• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 07

The light, the light

My grandmother once took me to a gallery, all the way to London on the train in the rain, just so I’d be able to see Ophelia—her favourite drowned woman among greenery and flowers—but Ophelia was smaller than either of us expected, disappointingly small. Together, we’d dreamed up a twelve-foot-high painting, a giant of a woman in a dark, horrible, brackish place I’d never liked, a landscape deep enough to tip right into, pulled into darkness, a dangerous painting. But Ophelia was barely as long as a newborn, the landscape confined tight by a gilt frame, and my grandmother took my warm hand in her cool one, squeezed my fingers tight, and we moved away from the painting without a word, never mentioned again, not in all her years.

We could have left the gallery then, gone for afternoon tea somewhere or searched for a toyshop, but instead, we stayed. The travel had been long, the tickets expensive, and so we dutifully stopped in front of every other painting, whispered about each one, soon forgetting little Ophelia, and told stories about the knights and princesses and children, all so colourful and real they were begging to have stories told about them. I remember bubbles painted with prismatic rainbow sheens, a man hiding in a tree, a ghost appearing in the dark, and a woman wearing a silver satin dress which creased from being folded up in a chest somewhere, that crease the most real unreal thing I’d ever seen.

We wandered, hand in hand, through a chain of high-ceilinged galleries, now evening-lit, crowns outside the glass, each room a distinct colour—green, blue, yellow, red. We wandered until we came to a painting of two girls sitting in a bright field under a thunderstorm, and we stood there for a long time. I’m not sure what my grandmother was thinking, but I was thinking that this, this here was really the picture we’d come to see, although we hadn’t known it.


The light, the light

It was the light. The light. The brightest light in all the paintings. The type of light that, decades later, I still gasp when I glimpse in reality, a rare light created only by the darkness of weather and the light of the sun combining into something new and rare. The type of light that can only exist with darkness close by.

‘The Blind Girl’, my grandmother read the plaque, quietly, just for me. And I looked at the girl’s face, the pink of her cheeks, her pale eyelashes and closed lids, and when I recall the moment now, I like to think I said something like, ‘But she knows it’s beautiful, she knows,’ but I’m not sure I said anything at all.