by Jose Recio
A little girl pretends to be a gardener and plants wildflowers in earthen pots while playing in front of her house. She lives with her parents in a red-roofed village, a safe place with a population of scarcely nine-hundred people, located in the Valley of Lebanon, Cantabria, at the Peaks of Europe's foothills. Most houses in the Valley are stone-built, and this family’s one has whitewashed walls, little square windows, and a solid wooden door. Her father owns a bakery and supplies the daily bread to the nearby Monastery of Saint Toribio. At this pilgrim destination, a community of Franciscans lives a monastic life. In warm weather, her father allows her to come along to the monastery to deliver the friars' loaves. She enjoys stepping into the courtyard and loitering about while her father does his business.
This spring, this girl has turned seven. She has shiny black eyes, short-styled brown hair, a pale complexion, and an innocent smile through which the world can notice the void left by a missing milk tooth. As time goes by, she feels impelled to explore the world around her, a marvelous landscape with hills, evergreen pines, cedars, and strawberry shrubs. She confidently ventures into her surroundings, alone or with two or three little friends from her neighborhood. Carpets of red-poppies, yellow daisies, white campaniles, and other wildflowers spread out over the Valley, and she breathes in the grassland fragrances. Sometimes, she reaches as far as the monastery and then wonders about the friars’ mysterious lives.
One day, toward the end of May, the girl came across a picturesque small house beside a narrow creek, not too far from home, that she had not noticed before. It called her attention because the roof was dark blue, the windows’ frames green, and the entrance door red, all of which looked different from the other village houses. A couple of mornings later, she went back to the blue-roofed house and spotted a woman outdoors, sitting on a folding chair, painting. So an artist lived there. Intrigued by this discovery, the girl, making a stealthy move, positioned herself behind the artist, and unseeing, she watched her actions while she painted. Repeatedly, the woman firstly looked at the wildflowers about her, and then she turned to her canvas and painted them in the form of a bouquet of poppies and daisies; some flowers were well-shaped and neat, but others appeared blurry. Such discrepancy in the definition of shapes and colors struck the little girl as odd. She burned with the desire to ask the woman why she did that when a black poodle suddenly came out of the house and started running toward them, barking.
“Rosie!” The artist called out.
The girl was startled. The poodle bypassed its mistress and went, wagging the tail, straight to the girl. Intimidated by the dog, she hurriedly asked, “Why do you do it?”
“What?” The painter turned her head in surprise.
“You paint some flowers looking fuzzy!”
“That’s how I see them.”
The poodle playfully jumped up at the girl as if wanting to kiss her on her face, but she got scared and ran away. For a long while, though, she in vain tried to understand why the woman artist made some of the flowers look nice, and others blurry.
A few days later, this girl and a female friend of the same age wandered around the field, picking up pinecones and chasing butterflies when they found themselves in the proximity of the monastery. The little girl shared with her friend that she sometimes went inside the court-yard with her dad to deliver bread; now both girls fantasized about the friars living there. Stimulated by their reverie, they searched for a way in and found a rusty iron gate camouflaged among the fern; surreptitiously, they entered the cloister and hid behind a column. Quietly standing there, they spied on a Franciscan friar strolling in the portico and heard him saying to the air: We only see part of that which is whole. The girls chuckled; they understood each word, but not the meaning of the utterance. The thinker turned around, and coincidently, he started his way toward the column behind which they were hiding, which made them feel uneasy because if detected, they figured the monastic would tell their parents. Hence, they ran out of the place through the same gate they had come in.
When the little girl returned home after she and her friend had fled from the monastery in panic, she noticed two large glass jars half-filled with water, one about two inches taller than the other, on the dining table. A conspicuous red poppy, its stem submerged in water, rested at ease on the rim of the taller jar along with two fuzzy yellowish daisies between the neck and the hanging lid beside the poppy. The background behind appeared undefined. Two blurry-looking daisies, one yellowish and the other pinkish floated in the other jar. The combination of bulbs and white light made it possible that the environment and the objects in the room looked strange, and in a split second, the little girl understood what the painter’s and the friar’s words meant.
Jose L Recio is a physician and short fiction writer. His work is published in The Acentos Review, Cecile’s Writers, The Literary Nest, Aether and Ichor, Adelaide, and With Painted Words magazines, among others. He is originally from Spain but lives in L.A. with his wife and their whippet.
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