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PROLOGUE: | The Idea |
It began, as all things do, with an idea.
The idea began simply enough. At first it merely collected in the mind of the one who gave birth to it, gathering and drawing together slowly, just as vapor forms a cloud. It was a mass of thoughts and concepts, maps and plans, hopes and dreams, and for a time it was content to just lay dormant, a jewel nestled beneath a thin layer of sand. It existed, and that was enough for a short while. But soon it grew restless, seeking depth and reality, and the thread of sand that hid it fell away. And as the idea made itself known, the one whose mind the idea existed in recognized and accepted it — though he had been quietly aware of its presence since his existence had begun. Now that the idea was ready to manifest itself, the idea’s shelter allowed the idea to urge his hands into motion.
The Painter, for that was who he was, rose from the seat in which he had sat for so long and began to work. He opened every drawer and every closet, every cabinet and every door, and quite soon the contents of his entire home had been arranged: vibrant spectrums of paints and pastels, brushes with widths ranging from threads to thumbs, stark white canvases on stark white easels. Stepping back to survey his work, it was as if the Painter was in a sky of glorious beauty, where painted rainbows had shattered and splattered across the canvas backdrop of white so bright it hurt to look. And so the Painter picked up a brush and a jar of paint and began.
Over the span of time in which the sky of brilliant white became the sky of brilliant sights, the Painter did much. The very first touch of beauty upon the white was a streak of gold, next dripping and spilling across the canvas as if blossoming from the very whiteness of the world. And when the Painter had filled each and every canvas with this rich gold, he dipped his brush into other jars: glowing bronze, bleached copper, creamy hazelnut, until the room dazzled the Painter’s eyes simply to gaze upon it. Gilded with sunny splendor and traced with cream, the chamber glittered. And deep down in the Painter’s heart, though he knew that this was only the beginning and the end was millennia away, far from the first brushstroke, and that it all would soon be tarnished with pain and sorrow, he also knew that what he had done was beautiful. Now he had to name it. The best way to name a thing is to meditate on what it is all about. What to do? So he paused to think. Bright. Sight. Inspirer of hope and friend of night. The word floated into his head, airy and free, and the Painter retired right where he stood. He curled up on the sable carpet and closed his eyes as sweet rest enveloped him in its satin wings of warmth.
The next morning the Painter awoke with anticipation and joy in his heart at what next was to be, awash with an extraordinary sense of power and awe. Although the best of all creation was still days away, he scooped up his tools and with vigor and love splashed all kinds of blue across the canvases: periwinkle and azure, indigo and cyan, turquoise and ultramarine. Within the great plane of blue he stored all kinds of colors, weaving in between the sapphire streaks threads of pearl, mauve, russet, sable, and their families. These shades would manifest themselves at the debut of night in a glorious display. Its name would be as deep and wide as it was. It was the music box of birdsong and the river of clouds. High, fly, sky. After he had stepped back and taken it all in, as he had the night before, the Painter closed his eyes and slept. Soon after a tugging at the Painter’s heart gently urged his eyelids to open as the next dawn began its reign in the kingdom of morning, and he sat up. The Painter rolled another brush between the palms of his hands and took a deep breath.
Green. So much green. From his tremendous stores of color he plucked every single tone and shade he had of the hue of life and set them before him, understanding the magnificent task that loomed ahead. His mind whirled as he picked out further rainbow shards, from the radiant to the drab and the shimmering to the murky, and stacked them before him. The Painter threw himself into his mission, brush in one hundred places at once as he toiled. Brown first. As the day progressed, brown blossomed across the gold-and-blue canvases and snaked right and left until it all seemed a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, the pieces of which were merely blue and brown. Brown rose and fell, as if the chestnut-apricot skeleton of a great roller coaster, with aquamarine tugging at the borders. But then came the green in arcs and stripes, olive and emerald veins of it racing about. Once the green had seemingly overtaken the entire room, color sprouted: violets, lavenders, and indigos rolled down hills that were dolloped with smoky gray and pure white; more brown shot up from the green and erupted into fingerlike extensions reaching for the sky, graced by radiance itself; shorter pillars widened stoutly and were crowned with resplendence that stretched out like the horizon. Fawn threads rippled across the surfaces of the flat green lines and ecru dotted the plateaus. This, thought the Painter with an immense sense of intense satisfaction, this indeed is beautiful. It was the playground of all creatures, beings that would live in and on it and reap its fruits. It was where birth and mirth took place, and it retained the worth of the ages. Earth was the better part of creation — the melodious prelude to an even more exquisite song — and the thought that the best part was coming caused his heart to leap within him. But the Painter was tired, and to the floor he sank to greet sleep’s silken feathers.
In what seemed like only moments after they met darkness, the Great Painter’s eyes sought daylight a fourth time. From all manners of shades and tints of precious metals — shimmering bronze and argentine gray, grand crimsons and roses, rich ceruleans and ultramarines — he furled into great orbs, filling the cores first and then rounding them. From these great globes came glows, faint at first, hesitant and uncertain, but as time went on their iridescence grew. The beings came to cluster together as the Painter’s brush darted here and there and his wrist flicked back and forth. And at last, as the calming cloak of night descended upon the world, half of the room sparkled with diamonds and rubies. It was the black velvet case of billions of jewels. It would amaze. It was space.
Once more the following daybreak the Painter rose, dusted himself off, and bent his back to the arduous task to which he so eagerly ran. The things he created next to fill the world of blended blue were strange but beautiful. Simple but complex. Delicate yet strong. Like the webs of spiders, thought the Painter. The skies and seas were filled with creatures of fantasy that seemed as if they could leap off the canvases and delight a person to death. After the feathered population of the upper blue learned to ride the winds, the lower blue shifted to welcome their own creatures, animals that glided themselves on the currents of the water. There were odd-looking pouch-like things with symmetrical billows to the right and left and thorn-like objects at the front from which pleasant sounds soared. There were alarmingly enormous shadows of creatures that moaned with deep voices and languidly drifted through the lower blue. They were a panorama of life. They were animals. And all these were absolutely magnificent, the Painter whispered aloud to himself, but still there was the greatest to come.
Adrenaline pumped through the Painter on the sixth morning, and he was nearly giddy with excitement. So he leapt to his feet, gulped in the sweet morning air, and picked up his brush. From the hairs of his paintbrush sprang all kinds of creatures, tall and stubby, slim and stout, clawed and pawed. Pelts and fur and hair flared across their skin in smears and dapples from white to black. Eyes opened, bright, searching, soulful. Ears and noses twitched. Hooves and tails flicked. Wings fluttered and lungs were filled with air so pure it practically sparkled with cleanliness — and when every last stripe and spot had settled into place, and every bray and caw was shushed, the Painter, with the utmost care, scooped up the apricot dust of the earth. With his brush two pale, smooth lines formed an upside-down V; a thick band of creamy apricot followed, then branched into a wider upside-down V. The four branches tapered and then further split into ten tiny branches each. Then the brush continued up, firm and relentless, thinning the pale band into a line and then, with a flick of his wrist, the Painter formed an oval at the very top. His brush skimmed a bit of henna from his paint jar, then flicked two slim arcs into being on the oval. Beneath alighted two minuscule flecks, under those a U on its side. Under that two rose lines, and on the sides of the oval two apricot protrusions. And finally, at the top, a field of tawny wheat blossomed. Silence reigned as all the world popped to the tips of its toes, holding its breath to see the being’s first one — for this was a solemn time. Never before had such a thing occurred.
The Painter had created a human being.
And as this thought echoed through the minds and hearts of the Painter’s world, air flooded the man’s lungs, and he opened his eyes.