The Picture Across the Room This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

     I’ve always felt guilty that I didn’t miss the painting that stares at me in the barn from across the room. I sit on a gold chair that matches the color of her dress, and sometimes we have a staring contest, me and this women to whom I am related. And for a while, I try to miss her, the woman with the pearls who’s been dead for 150 years. Can you really regret the death of someone you never knew? Maybe a picture really is worth a thousand words. She always wins though, the woman in the gold dress. She smiles innocently, wisely, not knowing what will happen in the future, but not concerned either. And this is why I admire her. She looks like someone I would like to know, someone who I should have known, so I hold on to the thought that a picture is actually worth a thousand, sometimes a million.

I never knew how it felt when someone you loved died. I never knew how to respond when my dad talked about his cat Felix who got hit by a car. I never knew how weak I was until my own cat got hit by a car on the same street, in the same spot. Then I realized that people don’t stay sad forever. Sadness turns into happy memories and regrets. The wind blows now as I sit outside, my feet propped up by a second wooden chair on the patio. Leaves fall off the pink tree, a petal spiraling toward the ground, airborne for just a second. It’s April, the most unpredictably cruel month, as the weather changes to spring but the wind still blows, and you find yourself with flip-flops in frosty spring rain. The sting of deceit.

I realize that I can’t leave this spot until I have written everything. I realize that I don’t know what to say anymore, lost in philosophical thoughts and reasons why. And I really need to go to the bathroom. My feet turn pink and the evening shadows start to set in across the dandelions that are yet to be weeded. They pop up every year, consistent as inconsistencies, as the staring of “Mona Lisa,” of the woman with gold and pearls. Dandelions push through grass as the leaves on the pink tree fall with a puff of wind.

The wind stops, and the leaves on the pink tree are safe for a few more minutes, seconds, moments. My dad plays the out-of-tune piano in the barn, the song he always plays. Sometimes I think it’s the only one he knows, but I know there are other reasons. “Haven’t you played that song before?” I say, trying to break the mood, a fragile spider web that is the barrier between the life and death of a fly. “Yes, it’s a sad song,” he says. And I know he has to be alone. And again, I don’t understand death, only pet death, possessing gravity but lightweight compared to that of a person. And I really have to go to the bathroom. A sad song for a person with too much death and too much time.

I have too many thoughts that I try to pin to a page, like the saturated butterflies in a case on a shelf in the barn, next to the woman with the pearls. Some of them float away, a monarch butterfly breaks through the glass and into pink leaves. I felt guilty about that too - 12 butterflies dead for decoration and forced to stare at a picture of a memory of a woman who’s been dead for 150 years. Twelve butterflies tacked inside glass, forced to listen to sad songs being played over and over again on an off-key piano.

But still, the light shines though the double doors, even though the sun isn’t setting or rising in that direction, blowing away the aftereffects of something that was, as the wind blows pink leaves from the tree in the back yard, as innocent as her smile. It’s going to be a late night, because I can’t stop my typing fingers. They type for me, energy from my head. And I realize I should print this out, everything that’s been figuratively rotting in my hard drive, molding thoughts begging to be set free by foreign eyes.

I can’t help myself picturing hundreds of stumps accompanying the one stump on the island in the middle of the driveway. Then death would have some company. It sits near the rose bush, safely out of reach of the thorns. Until the petals fall. Tree and stump in the island in the middle of the gravel loop that’s shaped like a big nine. When I was nine, I was proud that my age matched my driveway, stunned that I’d noticed it. I pointed it out to anyone who would listen, the innocence of my arrogance acceptable at the time. But 15 isn’t found in nature or driveways, not that it ever was.

Around the time I forced sadness for the gold woman, I contemplated stumps. How even when something dies, you can’t totally uproot it. How people plant trees even though they will inevitably die and leave a stump. How if you tried, you could probably get rid of it, but then you would be left with a hole. A stump, an ugly memory next to budding pink leaves. Her painting after 150 years, his song after the earthquake.

Caroline and I used to play on that tree that is now a stump, a something and a somewhere, where there is now empty space. Her adventure, my caution and contemplation. And we still played on it even when it got sick and the bark started to chip off, breaking apart even after being broken. It groaned under our weight, denial and pain at the same time. And maybe if we had let it heal, it would have gotten better, and the pink tree would have never existed. The guilt of the dead tree is another light weight that adds up to an anvil on my shoulders. My dad said that he and his grandfather planted it, and then we planted the tree right next to it, with the pink leaves that come and go. Traditions only compensate for pink leaves in the breeze, her missing face that sits in our barn and stares.

My writing dilutes itself with unnecessary metaphors and adjectives, but I write anyway, because I can’t stop myself until the page is watery and my head is dry. Its worth is measured by the page number. The sun drops its final inches behind the rocks, and my feet are splotchy and I am empty, which is what I wanted all along, wasn’t it? Empty so I could fill up with other things, more and more thoughts.

The barn is vacant, the music stopped when he drove away in the taxi. Unoccupied despite the woman with the pearls, the defeated butterflies, the off-key piano. Alone despite the pink leaves that fall and don’t get up. That multiply and will someday fill the whole world. As innocent as her smile.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 9 comments. Post your own now!

literaCThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
today at 7:33 pm
This story (or can I even call it that? it seems like something more) is wonderfully well written and unique. It reads like a stream of consciousness type of writing, and yet it flows and still expresses something like a story... it is very poetic, and communicates a sense of repetition and familiarity that is very comforting. You have a very unique writing style, and I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. Never stop writing!
Rising_Flames said...
Feb. 28 at 8:03 am
Absolutely lovely
stenova This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 6, 2015 at 12:22 pm
Just amazing. So much symbolism and metaphors and I'm really impressed. This has to be one of my favorite pieces that I've read on here. Great job :)
PianoKeys97 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 2, 2015 at 7:55 pm
Beautiful writing style and flow. I love the symbolism of the butterflies, tree stump, and off-key piano. Every idea connects so coherently. I am wow-ed. Keep writing!
MadiHatter192 said...
Sept. 12, 2014 at 12:52 pm
While the writing is beautiful, I dont really understand the meaning of the story. Keep up the good work though!
write2express said...
May 18, 2014 at 4:48 pm
I really enjoyed this! Your imagery was amazing, and I can relate to writing yourself dry so that you can fill up with more. It's happened :) Anyway, I thought that the way you wrote this was amazing, so keep writing!!! :)
MorbidLullabyThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 31, 2013 at 4:15 pm
It doesn't make sense. Forces readers to find their own meaning.   seriously adore it. Thank you for giving me my daily dose of enlightenment~ keep doing whatever you're doing, because for some reason it works. And it's lovely.
So-calledLife This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Sept. 13, 2009 at 9:32 am
it didn't all make sense but i think it's beautiful anyway :] your writing style is awesome!
corrina49 said...
Sept. 17, 2008 at 7:28 pm
i totally agree with you in that way of someone dying. have you had some one die in your family? i had my grandpa die when i was in 5 th, i missed a week of school
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