Melanie Fogell’s paintings inspired the story told here. (photo by Olga Livshin)
The solo show Illuminated Forests by Melanie Fogell is on display at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery until July 27. As I wandered through the gallery, surrounded by Fogell’s paintings, I felt as if I were in a varicolored forest, alive with stories. Stories grew between the majestic trees, flitted among the rustling leaves and dozed under the evergreens.
Tia guided her wheelchair into the park. The dappled leaves whispered above her head, green and pink and pretty, smelling of sunlight. She resented them. Nothing should be that beautiful, while she was stuck in this ugly chair. After a single brief glance around, she stared sullenly ahead, into the shimmering, fragrant air. She found it oppressive. An hour outside, as the doctor prescribed, and she would head back home, into her room, where no beautiful things waited.
A gasp to her left caused her finger to jerk on the control stick, and her chair lurched forward. No matter how she detested the forest’s loveliness, she didn’t want to run anyone down. When she stopped and looked for the source of the noise, she saw an old woman in a wheelchair. The woman’s silver hair surrounded a pale wrinkled face like snowy lace.
“Hi,” the woman said. “You startled me, dear. How romantic. Two wheelchairs meeting in a park. Almost a love story.” She smiled.
“Nothing romantic,” Tia blurted. “And nothing to smile about. Definitely not a love story.” Tears sprang up, despite her attempt to suppress them. “Stupid,” she muttered, her fingers tightening on the controller.
“Don’t go,” the woman said. “It’s lonely here. Would you tell me about yourself? Was it an accident? I’m Alice.”
“I’m Tia.” Tia nodded stiffly. Alice looked truly interested. Why not? She had to kill the next hour anyway. She started talking. She was in a car, with her friend driving, and a drunk driver rammed his van into them.
Both her friend and the drunken jerk ended up dead, leaving her alive to deal with mangled legs.
“They are broken in a gazillion places.” She kept a sob inside by sheer willpower. “I was a dancer. Now, I’m … a cripple. The doctor said I might walk again, eventually, after another surgery. I’ll probably always limp. No dancing for sure.” This time, a sob escaped.
“So, you got lucky,” Alice said calmly. “You survived.”
“Lucky, ha!” Tia swore loudly, daring Alice to disapprove. She would never have said anything so rude before her accident, but now, she didn’t care. Rudeness even made a perverted sense. It helped her not to cry.
Alice nodded. “Good idea.” Then, she too swore, very creatively. “The trees absorb our anger and hurts,” she said. “They heal us. With obscenities, we pour out our pain, bury it. It’s like verbal manure.”
Surprised, Tia laughed. “You think so?”
“Yes. Now, inhale the sweet air. Take in the goodness.” Alice looked expectant, waiting.
Tia shrugged. Inhaled. Alice was right, the forest smelled good. It smelled of living things, of dreams.
“Now swear again,” Alice said. “Repeat after me.” The following string of descriptive verbal abuse made Tia laugh aloud for the first time since the accident. She dutifully repeated the words, wincing only a little.
“Well, dear. Do you feel better? I have to go back now, so I’ll have to turn here, at this intersection, but we’ll meet again, right?” She reversed her chair and met Tia’s eyes. “I hope you’ll walk soon. Bye, Tia.” Alice brushed her thin fingers across Tia’s hand, and then rolled away into the gold and green mosaic of the foliage, vanishing behind a bend in the greenery. The lower branches swayed in her wake, a bird trilled overhead.
“Bye, Alice,” Tia said. She did feel better. Only later, after returning home, she realized that she didn’t even thank Alice.
She visited the park every day afterwards, watching the trees and the light change with the season, feeling her pain draining away. She never met Alice again. The next surgery went well, and she healed quickly. After a couple months of grueling physiotherapy, she started limping on her own feet. The doctor said the limp would fade in time. No dancing, of course, but walking felt good. She would find Alice and say thank you.
The autumn forest overflowed with color, reds and greens and yellows of every shade. The fallen leaves bounced under her shoes. Alice would love it, she thought. But when Tia entered the nursing home on the other side of the park, Alice wasn’t there.
“She died in the spring,” said the receptionist. “Are you Tia?”
“Yes,” Tia breathed.
“She left something for you. She was an artist.”
It was a small painting, a forest in spring: leaves and sunlight embracing each other in a quiet melody of green and amber and peach, singing of hope.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].