends. They would be good friends if she had them. Almost her entire wardrobe was dresses and pantsuits, she realized as she gathered laundry from the floor. The one comfortable piece of clothing she had was the oversized T-shirt she had on now. She swore never to take it off. In her studio, she dusted her paintings, her husband. For a moment, she considered posing Jeremy and using his likeness for something, but he was too stiff, just like her linework. The expression on his face was dead and artificial, but beautiful. She started to feel stiff too, and turned away. Today, she was capable of right answers, so she covered her husband with a blanket and slept until dark, ignoring every doubt and phone call she could.] (elseif: $beginning is 1)[ Her lecture had gone over well, and the local paper called her a national treasure. Calling her that was overstepping their bounds a bit, but she accepted it. She liked it. Some reporters were outside, and though she would have preferred a little privacy today, she thought it would be gracious to give an interview, if that was what they wanted. “Ms. Ellison,” a fast-talking anchor took her aside. “How do you feel about the allegations that your work is driving young people to suicide?” She hesitated. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” “Dozens of high school artists are plunging off of tall buildings trying to emulate your success. Artists are rarely famous these days, as I’m sure you’re aware, so your words are under more scrutiny than most. At your televised lecture yesterday, do you remember what you said?” Margarita shook her head. “Remind me.” “You said, ‘If you want to make anything worthwhile, you have to venture into the unknown. And what do we know less about than death?’” “If people are killing themselves, that’s not my fault.” The anchor paused. “How are you going to make things right for their families,” she asked. Margarita had no answer. She felt no responsibility. She had only described what worked for her, and it was the fault of this world she’d created, not her own, if it tried to follow her example. In no capacity was she ever supposed to be a leader. “Ms. Ellison,” the reporter repeated. She couldn’t get Margarita’s attention. “Ms. Ellison.” Margarita got in her car and drove in broad daylight. She knew where she was going this time.][[Beginning|1-1]] [[Back|1-3]] [[Next|1-5]] (if: $beginning <= 4) [In the morning, she felt less heavy than usual. She attributed her good mood to the alcohol she consumed last night, but her cheer seemed more than residual buzz. She jumped out of bed as a child does before she’s been broken by school and other people. Jeremy was still asleep, but she felt almost compelled to wake him. The sun was shining through their enormous windows. Today might be his day off. She lost track of days. Today, she wanted to lose track of everything. The paintings she’d been working on the past few days had become ornate, too complicated to touch. She needed to focus on herself. Some light stretching later, she was making pancakes. The process of it compelled her. She focused her energies on the liquids involved, a sauce of berries and light, flaky batter. The smell should have woken her husband. When it didn’t, she went to retrieve him and drag him out for a day with her. They hadn’t had a day together in years, if ever. She paused a second before entering the bedroom. He wasn’t there. She checked the bathroom. She popped her head in room after room before she came to her own studio. In general, her office was her space, but today, he was standing in front of his own portrait. She didn’t enter. From the hallway, she could see his paralysis, and she didn’t want to deal with it. Tonight she would remove the painting from the room and throw it in the Mercedes and drop it off and everything would be all right, but now she was resolved to spending the day on herself, by herself. The pancakes were cold, but the best she’d ever made. ] (elseif: $beginning > 4) [ (set: $beginning to 1) After a few fitful hours next to the beautiful sleeping man, still as a statue, she felt the night creep up on her. Staying in seemed uncomfortable, and she had nowhere to go. Outside was too dark, but she stepped into it, and into a car. She wasn’t sure what kind, but it had comfortable seats, heated, leather, with built-in massagers. The car was where she belonged. She went forward like painting, but that was all she was. The car went up a winding road, through the mountains, across a barren meadow and to an alien place where she had never been. As it came to a stop, she stepped out and looked down, into a hole that led nowhere, darker than the night around them. She didn’t know what she was doing. Reaching through the open window, she turned on the car’s headlights. The hole reflected nothing back at her, though somehow as she looked into it, she felt more herself. It was a void, but it was her void, the one place she belonged. She sat on the edge, toying with the idea of how easily she could fall. She supposed she would in the end. She couldn’t see any alternative. Now that she had found this place, she would carefully expose herself to it. If she was really an artist, she would find herself down there. It was easy enough to look. She felt compelled to undress before she took her dive, and as she felt the evening air on her skin, she was authentic. She had gotten rid of everything. ][[Beginning|1-1]] [[Back|1-5]] (if: $beginning > 1)[ As night set in, she was supposed to go out, but the bed was too strong. She had trouble imagining anywhere else, though she did have a blanket over her face. The lamp across the room was too bright, and her pillows too soft. Her comforter was too heavy and warm. If she was meant to learn a moral, she definitely wasn’t getting out of bed. She spread herself across the sheets. Without Jeremy, she was more at ease sleeping in the night. They never slept at the same time, she realized. They worked in shifts. This was apparently for the best, otherwise they would have done something else. In the morning, she let the phone wake her. She didn’t answer it, but she acknowledged its presence by listening to the rings like they were music. A cup of coffee later, she was ready to answer the phone if it tried again. She wasn’t going to call back, even though she had little else to do. Nothing had changed since yesterday. Her studio was still unusable. She would have to be useless. Not a problem. She needed a break. But she needed the practice. She loved working. But she hated her work. If she loved her work, it wouldn’t be any good. These weren’t thoughts, just memories of thoughts, but she had them. She’d had them for years. She wanted to replace them with better thoughts, but they were probably the best she had. The phone rang, and whoever it was waited sixteen rings before giving up. Kara counted. It was all she had to do.] (elseif: $beginning <= 1)[ In the daylight, the meadow was nowhere near as lifeless as it seemed at night. Illuminated, it was almost too robust, a veritable jungle. She had no idea how her car had ever made it through. She tried not to think about it, and soon passed through the overgrowth, until she reached the clearing she knew, the only familiar place. She’d never seen it in light. She’d immersed herself in it, and explored it, but now that it was right in front of her, it seemed unfamiliar. Her eyes were her best asset. She was very visual. Though the sun was out in full force and the sky was free of clouds, all her surroundings were bathed in gray light. As she approached the pit, she noticed her surroundings less. None of it meant anything to her. She was pulled in. Every time she let something go, it improved. She understood that, and didn’t need to say it aloud, to herself or to anyone else, but she felt that she should remember, because she often did not. She was not who she always was. She walked to the edge, and wondered if this natural light would serve her better than flashlights and headlights. She looked down and saw nothing, the same emptiness as always. Except, part of the emptiness was moving. First what looked like a hand, then an arm. Then many hands and arms. She couldn’t jump down there. They would throw her back up, but she ducked her head in, and as her eyes adjusted to the light, she saw herself, covered in garbage, hundreds of times over, limping, bleeding. Some of her were dead, and the men in there with her stayed still. Meanwhile, she made art. She made all the art in the world. ]Double-click this passage to edit it.