I wondered at the little girl, painting her in fast thin lines. I didn’t want to capture her details, not the folds of her coat, or the wild streamer of her blond hair. There was no time. I wanted to capture her spirit. The energy that made her run as fast as she could down the sands, her footfalls as brief in life as she will be. As brief as we all are. I wondered if I could capture her giggles. Is laughter a spiral or a circle? Should it roll or wriggle across my canvas?
“What you doing?” she drew to a halt right by my side.
“I’m painting. Painting you. Do you want to see?”
She giggled, looking at the sand, awkward and embarrassed. I turned my easel to show her her figure. The joy, could she see it? Was she too young to know how lucky she was to be so uncomplicated? She pointed at the squiggles I’d made. “What’s that?”
“That’s laughter. That’s what it looks like to me.”
She shook her head. “That’s not laugher.”
I offered out my palate, a brush. “Then paint it for me.”
She picked the sunshine colour: yellow. She painted with studious concentration in one low corner. A swirl? A lump? Two eyes?
“That’s a snail,” I said when she’d finished.
“I like snails. They’re funny looking. They make me laugh.”
“Gwyneth”? A voice called to her. “Come along now.”
She ran to her mother, two arms becoming a protective ring about her shoulders before she was gathered up. Precious little bundle.
I hoped she’d always run free. I hoped she wasn’t always told endlessly to be careful of this, careful of that. Don’t touch. Don’t look. Hardly be. No, you couldn’t trap a spirit like hers, why would you even dare to try?
I breathed the sea air deeply; smiled then out a laugh of my own. Snail shaped, of course. A swirl. A lump. Two eyes.
Rona J Frith