True or false: An animate painting or a mother takes a week off? by Tina Wayland
Tina Wayland, from Montreal, takes Lawrence Hill's first writing challenge and tells us one tall tale and one true story.
Which one do you believe: did a painting change the way she saw her newborn, or did she leave her six kids with a friend for a week? Let us know in the comments below!
UPDATE: The first story is true. Tina was so tired after being awake for four days straight after giving birth to her daughter that the figures in the painting really did start to move.
I look up at the painting and they move again. The portrait people. Dressed in hoop skirts and carrying parasols. They glide up and down the aquarelle dock. Pick painted flowers. Raise a smudged hand to one another in greeting.
I blink in the half dark and they stop. Settle back into the canvas. I look down and see my baby move. Kick. Cry. She’s hungry again and I fumble with the hospital gown. Pull at the bow. I can hear more crying from down the hall. A newborn, maybe. A mother. My daughter reaches a shaking hand up to my chest. Latches on.
The woman in the painting walks to the edge of the brown smudge of a dock. She looks over the side and stops. Waiting. Will she jump, I wonder. Will she dive in and find peace. A little sleep. Instead she moves back to where she came from. Her colours blend back in.
I know I’m supposed to feel something. Elated. Fulfilled. Instead I feel only tired, way back behind my eyes. In the hollows of my bones. For the last three days there has only been light and dark, light and dark. It is all the same day. Hourless. Endless.
I watch the woman with the painted baby carriage move back to the water’s edge. Maybe she’ll push the baby in. Tip the carriage over and walk away.
I look down at my daughter. So hungry. So small. I wonder if she can feel my fear. If I’m feeding it to her. I smooth out her rich clumps of black hair. Wrap her wrinkled hand around my finger. I wonder if I’m cut out for this.
When I look back the carriage is floating out to sea. Sinking. The lady in the hoop skirt is walking away down the dock, smiling at the baby in her arms. Free.
I look down and smile, too.
It was only when I had our sixth child that I called in the favour.
A big one.
I’d been saving it up for 10 years. Saving it up between diaper changes and midnight feeds. A thousand batches of pureed potatoes. A hundred million blisters and bruises. Cuts and scraped knees. I’d saved it selfishly while stepping on sharp toys in bare feet. Nursed it during long feverish nights and mornings when the sun rose before I was ready.
I’d tucked the favour down deep, deep into the bits of memory that still functioned. Protected it. Chanted it when rocking a crying newborn. Sang it when pushing a swing. And when the sixth baby was born I called it in. Called her up. I hoped she’d remember.
Hi, it’s me. It’s been a while.
I have six kids now.
Remember what you said when the first was born?
I’m not sure. What did I say?
You said if there was anything I needed.
Ah, yes. That was 10 years ago.
You said to ask anything. Anything at all.
You did. And I need it now.
Well, then. All right. What can I bring you?
Nothing. Nothing. I’ll bring it to you.
Me? What could you possibly bring me?
All of them?
All six, yes.
For an hour? An afternoon?
You can. You asked me if ever I needed a favour. You said I could call.
I’ll be there tomorrow.
And that is how I spent a week catching up on my sleep. In Mexico.