To See All the Spaces

The boy wants to make everything gold—the shark in the center of the picture, all the small fish around it, the seaweed, even the air bubbles, his yellow marker moving deliberately across the paper, slower than it needs to because he “doesn’t want to miss a spot,” wants to leave not even the tiniest hint of white between the black lines, wants to leave nothing at all on the page uncolored except the sea itself, except the water he never colors any more than he ever colors the sky on other pages, both of them just merely suggestions of wet or of wind. It’s past his bedtime, and this sudden need for precision is just another thing to be added to the long list of stalling tactics he has tried over the years. “But the light will be better in morning,” I tell him. “You need the sunlight to see all the spaces.”

When the boy colors he always starts with the bodies in those spaces—those of animals, those of people—whatever looms largest in the picture’s center. I always start with any small circles, with centers, with pistils and stamens instead of petals and stems, the zigzags or spirals or elegant leaves—the details. I always start with the details.

They are just pictures we are coloring while sitting at a tiny table near sunset, but they are also who we are: the boy, who misses the patterns in things in favor of what’s loudest or brightest or most exciting, the woman, who gets lost in the minutia, can pull up in her mind’s eye visual snapshots of every cupboard in her house and many of those in the homes of others, can state with precision where on someone else’s tabletop the rough spots are, what the feel is of a cabin floor once wandered at night, which steps in someone else’s house creak. But I can’t say with certainty the last time I told someone who wasn’t my son I love you as an opening instead of I love you too as a response, can’t say with certainty why, of all the times I wanted to say it, I didn’t.

Was I better in mourning? When I loved too much then even the ones who had gone? When there was not sun, not light enough to see all that empty space a soul might hold? Not enough sunlight to have seen all the betweens, the hollowed out places, too much darkness then to consider if feeling bad was really worse than feeling nothing at all.

I can see the leaves, can color all the various shades of them. But like the boy, I don’t color the sky, leave it only as suggestion, of breath maybe, of wind. I don’t color the sky, just see all the spaces where someday color might go. Call it undetermined. Call it not yet done.

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