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The place was covered in art. It seemed to, almost literally at times, seep out the walls. The windows were covered in paint smears, the ceiling was plastered with endless drawings, and every surface imaginable was cluttered with balled-up scraps of paper. The door was painted a brilliant red, and the window in it looking onto the bleak hallway outside was stained glass, a personal favorite of Tai’s.
Tai herself was something of a work of art. She wore her artist’s soul on her sleeves in every sense of the phrase. Unseen tattoos marred her body in depressing visions of black ink. Her hair was spiked in every direction, a bright blue halo around her face. Her nose was pierced, as was her lip, her eyebrow, her tongue, and her navel…Tai had always been a thorough person.
She padded across the floor now, a collection of fake Persian rugs and little bits of unidentified clutter. She crossed the large room to the bed, laying herself down on the tangle of sheets. There on her pillow, a large, fish shaped piece of green foam, was her drawing book. Tai picked it up and began to draw. Usually all it would take was a line to get her started, but now as she stared at the blank sheet of paper all she saw was a line and no inspiration miraculously engulfed her as it so often had.
Desperately, Tai flung the book down and braced her elbows against her bare mattress, eyeing the room for any source of motivation. She flung herself across the room to her collection of paints shoved into the corner and lying on an old and weathered sheet. Tai picked up her favorite colour, a goldenrod yellow, and began to paint tentative curls across the wall. Sighing, she lowered her hand and leaned back to study the rest of the wall. A mass of brilliant colours were seemingly flung across the once white wall. Eyes with dewy lashes looked back at her, abstract flowers grew from the floorboards and up past the windows, a purple sun hung eerily from an orange sky.
Tai closed her eyes and imagined the apartment as it once was. White, everywhere. White ceilings, white walls, a simple white throw-rug in the corner. There had even been a white ceramic lamp, now a collection of broken pieces formed to create the mosaic mirror frame by the door. Tai had looked at the place in a breathless state, itching for a paintbrush. The landlord, of course, didn’t care. He was too busy in his cramped apartment on the first floor of the huge house, pounding on his ancient typewriter in the dead of the night.
Tai had started with the walls. First, a green chimney omitting a long and curling thread of yellow smoke, really just a collection of twisting yarn Tai had glued to the wall. She prided herself on the 3-D life she led in the apartment, so separate and so different from the lives of the other residents of the building. Next door was Bill, who had come to the city to find work and had landed a low-pay, boring job as a technician in the mailroom of a large, industrial company. He left at dawn, came home at seven, and ate TV dinners for his required nutritional ingestion. Bill was the most reliable of men, and the most predictable. Not exactly Tai’s type.
Tai eyed the ceiling again, letting out a long breath, and walked over to the mirror to pluck off a picture of her and her sister, years ago. The picture was the only thing Tai had carried from her old life to the life she led now. With a ridiculously small amount of money stashed away in her bank account, Tai had set off after graduation and left her home with her small, respectable family without any prior notification or any promise of ever returning. That was obviously before the tattoos and piercings, her mother would have never approved of them. Her father would never have noticed.
The only regret Tai had ever harbored was leaving her sister behind.
Tai slowly laid the picture back on the cool surface of her dresser, and turned to survey the rest of the room. There, across from her, was the huge and incriminating image of herself, reflected in the mirror, leaned against the wall. Tai had bought the thing from a garage sale on a whim and radically changed it. Along the frame were long strips of copper, twisting in circles to form small hearts where before all that had framed the mirror were pale, plain boards. The actual mirror, however, had stayed the same. There was Tai, barefoot, in long, oversized pants covered in customized patches to hide the growing holes in the knees. Over her shoulders was draped a huge sweater, reaching past her thighs, buttons come loose and never replaced. Her hair stuck in all directions, and on her face she wore a cold, bored expression.
Tai…she had not always been called that. She was once Victoria, a very respectable and dignified name for the next ruler of the corporate world. Her mother had always believed that Tai would one day own a business of sorts and support her dear old parents into retirement. She had the grades in school…an average of 93 and an army of adoring teachers for references to universities. What Tai’s mother had never particularly noticed were her high marks in art class. Tai depended on only that to carry her through the rest of her life, without any anticipated university diploma to be expected of her in the future. Tai had broken away to make a new life for herself, much to the surprise of everyone.
With a little luck and determination, Tai had earned the bus fare to carry her as far away from her hometown as possible, landing in Toronto. Immediately and before she even found an apartment, Tai went to a coffee shop and applied for a job. Before long, she was the manager of the pathetic operation, taking orders for ridiculously complicated drinks with gusto.
The small and unreliable pay was enough to get Tai a room in a rented house in an abandoned part of the city. The entire place smelled of weed and various different kinds of alcohol, and Mr. Garson was known to forget to pay the electricity bills on time. Tai loved it at first sight. It was so bleak and dreary that she couldn’t help but adore it and draw endless variations of it in her large collection of drawing books.
Tai was prideful of the life she led in the cramped room, or at least until last week. Last week, Tai had completed the last of the far wall closest to the door, had pinned up the last piece of paper that the ceiling could manage, and had exhausted an entire paycheck on paints, unopened and still flung into the corner of the room. With these last few touches on her apartment had come a heavy and at times deafening silence. She could never escape from it, no matter where she went. Whether she was home, at work, or in a large and rowdy bar, the silence followed her, like an endless stream of white noise.
Tai no longer went to parties with her new-found friends, and though they never stopped calling, she never answered. Tom, her latest boyfriend, had come to visit on a number of occasions, but Tai had turned out the lights and ignored his pleas for her to let him in. She would watch him from her window as he retreated back to his car, and she would have an overwhelming desire to reach out to him, but he seemed so distant, as if she were underwater and he was looking down through the distorted surface. It was as if she were walking through a lake, her steps slowed by the water, her spoken words echoing off the surface and bouncing back at her.
She had run out of inspiration. Her drawing books were filled with lines and slight curves, outlines of what might have been a person, a place. Slowly, Tai had sunk into an intoxicating quiet that seemed to engulf her and control her every thought and action. Desperately, she tried to drown it out with painting or small and disjointed sessions on her old saloon piano, up against the northern wall. Nothing could interrupt the deafening silence, and Tai had learned to accept it. At times she hardly had the strength to fight it, and instead succumbed to the silence and let it overpower her.
Tai now stood in the centre of her apartment, staring blankly at her reflection and wondering how it had come to this. She had everything she wanted, she had completed everything she had been working towards, and yet she could not find a single pleasing thought or word. Tai had rebelled against her old life with art, and art had rebelled against her with her old life, slowly creeping back. Tai wanted more, but she knew she could never find it.
Tai felt rejected. She had so much pride in what she called art, and she felt so completely above the rest of the world, high in her cramped apartment while people fought for money and power below. But what had it amounted to, in the end? What had Tai’s art ever done for her, even after she had spent so much of herself to produce it?
Angrily, Tai spun around to face the corner, where an intricate pile of untouched tubes of paint lay. Tai stalked towards them, and opened up the first tube, a crimson red, and let the paint drip from the nozzle, running down her arm. She looked to the wall and flung the tube against it, letting the red splatter against her prided art. Next, she picked up the tube of yellow and, holding it in a death grip, watched herself with an eerie separation as an arch of gold flew from the centre of the room to the next wall. Small drops of yellow fell on her bed.
It continued. Next, Tai picked up the black and then the blue, then orange, then green. Soon the room was covered in a collision of colours, as was Tai. Her clothes were spattered; her hair was a cataclysmic mixture of both blue hair and every other colour imaginable. Slowly, she dropped the now empty tubes of paint and turned towards the door of her bathroom. She had a long shower, washing away both paint and tears. She didn’t bother with make-up, or any creative combination of clothes. She slipped some faded blue-jeans on, and found a plain white t-shirt. Walking over to her splattered closet, she found a grey sweatshirt covered in images of permanent marker, and turned it inside-out.
Slowly, Tai rummaged through the bottom of the closet and found an old bag to stuff her wallet in. She found her lost keys and placed them delicately on her nightstand, and, finally, made her way to the front door and let herself out, leaving the door open behind her.
She found an abandoned notepad and pen in her bag to write a simple note on both Bill’s and Mr. Garson’s doors before climbing out the fire escape and landing on her feet on the sidewalk.
Tai found herself in the coffee shop to pick up her last paycheck, and cashed it to the bank before settling herself on the graffitied bench of the nearest bus stop.
She hadn’t looked at any bus schedules, and she hadn’t consciously planned the trip, per say, but she knew without a doubt where she was going. As she stepped onto the crowded bus, she felt a slight panic at the wall of sound that met her before smiling and breathing deeply. Silence is only golden for a while.
Tai walked slowly down the aisle of the bus, pausing momentarily before sitting beside an old lady swathed in floral prints. The woman smiled at her before getting back to her novel and Tai watched the bald head of the man in the seat in front of her.
Who can define art? Who can name it with a three-letter word and then let it be? Who can define the limits, who can establish boundaries? Tai was a work of art, though her tattoos and piercings could only be called small protests, rebellion. Tai had been a work of art since birth.
To the rest of the people on the bus, Tai was just a young girl in unnoticeable clothing, hair tucked away into an unnoticeable grey hat. What they did not see, however, was the goldenrod yellow paint tube buried deep in her purse, untouched, but full of unlikely potential.