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Field’s heart plummeted. The envelope was too small. She held it in the hallway of the apartment building she had been living in for only a year and carefully tore the envelope open.
Dear Field Jones,
We regret to inform you that you have not been selected for this year’s Master of Fine Arts program at our institution. It was a highly competitive program with many applicants. All the entries were of high quality.
We wish you the best in your future.
Field read the letter over, hoping she had maybe misread something, but it was a short letter and there was no way to mistake its contents. She walked into her one-bedroom apartment, cramped with her artwork, paintings and supplies everywhere, and dropped the envelope on the table. She left for school, her mind drowning with this news.
She had never seen the big, brown door before. She had walked past it every day on her way to school but had never noticed how tall it was, had definitely never wandered through it. She paused on the sidewalk before the church and tilted her head at the building. In fact, she had never really considered the church itself before; it was grey and looked like every other church. Staring at it now, however, she realized it wasn’t like all churches. Or maybe it was, in the way that humans look like all humans but also all look very different from one another.
This church was very old and lopsided. It seemed to sag on one side, but that only made it more endearing. It was grey, but also covered in green moss and vines, as if the walls were being reclaimed by nature. What really struck her on this particular day was the door, and deciding that it was far more interesting than the English class she had been marching towards, she walked up to it.
The door was grand and loomed high over Field’s head. She could tell from its very straight lines, so unlike the soft, worn edges of the rest of the building, that it was new. This seemed peculiar to Field, as she’d never once seen anyone going into or coming out of the church. Why would an abandoned church get a new door?
This door wanted to be pushed open. Maybe because it was new and still eager to fulfil the role it had been built for, or maybe because the trees that made up the wood of the door wanted to be purposeful and know that they had not been cut down in vain. Whatever the reason, it was almost palpable. Almost audible. The desire for this door to be pushed open and walked through made Field long to comply.
And so she did.
Field didn’t know if she was supposed to knock. Are churches public spaces? She wasn’t sure. In movies she saw people simply wander into churches on a whim, so she decided that’s what she should do here. She pushed against the door and it opened enough to reveal the inside of the church.
The floor was made of the same stone as the walls, and combined with the size of the church it created a cave-like effect. There were six rows of benches, the same wooden color as the door. At first Field meant to just step inside and see what was there and perhaps sit for a moment on a bench. Now, however, she was transfixed by the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
At the front of the church there was a giant stained-glass window. Depicting the loading of Noah’s Ark, it was full of different animals all in different colors. The effect of their colors inside of the church was otherworldly. Looking around, Field thought this must be what it feels like to step inside of a rainbow, to dance inside of a kaleidoscope.
The colors and light shone brightly, hitting the benches and the stone walls and floor. They spread proudly, illuminating the very air they passed through. Field looked around. There must be someone who spent their day marveling at this festival of lights, someone who at least guarded them? There was no one. The only other entrance was a small door at the back, off to the side, but there was a podium placed in front of it as if no one used that door anymore. Field took the few steps to cross the space towards the small door and tried the doorknob – no use, it was locked.
Normally she may have felt quite lonely or nervous in a place like this, but not here. The colored lights seemed to be there with her. Dropping her bag on a bench, she spanned her hand in front of a red ray of light. Instead of casting a black shadow, the shape thrown among the red was made blue. She pulled her hands back and looked at them. She put them back into the red, linking her thumbs to make the shadow puppet of a bird. Her hands were replaced with green shadows that started to flap their wings. Field pulled back her hands towards her in fear – she hadn’t been moving her hands like that! But even with her hands gone the green shadow bird continued to flap its wings, seemingly learning to fly, and then it flew from this bench to the other and up the stone walls. Field spun around to see if someone behind her had done this but there was no one. Instead her feet started to attract small shards of color, yellows and purples all bumping into her as if asking for her to create more things.
She bent down and swirled her fingers around in the colors and they danced and seemed to shimmer and sparkle and mix.
She started to create shapes. A blue dog that jumped around the room. A yellow flower that bloomed and bloomed. A pink rabbit that raced along the aisles. A red dragon that blew orange flames across the floor. A huge green tree that grew and grew until it had covered the ceiling entirely. Many multicoloured birds and butterflies that fluttered around her. Field laughed and smiled and, so absorbed in absolute joy, dancing with the colored light, didn’t even realize how carefree she felt.
Suddenly someone opened the door. Bright sunlight, unfiltered by any colored pane, shone into the church, overtaking her creations. She looked at the slender man who raised his eyebrows, surprised at seeing someone in here, and she rushed out of the church back to school.
Sitting in her morning class, she watched the way the light shone through the windows on to the desks and students and floor. It was bright and white but didn’t dance or move.
“In today’s lecture we’ll be discussing ‘Howl’ by Allen Ginsberg. Can anyone tell me why it might be called ‘Howl’?” Field slowly raised her hand. She liked answering questions she was sure she knew the answer to. “Field?”
“Because it’s a shout, a yell out into the void. It’s unapologetic in its…” – she forgot the word – “… in its … uhm, the like, its want to be…” – the classroom of students was silent, but she could feel their eyes on her, which made it even harder to find the door that had the answer behind it – “…like, sexiness,” she finally spurted out.
“That’s right,” the teacher said, and continued with the lecture. Field nodded and let her hair fall in front of her face to make curtains that blocked her from the others. She reveled in the way the light pushed through her hair, wishing she was back with the dancing colored lights.
On her way home she heard a man with clippers trimming the grass and weeds on the fence that surrounded a small park. She had often seen parents with small children or couples with dogs or old couples sitting on benches in the park but had never wandered in. The man clipped a large section of vines and overgrown branches and as he pulled them away he exposed a gate. Field walked up to it and pushed it open, letting herself in to the park.
As she stepped in, the sun seemed to shine brighter and the saturation levels of everything felt as if they had been turned up – colors were more vivid, and there didn’t seem to be a single place where a shadow could be. As she walked down a narrow pathway that wound around the park she heard a group of people mumbling. She looked around but could only see a young family a distance off, it can’t have been them. She kept walking but again heard the group of high-pitched people giggling and mumbling, and looking around she noticed a flower garden that wrapped around the park. In it were yellow daffodils that jiggled with the wind, and bending down to look at them she tilted her head and realized that they were the ones talking.
As she sat on the ground, the daffodil heads all twisted towards her, and she said, “Oh, I’m sorry to disturb you, I heard you were talking…”
The daffodils giggled in high breezy voices and one of them said, “Oh, that’s okay, tulip, you can hear our story.” The daffodils told Field a story about a dog who had come earlier that day and had tried to trample them but they had scared him off with their giggles. They nuzzled each other as they talked, seemed to knock into one another as they laughed and chattered. Partway through their story the small child, the little girl from the family Field had seen, wandered up to where she was sitting. Field let her sit on her lap as the flowers kept laughing about the dog. Eventually the parents came up to the two of them and smiled.
“Talking to the flowers, Lucy?” the father laughed, and Field looked up surprised that he could hear them too, but then she saw that he was joking.
“Yes!” said Lucy. “They’re telling us a story about a dog!”
The parents laughed. “Flowers can’t talk, dearest one,” said her mother, as she lifted the girl up onto her hip. “Although sometimes they sound like they’re laughing when the wind blows through them.”
“If only we still had such imagination, honey,” said the dad, shaking his head. “Kids have something we’ve lost.”
They smiled at Field, thanking her for indulging their daughter, and walked off. Field wanted to whisper to Lucy that she could hear them too. “What’s the matter, sunflower?” asked a daffodil, breaking her out of her reverie.
Field watched the flowers wave back and forth and trusted them. “I don’t like going to school,” she started, and the flowers seemed to nod wisely even though they themselves can’t ever have been to school. “Every day I hope it’s closed or that something will happen to block my way.”
“How much longer do you have to go?” asked one very tall daffodil.
“Only two more months, I guess,” Field answered, sighing.
“That’s not too long!” said one that seemed to be the last to fully bloom. “What will you do when you’re free?”
“I want to…” – she hesitated – “…I’m going to do an art course far away.”
The daffodils sang together, “Oh that sounds wonderful!”
Field nodded and agreed. “Can I take one of you with me?”
“Oh yes, of course, daisy,” they giggled, and so Field closed her eyes and reached out and picked one at random. It spun in her fingers as she tucked it into a buttonhole high on her shirt. Before leaving she picked one more, so that neither would feel lonely.
She walked the two blocks back to her home. After climbing up the flight of stairs to her apartment, Field placed her flowers in a skinny vase and watched them smile and splash in their new home. She slumped on the beat-up old couch that the tenant before her had picked out and stared across at the picture on the wall opposite. It was a painting that had hung there throughout her time leasing this apartment, but she had never much cared for it. It was of a little stone cottage on a beach. Field tilted her head when she noticed something under the bottom of the frame.
She walked up to it and pushed the painting aside, revealing a tiny cupboard. Since when has this been here? She tried opening it but it was stuck or locked so she sat back down and tried to concentrate on reading. She found that her eyes kept lifting from her page to the secret door and so she got up, slowly, and walked towards it again. It was a plain, square door painted the same beige as the wall. She tried again, pulling harder, until this time a rusted latch broke.
The space behind the door was very small, maybe the size of a microwave, and inside sat some spiders on a spider web. The biggest of them looked at Field. She remembered the story of Charlotte’s Web and wasn’t surprised when the spider walked up in front of her face and smiled.
And then they all got to work.
Like the lights in the church the spiders bounced back and forth, flying from one end to the other, catching each other’s webs, twisting around one another, all working together to build the most beautiful and intricate web Field would ever see.
It wasn’t a drawing of anything that Field recognized. It wasn’t like the story where Charlotte spelled out a word, but a geometric shape constructed from thousands of sections creating the most beautiful dreamcatcher imaginable. Then the spiders spread out around the edges of the web and looked at Field. And so she closed her eyes and blew a wish through the web and when she opened them again they had disappeared.
She shuffled back, shut the door, and put the painting back in place. She wondered why her landlord had hidden this tiny space from her. When it was time for dinner she warmed up a frozen meal. Sitting to eat at the long wooden table that took up most of the space in her small, hollow apartment, she looked across at the torn-open envelope she had left there that morning.
The flowers stopped humming, their smiles drooped. She looked at them and sighed. She reached over and pulled it back. She read it over. Nothing had changed. The thing she had wanted for the past year, the thing that would get her closer to her dreams, was gone. She had been so sure she would be accepted that she hadn’t bothered to apply anywhere else.
Field changed into her pajamas. She didn’t want to settle into bed, so feeling restless she pulled her blankets and pillows onto the couch instead. She had never laid here before, had never had reason to, and so only now did she realize she had a perfect view out of the old, painted-shut window. She could see the Big Dipper and Orion – she tried to remember other constellations but couldn’t. They swarmed together, the stars, like a school of fish or flock of birds. They got together and they made a flower, tall and slender and blowing in the wind, and she heard the flowers beside her head giggle and rub their petals together in soft flower claps.
And then the stars formed together and they showed her a girl who took the time to dance with light, a girl who was brave enough to share her ideas, who wasn’t scared of spiders, and who listened closely enough to hear flowers laughing. And then Field fell asleep.