Word restrictions were lifted for this photo. We were allowed to write as long as we wanted.
Katlyn woke suddenly and bolted upright, heart pounding from the dream she’d had. Nightmare, really. She’d had it nearly every night since being told she was dying. Wiping sweat off her forehead, she drank water from the glass beside the bed and got up, aching everywhere. She knew what she had to do. No sense putting it off any longer.
Dawn found her standing outside at a white-washed brick wall of her shop. The building was on the corner and the wall faced east, so it lit up the instant the sun rose. She fetched a ladder, her special paint and brushes, and by early morning, was hard at work. This would be her gift to the people who lived in her town. She’d known them most of her life, and they knew her, though she knew they had not really known her.
It was as if she painted in a bubble. While she created her final masterpiece, she saw no one. People didn’t approach her, and neither did she see them, though she heard their voices as they went past. Heard them talking and laughing and living their lives. She worked with single-minded purpose, not even stopping for food or drink, until the last of the light faded from the day, and she’d added the final brush stroke to the wall.
She looked at her creation one last time, not seeing it well in the glow cast by streetlamps but envisioning it in her mind. It was perfect and would do what she wanted it to. When she went to sleep that night, muscles and joints on fire from disease and the long hours outside, she had no nightmare but dreamed of endless green meadows under a gentle sun. She did not awaken in the morning, and when she was found, it was noted she had a smile on her face.
Nancy, whom everyone thought of as one of the nicest people in town but in her secret heart was a terrible racist, saw the mural on her way to the grocery store, which was owned by Harold, an African American she hated because his skin was black. She was instantly struck by all the different characters sharing the space on the plane’s wing. They didn’t seem aware they were unlike their neighbors, and she decided in that moment to seek Harold out and tell him how much she appreciated the cleanliness of his store. At night, no rats would be nibbling the produce _there_, that’s for sure. Smiling, and feeling an unexpected lightness of heart, she continued on.
Jimmy spotted the painting on his way to school. He noticed the love between the two boys on one end of the wing and suddenly felt bad for bullying Adam and calling him a fag. Feeling shame at his meanness, Jimmy resolved to stop being such an asshole. Maybe he and Adam could even become friends.
Abigail stood in front of the transformed brick wall a long time, unable to take her eyes off the glittering stars and sequins trailing from the plane. Maybe it was time to tell her parents she was in love with Jennifer, and they wanted to marry. Picturing them together in their wedding gowns, she grinned and went on her way.
William spied the clock and decided it was time to write that novel he’d been thinking about all his life. If he never started it, he’d never finish, and he didn’t want to die regretting not doing something so important. He walked on, thinking about his first sentence: It was a dark and stormy night. Well, maybe not, but he’d come up with something good. Having made his decision, he was the happiest he’d ever been and bounced on the balls of his feet as he crossed the street.
Mary saw the umbrella and realized she’d forgotten hers at home. It was supposed to rain later.
Five-year-old Bobby saw the cat and named it Blackie. The lanterns reminded Becky, his mother, of the blind person who shared her grandmother’s room at the assisted living place. Maybe Becky could stop by there that afternoon and read to her for a while.
And so it went. By the end of the day, nearly everyone in town had spent time in front of Katlyn’s wall, driven there by something they didn’t understand and leaving with a more positive outlook about themselves and the world. Except for Mary, but she was considered the most blameless woman in Middlegate.
Despite the shop changing hands frequently over the years, no one ever painted over the mural, and the colors remained rich and deep. It became a ritual for the residents to stop and look at it any time they went past.
Time passed. One day Nancy, accompanied by her son and his new wife, who was Harold the grocer’s daughter, paused before the painting. “I love this. Don’t you?” They agreed it was special and held hands.
Jimmy paused before the mural as he had so many other times. He was on his way home from the wedding of his best friend, Adam, to Phil. He was happy for the couple and fancied they were the two boys sitting at the end of the wing. Peering closer, he thought he saw a resemblance.
Abigail and Jennifer strolled by with their daughter, stopping long enough to rhapsodize over the fiery trail of glitter and stars. That was Abigail’s favorite part.
William stopped and looked, too, even though he was in a hurry to get to the bookstore around the corner. His bestselling novel was featured today, and he was scheduled to give a reading and sign copies for the customers.
Mary happened by as it started to rain. Laughing, she opened her umbrella and gazed at the painting a long time. “I always see something new in it,” she’d told her sister just yesterday, “but it’s the umbrella I like best. Isn’t that silly?”
Bobby pushed his mother’s wheelchair along the sidewalk. In her arms was Bobby’s cat. He’d had a couple, both named Blackie. This one insisted on going for a ride whenever he got the chance. Becky’s vision was fading due to diabetic retinopathy, but she perked up when they paused in front of the mural. “I’ve always enjoyed this painting,” she said. Blackie sat up, purring, and stared at the wall.
For just a few seconds, she saw it as clearly as she had when Bobbie was a child, and then it briefly came to life. The stars in the tail seemed to sparkle, the lanterns on the top wing swayed from side to side, and the cat on the bottom wing turned and looked at her. Blackie meowed, still staring.
Laughing, Becky said, “It moved! The painting moved.”
“An optical illusion,” Bobbie said gently, humoring her.
She knew better than to argue with him; he thought he was always right. She was also anxious to return home; Bobbie was reading The Hobbit to her, and he’d reached the good part with Smaug. “It must be the way the sun is hitting it.”
But Becky knew the painting had briefly come alive. She recognized magic when she saw it.
Word count: 1199
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