by Nicole Walsh
Inside, the still and calm of an orderly, organised house. Outside, the landscape jumped and jigged and jived. Watchful of neighbours, Miss Elouise Hampton smuggled the carefully cloaked, discretely disguised painter into her living room.
He clutched the wall, sickened.
“Would you like to sit?” she fretted.
“Motion-sick. The landscape.”
“I see,” Miss Elouise Hampton murmured. She did not. The world outside was in constant motion. Trees churned their roots in a slow-motion crawl across fields, leaving pathways of softened dirt across which grass and weeds zigzagged their own zany journeys. Rocks rolled and romped, leaving obscure messages in the dust.
“You requested the curtains closed?”
The painter looked better. The stillness inside the house was soothing to his sensibilities. Outside, a deep groan and grind marked the slow, seasonal movement of a huge tree. The painter watched the shadows shift around the edge of the curtains.
Miss Elouise Hampton wrung her hands nervously:
“How do we start?”
“Position yourselves. I will spend a moment watching, then come inside. You prepared a room?”
She pointed eagerly.
“With the things I sent around?”
Miss Elouise Hampton rocked her weight, trembling with nerves. The painter sighed and pushing to his feet.
“That very large tree?” he pointed.
“And Mr Buckward?”
The painter forced a tired smile.
“Let’s get it started.”
Miss Elouise Hampton’s grin lit up the room. She bounced to the door and flung it fearlessly open. The doorframe revealed a landscape of rocks and grass shifting Eastward. Trees of all sizes marched their seasonal journey North. The shifting slash of shadows crisscrossed the dust.
The painter’s stomach instantly soured. He locked his smile in place as he followed the nervous couple across the bare, abandoned dust of the yard. He forced himself to study the slowly ploughing tree, the sullenly tilted mailbox on its weekly pilgrimage up the street and the edge of shy grassland gracing the hilltop.
His breath caught.
Mr Morton Buckward dropped to one knee, extending his hands upward. Miss Elouise Hampton touched his hands briefly, then clasped her own against her bosom. She looked at the painter, and he nodded. He looked decidedly ill.
“Are you sure?” she worried. “The tree, the letter-box…?”
The painter bolted inside, hand to his mouth. He swooned on the couch until his head stopped spinning, than forced himself upright to paint.
By the following evening it was done: the tree; the letterbox; the dusty trail; the two beautiful young people, caught in the moment of proposal. By the time they were wed the painting hung behind a screen in their bedroom, replacing the landscape of her mother’s own proposal, dwarfed by the same ancient tree.
Even as a very old woman, Mrs Elouise Buckward had to wince through her fingers as she studied the unnervingly landscape, the wicked obscenity of unchanging stillness.
“Such a queer thing,” she murmured, enchanted.