It was strange. The room was musty; it hadn’t been opened in quite some time. My throat stung. Moonlight streamed in through the small window in the corner, so it wasn’t too dark even though I hadn’t switched on the lights. I looked outside the window and I could see the old willow in the garden. It looked different than it did in the daytime, when it was just another tree in my father’s garden. Right now, in the darkness of the night, in the moonlight, it stood out. Something about it was so, so sad. There was a breeze, and the willow leaves shook. They moved wearily. It reminded me of my father when he played the piano in the evenings. His fingers moved heavily on the keys, and his face gave away what his heart held. He looked sad, so inexplicably sad, I couldn’t bear to look at him. When my father played the piano in the evenings, he wasn’t in this world. He wouldn’t look at any page of music, or even at the piano keys. He would stare straight, at the wall in front or at the arched ceiling of his study and play, sometimes for hours on an end. Like him, the old willow in the moonlight did not look like it belonged to the garden any longer.
No, because nothing in this world could hold so much sadness.
The willow’s drooping branches trembled in the wind. There was a spot in the night sky, visible through the distant pines, that glowed like a pot of gold. Before long, it thrust out a golden nugget, the moon, hazy and warm and in a faint golden shroud, like a newborn fresh from the womb, drenched in amniotic fluid. She gazed as it grew clear and distinct, and the garden around her was bathed in silver. Her slim fingers held the brush ever so lightly as she painted the canvas in front of her in the same blue and gold that the sky beheld. She painted the silhouettes of the pines. She worked in slow, calculated strokes, and took her time. Her sleeveless white dress and the few stray strands of hair that had escaped from her low bun swayed in the wind. When she was done, she dropped the brush in the grass, stepped back and gazed at her painting. It looked exactly like the real thing, like a piece of the sky, on acrylic. The moon on it glowed, like the moon in the sky, which had now risen high, high up, and she raised her head to look at it.
The room was empty except for the paintings on the walls. Twenty-one paintings. Each one of them was a painting of the moon and the night sky. Each one of them was exquisite. I moved nearer to one of them, the third painting on the first wall. It was a particular intense shade of blue and the moon was large and golden against the silhouette of a willow. It was unmistakably a painting done in my father’s garden and it was the same willow I could see through the window just now. The moon glowed and there were white specks all around it, white stars. I kept looking at the painting for longer than I intended to. It seemed as though all that my eyes had ever seen in this world was the shade of blue in the painting. It filled all of my vision and conscious. It was as if I was stuck, as if the painting was pulling me in to the time it was from, to the night it was born. My heartbeat grew faster. I suddenly felt scared.
A flash of lightning lit up the room and brought be back to my surroundings. I stopped shivering and instantly felt calmer. I looked at the other paintings at a glance. I was just turning to leave when another flash of purple lightning lit up the garden, and I went up to the window.
I wish I had never looked outside.
The kick from her insides took her by surprise. She gasped for breath, not taking her eyes of the moon. Calmer, she touched her taut big stomach with a gentle hand. Her face seemed to have absorbed some of the moonlight that fell on it, it was soft and wan and pale. She lied down on the grass and laid still. The winds had died down and the willow had ceased to tremble. She kept gazing at the moon all this time.
After the better part of an hour had passed, she walked past the willow to the tall gates at the end of the drive. Barefoot, she stepped outside and walked into the darkness.
She never returned.