Issue 225: “At Daybreak”

For Jennifer 3 (1)

There is a room in the red house up the block that lets sound neither escape nor enter.  Its floor-to-ceiling window faces East.  The other walls are bare.  In the center of the room stands a canvassed easel off of which loosely hang a palette and brush.  But there are no colors to paint with.

At dawn, the woman who lives in the red house goes to the room and locks the door behind her.  She takes the palette and brush and settles in front of the canvas in a painterly posture.  The brow of the sun emerges from behind the buildings opposite her house.  The sun washes the room in the same hue as scrambled eggs.  She does not speak as she studies the canvas or the landscape in front of her.  She searches them with the intensity of one who is trying to pop her own pimples.

Her stomach’s growl sounds like someone squeezing an empty bottle of ketchup.  Every wall is a window.  The suck-suck of her heartbeat fills the room.  The woman dabs at the empty palette with the dry brush, which she holds the way you might imagine holding a wand.

The sun still rises. She runs the brush over the surface of the palette several times.  An inflating lung sounds like the hush when you go from out to inside a tunnel.   Her control of the brush for all intents and purposes seems limited to Mr. Miyagi’s recommendation to ‘paint the fence.’  The bristles on the brush appear frayed from overuse.  She has been doing this for a while.  Alive, she restores the palette and brush and leans on the wall adjacent to the window.

In this room, she is sound.

A crowd of boys on the street below walks hunched together.  One of them holds a baseball.  They can’t be older than fourteen.  The woman in the room smiles down on them as if they were her own children.  Her grin reveals that her 9th and 10th teeth have been badly broken.  The boys down below look up at her and mock her.  They pretend to paint.  The boys, they have all seen her before.  The woman’s expression, though, remains.

Her ears ring painfully as the glass shatters.  The room gasps for sound as would someone for air.  The baseball rolls across the ground and stops by the base of the easel.  The boys below laugh and walk away triumphantly.  The woman does not say anything but she has stopped smiling.  Their laughter hurts the way it hurts to have a snowball fight barehanded.  The woman wonders why they threw the ball through her window.  She spends the remainder of the morning picking up the glass shards and putting them in a recycling bag.

I wonder if she is a sad woman.

word by Jacob Goldberg

“The artwork that goes along with this painting gave me pause about how I can let technology control my life and consequently, forget to maintain focus and care about on what’s going on around me and inside me.  The woman in this story fights that as she is disciplined and compassionate – she just gets picked on for being different.” 

colour by Yukai Du, an illustrator and animator from Guangzhou, China, currently based in London.

“In 2012 I finished my BA Animation degree in Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, China.
‘Musical Chairs’ was my BA final project, also my first animation film.

Two years later I have received my MA degree in Central Saint Martins College in London.
I focused on research skills during my first year study in MA Communication Design
and then transferred to MA Animation in the second year for a more practical project ‘ Way Out’ – my second animation film.
Meanwhile, I have also been working as designer and animator in M-I-E studio, London.”

On Mental Illness: “Ag”

For Jennifer

I try to hold her hand and find that her nails are dug into her palm, so deep into her palm that I think they must have sunken into it, that they’re gone.

I try to touch her hair and I can tell that she doesn’t feel it.

“What are you thinking about?” I ask.

“I’m not,” she says.

“Then where are you?”

“I’m getting wrinkles in my forehead.”

“I don’t think so.”

She brings her forehead down to my eye level and zooms it in.

“There’s nothing there.”

“I can feel them,” she whines, and she puts her fingertips to her forehead.

“I promise,” I say.

“I scrunch my forehead when I worry. And I worry all day.” She breaks down, starts to cry on the subway, and I don’t know what to do.

Late, sitting in bed, she says, “It takes me so long to do anything. It takes me hours to clean the kitchen. How long does it take you to clean the kitchen?”

“It’s okay,” I say.

“I don’t have ideas anymore. It’s just a jumble of letters in my head. They’re all shaken up in there. Like Boggle.”

I don’t know what to say. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. It’s not your fault. I’m sorry.”

She takes my hand. She strokes my palm.

“How was your day?”

“It was good,” I tell her. “I got a lot done at work.” It sounds inane.

She snuggles in close to me. She puts her nose in the crook of my neck.

“If it snowed for a week right now, what would you do?”

I laugh. “What do you mean?”

“It snows for a week, right now. It snows so badly that we can’t leave the house. We can’t do anything. We’re stuck here. What do you do?”

I put my arm around her. “I stay here.”

“Noooo,” she says. “Come on. You have to do something.”

“I rip up the carpet on the living room floor. I shred it into fluff. I turn the fan on and blow it around the apartment. It’s like a snow globe inside, but it’s warm.”

She laughs. “I coat myself in egg whites and then dance around the living room until I am covered in fluff. I am the beige abominable snowman.”

“Me too. Then we lie down on the floor. And we make love, two yetis who only know the cave that is this living room.”

“Nothing outside.”

“Just our furry bodies against each others’.”

“No job.”

“Just a wall of snow.”

“No hours ticking. No family calling.”

“Just snow.”

I reach for her hand, and it’s curled again.

“Is everything okay?”

“It is, it is, I don’t know.”

I try to do it. I try to close my eyes and fill my mind with letters, with nothing that means anything, with just the wheel that turns and never stops. She’s crying again. I love her.

word by Charlotte Joyce Kidd

The repetitive letters and the feeling of people watching reminded me of the hyper-awareness, the externalization, that occurs in the throes of an anxiety attack. The thing about loving someone living with a mental illness is that there is nothing to do but encourage them to seek help and not stop loving them. Often, they know they are sick, but they don’t know how to fix it. Sometimes they want help and don’t know how to find it, or don’t have the resources to find it. I spent a lot of time on this piece, because the art resonated with the feeling of anxiety.

colour by Yukai Du