This is a tale told in wisps of sunrise-tinted clouds and reflected in tide pools . . .
The evening when this tale was told was calm after a day of blustery winds and rain. Not many turned up in case the storm returned. Some had damage to repair and others were wearied by the sand blowing among the dunes. Mostly, the children came.
The Pilgrim Woman gave them warm drinks and home-made biscuits.
‘I like it when you act out the stories,’ the boy with the curved back and the cheeky grin said, picking at the crumbs in his lap. ‘You get a bit scary.’
So the Pilgrim Woman took a small chair and placed cushions on it. She draped shawls across them and put two small shoes on the floor so they peeked out below. In the shadowy flickering light from the fire, a small girl sat staring out of the window.
Then the Pilgrim Woman drew herself up tall, frowned and lectured the feather-stuffed figure.
‘Odd child – why can you not smile prettily like your cousins? Why do you not delight in choosing a bridesmaid’s dress and why must you always be sought for?
No-one normal can credit you need to lurk by windows, looking and looking in that absent-mined manner. What ever can you find of such interest in a mere sky? You do not appear to take note of charming cottages or picturesque villages.
We cannot account for your fascination with frankly nothing. Clouds, fogs, mists – what can be the draw?
As for making you presentable – what a labour that is. Paint in every pore of your skin, on the tips of your hair – unbrushed if we let Nurse accede to your wishes.
We do not.
You must develop some semblance of femininity. There will be no more purloining of trews, no more wrapping up in the guise of an old washerwoman and going down to the creek to sketch. The shame of you being retrieved – by a native.
They have a name for you, you know – Girl-with-Cloudbirds-in-Her-Soul. How utterly ridiculous. We cannot have such superstitious notoriety about you, child.
Who will you marry if all you do is stare and draw and paint? How will you attract a husband if you always smell of turpentine and oil paints? What will become of you?’
The girl turned from the window with a luminous smile. ‘The Cloudbirds tell me will be wed to art – and I am content.’
‘What did happen to the girl? ‘ asked the boy with the cheeky grin.
‘She painted beautiful pictures of clouds and never married. She was happy that way.’
Image from’ Field Beach, Stage Fort Park ‘ by Mary Blood Mellen, US luminist painter