“This world is but a canvas to our imagination” – Henry David Thoreau.
Smirking, Anya looked over the photographs that had been scrunched into balls; faces of her family were wrinkled and distorted, pieces of the glossy paper hung freely from the clothespins that ran along the wall on wires. Mary-Anne’s pictures were ruined. The attic began to tremble and Anya heard what sounded like the rumble of an approaching train.
A far-off voice called out her name. It sounded like Todd. Anya thought to herself, “Am I dreaming?” She looked around for where his voice might be coming from, but she was alone in the attic. The boxes stacked against the attic wall rattled as the clanking of a train on metal tracks roared louder and louder, blowing its horn as if it were headed straight toward the house. A sharp wind blew the scraps of paper in the air as Anya took a few steps back in disbelief. She bumped her foot against one of Ma’s old canvasses, her big toe coming away wet and stained with paint. Thin streams of paint trickled from the canvas and came together in red and purple puddles. The sky above the carousel in Ma’s painting sizzled like burning oil in a pan, sending off specks of blue onto Anya’s nightgown. The train whistle screeched. It was impossibly close. As Anya was about to turn and run, the boxes burst open and paint spurted everywhere.
The attic began to flood. Anya was trapped in a growing sea of swirling colours. Before long she was a floating work of art herself, covered as she was in multiple splotches of paint. Anya opened her mouth to cry out but a huge wave rolled in from behind the curtains and swept the young girl off her feet. She flailed her arms but it was no use. She felt herself being pushed and pulled as the sea of paint spun, as though someone were stirring it with a spoon. She spotted the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling and wasted no time. Kicking her legs and flailing her arms, Anya swam until she was able to reach out and grab a hold of the cord. Just then, as the cold paint was splashing against her chin, the floor gurgled. Anya hung in midair and watched as the entire sea drained into Ma’s canvas.
Groups of children were gathered around every window peering out as the bulky train came to a slow stop beside the tree with the wooden pictures frames. In large looping letters above a ferocious looking tiger, a sputtering firecracker, dancing mice and a flying trapeze swinger painted on the metallic door of one of the train cars, were the words: “Tourne au Rouge.” Leaning against the wheel of the train, the spindle-legged man dressed in a scarlet jacket with golden buttons tapped his silver spoon once more against the edge of his tea cup, before drinking it all in a single gulp.
“She mustn’t see the boy,” said the man to the shadow as it came scurrying back from where it’d gone.
It shook its head vigorously, bending over to catch its breath.
“Now go take it down,” he hissed. “She will be here any minute.”
The shadow was about to sigh, but then corrected itself. It stood by the tree and swung its arm high above its head like a loose rope. After two attempts, its hand reached the wooden frame in the top right corner and knotted itself around the branch. It snapped the frame off with a flick of its wrist. Gently, the shadow reeled its arm back down, feeling the man’s eyes locked on its every move. Just as the wooden frame was propped against the trunk, Anya came sliding out of the frame in a pool of brown mush.
“You’re right on time,” the man said, pulling a watch from his inner pocket. “The train is about to leave.”
The man held forth the broken horse’s leg, “I believe this belongs to you.”
Anya came forward, furrowing her eyebrows.
“Little brothers,” he sneered. “Always touching what doesn’t belong to them.”
“Who are you?” asked Anya, taking the broken piece.
Flecks of dust shook free as the man jerked on his jacket and said: “Jester Thingrim.” He took her hand in his and shook it firmly.
“Have you seen my bro—“
“Todd?” Jester Thingrim cocked his round head to the side and grinned. “He’s already on board.”
A gentle breeze blew under her nose, carrying a whiff of caramel and buttered popcorn with just a hint of peppermint. Rubbing her arms to warm them, Anya looked at the train and at the children inside, bickering with one another.
Anya said: “We should go home” and looked over her shoulder at the empty wooden frame.
“I’ll go get Todd then.” Jester Thingrim shrugged. “He’ll be disappointed, though. He was so excited to meet his mother…”
“W-what? My mother is here?”
Jester Thingrim took a giant step toward the train and said: “Right there,” indicating the tiny painting of the trapeze swinger. Anya stared at the painting, dumbfounded and without realizing it took the man’s proffered arm and boarded the train.
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