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The green sky in the attic

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In the city, there existed an empty, green space. A space, that is, that was characterized and informed at all levels by its emptiness and green-ness, a space whose interpretation could not at all deviate from these two innate qualities. While geographical landmarks existed within its confines, they too carried within themselves a connotation of absence, as their existence on the horizon only underscored the plain unformed soil at its centre. A dark green sky hung over the fields like an open chasm into another world.


It rested in a dusty attic, painted on a canvas, away from the sun. Propped up on its easel like a stand-up comedian facing a deserted theatre, forever on the verge of asking its punchline that no-one wanted to hear: why form? Why existence? The clutter that had come to surround it – sharp wooden shapes, veils, a mundane array of meaning-averse objects clinging to each other and enclosing in on the easel – made for adequate set dressing.


One day, as traffic clamored in the street down below and, in the corner, a pigeon struggled with the tattered remnants of a plastic bag, the cardboard that barred the attic’s broken window was at last struck down by the wind and the rain. A cold wind blew from the East and just like that, carried on a gust, the city fell inside the musty old room, and wondered.


In the attic, an emptiness in green. Outside, cigarette butts tracing constellations of dirt on the pavement, chimney smoke gobbling up the high rises in thick grey clouds, the low horns of the distant docks, a thousand voices speaking in a thousand tongues, thoughts expressed and never understood, abandoned mid-air to litter the atmosphere.


The city did not forget. On a wistful evening at the end of June, when storm clouds were heavy with dark vapour and the low sunlight made them glow with a dark green hue, it reimagined itself. Behold: the main square, painted in flat shades of white and yellow that welcomed the deepest shadows to pool under their colonnades. The idea of streets, unencumbered by a necessity to connect, pure lines cast across a plane. Admire their mathematical elegance. The tower that crumbled in the war, run through by bullets and cleaved in half on that last mournful day of air raids, in dreams it could still stand, red, healed, eternal, each perfect brick a memorial. Colourful flags atop its summit would greet with joy a wind that blew forever and unchanging. A monument to peace witnessed by pure air.

As the city conceived itself anew upon this foundation of emptiness, it saw that in the distance, across the mountains, half-hidden by the haze like the minute background of a Renaissance painting, another tower rose toward the green sky, different, taller. A sister, far away. They could trace their dreams of roads toward one another, raise simple buildings as one would raise an arm to brush one’s fingers against another’s hand. Would they ever meet across the empty fields?


In the central square, above the colonnade with its white walls and sharp lines, was the idea of a painter’s atelier, an empty attic with paints and palettes scattered in patterns that only made sense in the corner of the eye, blending into each other at the edges in unreal shapes. On the lone easel, a painting showed the dream of this city of emptiness. Under the same green sky, the same open and wondrous air, the same city square unfolded. Same austere white and yellow buildings, same still fountain in the middle, guarded by a tired marble statue resting on its plinth. But the tall concrete wall back at the end did not trace an uninterrupted line across the canvas: there was a door there, small and sturdy, leading to the tracks and platforms of the railroad station. If one had been inclined to pay incredible attention to the smallest details of the painting, it would have been possible to hear the ticking of the big clock above the main entrance, at the other end of the tracks. A train existed in different points in space at different moments in time, intervals of space getting closer as it slowed down and came to a halt. A flock of doves took flight. Vectors, probabilities, loose connections. And from the train, through the small sturdy door in the station’s back wall, came people, like a miracle.


A group of three visitors had barely crossed the door when one of them fell to his knees and began to measure the ground – with his hand’s width, lacking proper instruments, and thus divided the intrinsic, unqualified concept of “length” pertaining to the sidewalk coasting the wall into so many sub-units. His companions observed his work. One took notes. The other spoke of parking lots as if one could make a philosophy out of their proportions, and what they were witnessing were a glimpse into a new paradigm. Soon they fell silent.


The others spilled into the square like a dripping faucet into an empty ocean, scattering, small groups clinging together as they felt that their voice would not carry far through the intensity of this green air. They breathed it in as they adjusted their gaze to the solemnity of the buildings. Held their anxieties and their exhaustion tightly under their arm so they would not litter.


A woman eventually made her way across the square to the apartment building above the colonnade and rang at the doorbell. She would ask to speak with the artist who lived there, as they were doubtlessly a person of considerable talent and she would have the pleasure of asking them about their creative intent, or perhaps their sources of inspiration. And she would be told in the seventeen minutes since the building had been inhabited, no such person had been seen crossing its halls. Yet as she first laid her eyes on this place, she had been struck by the sight, through an open window in the building’s attic, of a lone canvas painted in green...