The Further Adventures of Dorothy Gale
Her first day back didn’t go so well. She’d missed so much. Mr. Seddon asked her to read a poem from the reader.“One who sets reason up for judge of our most holy mystery,” she read, but the word mystery was one she’d never seen before. All of the other words were black, but this one was in red, like a drop of blood on the page. She dabbed at it and some of it came off, rosy whirls glowing on her finger tip. The other kids laughed when she stopped reading. She heard them whisper: “Musta got hit on the head hard. She got her brains knocked out.”
Walking home that afternoon she kept apart from the others. Her lunch basket swinging in her hand as she walked. She was proud of the basket; she’d made it herself. It was a thing she’d brought into the world, all on her own. Well, Mrs. Carter had shown her how to make the God’s eye, the diamond weave where the handle meets the bowl. She stopped to look at it again, and she noticed that the glow on her fingertip had faded completely.
God’s eye, she thought, that’s what they showed me how to do, up there. Only now I can see how people’s faces here wrinkle; I can see the hollow gray in their eyes. I can hear their flat words and tik-tok thoughts. I can see how the sky scrapes the earth now.
The little dog ran to her when she opened the gate. She picked him up and squeezed him. He squirmed with delight, licking her hands. She set him down gently. “Go,” she said. She couldn’t bear to see him now, because he’d been there, too. He was the one person who knew what it was like, and he didn’t care where he was, as long as he was with her. He made her feel bad sometimes.
She made a beeline for the hog pen. “Hunk,” she said, “I got a problem.”
“Shh, girl,” he said, “you know she don’t like me talking to you, specially not while I’m working.” He scraped the coal shovel along the concrete under the trough. It filled with steaming muck. He dumped it into the wheelbarrow and then he stopped, shovel in mid-air, ready for another scrape. “You still here?”
“No,” she said.
“Tell me then, sweetie. Be quick.”
“Did you ever want something so bad—so much, it’s all you can think about. And then you finally get it. And you don’t want it anymore.”
He smiled. “Can’t say as I’ve ever been in that situation.”
“You’re lucky, then.”
“No,” he said. “You’re the lucky one. This is all I got, honey. All I ever had the imagination to want. You have everything.”
“Everything’s not enough.”
“I know.” He paused. “It was something, that place, huh?”
“I love you so much, Hunk,” she said. “You talk to me like it was real.”
“It was real enough,” he said, “real to you. You got to get back there.”
“I don’t know how.”
“You’re growing up,” he said. “You know things some people don’t figure out all their lives. You’ll figure it out.”
“I know one thing. I am never going to find my way back there.”
“Well. If you can’t go back, you got to go forward. You can’t think on the things you’ve left behind. That was your first mistake, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” she said, slowly.
“I got to fill this wheelbarrow now. Don’t matter what I fill it with. It’s the empty that’s the problem. Now let me get back to it fore I get fired again.”
“Thanks. Thank you, Hunk.”
“Any time, girl. You remember what I said. Don’t you look back next time.”
Next time started with a man who sold brushes door to door. He dumped her in Texas, a hard, hard place. She got a job waiting tables at the Coney Lunchroom in Houston.
She drew the menu on the chalkboard. The flowers she drew around the margins were the ones she’d known in that far country. She drew them well: red flickered in the chalk when the sun hit it just right.
She bought paper with her tip money and drew on that with chalk and charcoal. The colors bloomed on their own. The owner of the lunchroom hung her drawings up behind the register. Someone asked if they were for sale one day. He said yes. He sold them for five dollars apiece and gave Dorothy fifty cents.
Soon her drawings appeared around the city. Splashes of color in the gray, big red poppies for the stony gray walls of the well-to-do.
A painter from New Orleans bought a drawing and tried to copy it. The colors dripped like mud from his brush. A gallery man saw the drawing tacked to the wall in his studio and bought it for five hundred dollars. When the painter told the gallery man where he’d found it, he drove to Houston that same day. He found her still working in the lunchroom.
When she moved to New Orleans, she painted the moon over Lake Pontchartrain, beating red. She painted the faces of the lost on Bourbon Street in colors no one had ever seen before, the colors of hunter and hunted, wolf howl and tiger paw.
She became known about the city, and then something of a celebrity, and not just in Nola.
She had lovers, one after another. Artists, seers and magicians, every one.
She never married. She got rich. She put on weight. She acquired a taste for Jamaican coffee, and Jamaican hashish. The color left her hair but never her sight. She painted every day as long as she lived. No one had ever seen anything like the things she painted.
No one will ever see such things again.
She’d have laughed if you told her that. She’d have said that you’ll never see anything living backward.
Forward. That’s the trick.