The floor is littered with the blackened curled refuse of her endeavors. I know her habits, but I watch anyway, fascinated by her silent repetitive intensity. Sheet after sheet of creamy thick paper, filled to the edges with bold bright abstract color, color crushed and smashed against the pages as though she fears it will lift and float away if she does not ensure its adhesion. Her knuckles whiten with the effort, and crayons snap within her fingers as she presses again and again and again, piling the color up upon itself. When the page is thick with waxen stained-glass beauty, she picks up a black crayon and sets to work again, this time settling darkness over the bright. She works until the entire page wears a blanket of thick obscuring black, and then she begins to scrape. She scrapes thin lines with the edge of a fingernail, and razored rainbows streak across the night as hidden colors are revealed against a midnight sky. Working steadily, she scrapes at the darkness, pulling it from the vivid colors beneath. The colors themselves then yield and give way, until finally dawn arrives, with its leaching light that tints everything in shades of ghost.
The bright saturated colors of day surrender to night, which in turn surrenders to dawn . . . endlessly.
Her name is Maren. She is an artist. She is four years old.
Maren has a mother who vacuums up the blackened bits at the end of every day. Maren’s mother is Sam, but that is not her real name. Sam is Maren’s father’s name, but he disappeared on retreating feet just a few days after Maren was born. Maren’s mother, who was Georgia at the time, gave this development some thought and decided that if she couldn’t give her daughter a proper father, she could at least give her daughter her father’s name.
And so Georgia became Sam.
Sam and I have been friends for many years, and we spend many mornings together, sitting and talking and watching Maren color.
Sam sits across from me now, and she sighs as though she can hear my thoughts. She runs her hands through her hair, gathering its auburn mass in her fingers and tying it atop her head in a disheveled bun. She scrubs her hands over sleepy features and then leans to take my hands in her own, “Do you know what I would give?”
I wrap my fingers up and around, “For what?”
She gestures with her chin at her daughter, who has begun work on a new sheet of paper, “Do you know what I would give for Maren to be . . . enough?”
I have grown accustomed to talking freely in front of Maren, who never acknowledges our conversations, but I glance over at the little girl, “Sam, she is enough. Maren is exactly who she is supposed to be. Maren is enough.”
Tears roll from the corners of Sam’s gray-blue eyes, “No, you misunderstand. Maren is enough for Maren. I am speaking of what I would give for Maren to be enough for me.” She stands and walks to the kitchen, “I know it’s greedy, but I want things to be how they are supposed to be. I want to be her mother. I want for her to be my daughter. I want to hold her hand and feel hers close around mine.” Sam wrings her hands and then shakes them out, her breath coming in little gasps as she makes her admission, “I am so lonely. I need to hear her speak. I need for her to let me in. I need for her to reach for me. I love her. I need her to love me.”
I speak softly into Sam’s tearful guilt, “Sam, you know who Maren is. Your daughter is never going to be about what you need, Sam. That doesn’t mean she’s not enough.”
“I know.” Sam buries her face in her hands for a moment and then looks up at me through broken eyes, “I feel so empty. I want to be someone’s mother.” I meet her gaze and hold it as she lowers her hands to caress the invisible swell of her stomach, and she whispers, “Don’t judge me.”
What is there to say?
I pour myself another cup of coffee and say nothing.
Sam settles across from me at the table and tells me of a man named Edward who was there and then gone and who will not be returning. I hesitate but then make a joke about how difficult it will be to get used to calling her Eddy, and she roars with laughter. As her laughter subsides, she stares wistfully at her daughter, “I’m so glad you are here. I’m so glad you understand.”
I’m pretty sure she is talking to me.