Opal Girl by Andrew Thornton
Acrylic painting by Andrew Thornton on canvas.
8" x 8"
I had a little story in my mind that I couldn’t get rid of. I decided to type it out and paint some pictures inspired by it. I made this mini collection. I hope you enjoy, “Opal Girls”:
As a child, they had teased and taunted the witch. They did not know she was what she was then, but they had a sense that something was different about her. That otherness, both excited and terrified them. Gathered around in a laughing, jeering, screaming pack, they hurled curses and stones at her. And she was the one they were afraid of? The sight of the bright red of her blood only made the crowd explode into an even wilder frenzy. Hurting her was not enough. They were hungry for more than her blood – they wanted her demise. She was a symbol of the unknown and they hated it. They hated not knowing. They hated uncertainty and anything that defied their reasoned and carefully-measured order.
Maybe it was luck or maybe it was some sort of magic, but she survived.
She ran away that day. She wished she never looked back, but even now, after all this time, she still thought about the angry faces that circled her. She could still feel the spit on her face and the sting of the scratches that crisscrossed her face and hands. The bruises on her arms and legs burned. Their voices echoed in her mind. It wasn't safe out there. The neighbors she had and the classmates she played with had turned on her. In their eyes, she saw a gnawing resentment and hungry hatred. Their eyes said, "KILL! DESTROY! DIE!"
She had trusted them once. It wasn't always dark visions of angry faces. She had laughed and sang and ate with these people once. And perhaps that's what hurt the most – the betrayal.
Scattered in front of her were the tools of her trade. Chisels, vices, and hammers were strewn in a haphazard jumble. Sweet smoke wafted around her and the candles flickered. It was best not to think of the past, especially not now. She needed focus. She needed calm. She needed precision and if she let the past creep in, it'd spoil the work. So, instead, she sang. She hummed and chanted until the words blurred together and their forms dissolved into one another. As she sang, the letters in mind melted and reformed into new words, new sounds. It sounded like nonsense. It sounded like gibberish. But what it sounded like exactly didn't really matter. What mattered was the in-between state. It wasn't quite dreaming, but it had the flavor. She tried to think of the feeling of wind on her face. She thought of flying. She thought of weightlessness and the wonder of releasing the earth's hold. It was a bright, round feeling. It was the feeling of possibility. It was the feeling of momentum building and then... letting go.
When she was ready, she picked up the hammer and chisel. She struck and then struck again. Each vibration reverberated through her. The energy pulsed around her. It thrummed and she could feel it moving through her. It poured through the top of her head, glowed in her forehead, buzzed in her vocal cords, beat in her heart, shot through her arms, and blazed in her hands before it went into the work. She could feel a different energy moving up from the ground and through the soles of her feet. It climbed higher and higher – warming in her womb, swirling in her stomach, and filling her lungs. It mixed and circulated with the other energy. In and out. In and out. In and out.
Time stood still. Part of her mind was consumed with careful calculations and mindful movements. But she also moved as if guided. She felt swept up in the energy, moving to the music that had no real words. It was the song of air and of flight. It was the song of clouds and freedom.
Where would you go, if you could go anywhere? What would you do if everything was limitless and even the rules of gravity couldn't hold you?
They had called her a witch. Some had called her an artist. She was both. She was a maker and a creator. With her hands she could create worlds. She could speak things into existence that weren't there before. And that scared some people. They didn't know what she'd do next. And so she retreated away from prying eyes and unwanted looks. She hid away from the world that had once been so cruel to her. Instead, she lived in harmony with the world she carved out for herself. There was a graceful balance in surrendering to the movements of a greater power, the swell of seasons, and making the work.
Finally, it was done. Maybe an hour passed. Maybe months. She wasn't quite sure. When she tried to think back over all she did, it was a blur. She had hammered and cut and chiseled. She had filed and sanded and polished. It must have been weeks, at the very least, but it only felt like seconds. She knew that she had taken breaks, but the details were hazy. All the mattered was the work and she held it in her hands delicately. In her palms was a tiny stone carving of a winged creature with a human head. The sculpture was made of translucent opal. It was milky and flecked with rainbows that sparkled and glittered. When she held the carving up to the light, it glowed and as she moved it back and forth, it flashed with bursts of iridescent color. It looked almost like the intricately wrought feathers fluttered as the light danced within. The sweet, cherubic face smiled up at her in stony stillness, but seemed to grin a little more as she tilted the piece in the light. She was pleased with her work. It was a balance of gesture and detail and flowed with the natural grain of the stone.
She closed her eyes and clutched the carving in her hand and held it close to her heart. She could feel the smooth stone warming in her hand. It grew hotter and hotter and she could feel her pulse pounding in her palm. A hum started up in her throat. Her teeth chattered with the vibration. The blood rushed in her ears. Colors flashed in the darkness of her closed eyes and she started to swoon. She became dizzy and rocked back and forth. Her hair was swept up in an invisible current, almost as if she were underwater. And then she held her hand up to her mouth and breathed. She blew air into her cupped hand. Her hand splayed open and the stone shook as she continued to rock back and forth. Pausing her undulations, she breathed in deeply, filling her lungs until they felt like they were going to burst, and then blowed on the sculpture in one sustained exhalation. It trembled again and grew larger and larger until it filled two hands. She breathed in again and then breathed out sharply. The rhythm of her breathing got quicker and her head swam. She felt very nearly like passing out and then she felt a wing flap. As she opened her eyes, her hair that was swaying in a silky nimbus around her head fell. The bird girl creature flexed its wings and stretched its talons. The witch could feel a tiny heartbeat in her hands separate from her own. It beat haltingly, as if it were trying to find its footing but kept losing its pace until finally it caught up in an even, if not quick, thumping. The tiny eyes blinked hard and the little mouth yawned as if the creature had been asleep a very long time. It sleepily smiled, almost like it wasn't sure it wanted to be awake yet.
"Hello, my Opal Girl," she cooed to the little life form in her hands.
At the sound of her voice, it stretched again, displaying an iridescent plumage that glittered in the light. The feathers were no longer stiff and carved of stone, but were soft and supple, but still retained some of their opalescence. She arranged her feathers and her tiny chest rose and fell. The bird girl pursed her lips almost like she was trying to kiss, but she was testing out her lips. A cross between a squeak and a cheep escaped her lips. Her head tilted slightly as she examined her surroundings and continued to test out her voice. She experimented with her chirps and whistles, quavering slightly, sounding out her trilling song. Her eyes got bigger and brighter as she sang, apparently growing in pleasure and delight in the sounds coming out of her mouth. And then her voice cracked and she coughed and her little brows knitted together in frustration. She tried to sing again and coughed again. Her little face twisted into a mask of annoyance.
"Shhhhhhhhhhh! Don't overdo it, my little Opal Girl. You're new and freshly made. There's plenty of time for all that," the witch soothed.
The little bird girl squawked back and looked annoyed.
"Settle down, sassy little thing. How about we meet your sisters?"
At that, the tiny creature's expression softened and a curious glint sparkled in her eyes. She bobbed her head and flipped her tail in assertion.
Walking carefully, with one cupped hand hovering over the rainbow plumed bird girl, in case the new creature should lose her balance and fall over, she made her way down an arched corridor. It seemed dark compared to the studio ablaze with candlelight and strategically placed mirrors. At the end of the corridor there was a beaded curtain strung up with all kinds of beads and shells, punctuated with a dangling hag stone at the end of each length of embellished cording. Parting the beaded curtain gently, the witch shouldered her way into the room, gingerly protecting the bird girl from falling or getting tangled up. The room was large and lined with fluted white pillars, holding up the high vaulted ceiling. The walls were spotted with a mismatch of windows in different sizes and shapes. The eclectic collection of windows would look like absolute chaos, but the surrounding plaster of the walls and ceiling were painted a denim blue like an early evening sky with gold stars. Long crystalline lanterns alit with a silvery fire were strung from the ceiling on long chains. The room was airy and bright. The corridor seemed to compress with darkness and then burst into life with an expanse of space. What seemed at odds with all the clean lines of architecture were the trees that twisted up through openings in the tiled floor. The trees with their sparse foliage formed a grove inside the room with branches decked in ribbons and twine strung up with more beads and bits of shiny metal, crystal, and glass. There were pocket watches, old eyeglasses, bottles, and jars suspended from the canopy. Even though it was an overwhelming collection of flotsam and jetsam, everything was arranged artfully. But that's not all that hung from the branches. Woven nests hung from the trees like pods. Each one was different. Not only were the shapes unique, but they were embellished with pieces of colorful yarn and bits of ephemera. Some of the nests had doors and others were left open. More remarkable than the room itself were the inhabitants. Whirling around and darting through the maze-like mobile that filled the room were other opalescent bird girls like the one the witch held. The room swam with a chorus of song, shifting from bright and cheery trills to mournful ballads. In between the pockets of song, some of the bird girls chatted excitedly with one another and bell-like laughter would explode. They dove from high branches and swooped through open windows and played games of keep away.
The witch pulled out a whistle, tucked beneath the neck of her dress and apron, and blew. The bird girl in her hand crouched low and the rest of the room grew quiet. On silent wings, some swooped down to form a semi-circle around the newcomer. Others remained on their perches or in their nests, but all eyes were trained on the witch and the new fledgling.
"Ladies! Ladies! Let me introduce you to your newest sister!"
A chorus of cheers and applause broke out. Some of them tapped coins against glasses or pebbles against the tile floor with their talons. They rang bells and whistled. From all around were words of welcome and enthusiastic greeting. The newest bird girl, still held in the witch's hands, perked up and smiled widely. She looked back up over her shoulder once and wiggled her eyebrows, and then stepped off of the safety of the witch's hands and took flight. The witch clapped her hands together and smiled up at the latest addition, her head moving in circles as she followed the flight pattern with her eyes. One of the largest bird girls alighted on her shoulder and bunted her elaborately braided head against the witch's head and purred in contentment. She rested her small cheek against the witch's larger cheek and they looked after the newest Opal Girl as she flew with her sisters.
The witch smiled and thought about how her latest creation would never be alone or sad like her. She would always have a family of Opal Girls just like her to protect her and lover her. She would never have to run away from home and hide from the world. She was a winged thing, a creature of flight and freedom. She was born of stone, breath, and magic.
After a long time, the witch dusted off her hands, brushed them over her apron and turned on her heels towards the corridor with a bittersweet smile on her face.
"Looks like it's time to get back to work."