It's too bright. The setting sun shines through the window of the art room and I blink several times, shake my head to clear it.
"Rin, what do you think clouds are?" Emi's mixing the wrong color. Clouds? Interesting thought. Should remember that.
"Dunno." No, it needs more blue. "Blue."
"I mean," too much blue, now, "the science teachers say it's water, but that seems so... boring." Emi giggles a little and continues stirring.
"Mmm. White, a dash." Clouds are white.
The brush between my toes trembles slightly, and I lower my leg. The canvas is taking shape, though slowly, too slowly. My hips ache. "Do your hips hurt?"
Emi cocks her head quizzically. "Huh? No, I feel fine."
"Clouds. Maybe the sky is thinking?" I lift my foot, dip the brush in the blue paint and draw it across my painting. "When you run."
My companion smiles, confused. "When I run?"
"Your hips." Too much blue. Too late. I lower my foot again and regard the new brushstroke.
"Oh!" From the top of the table next to me she swings her prosthetic legs back and forth, like a child. "I suppose my hips hurt sometimes, but it doesn't bother me. Just means my muscles are getting a good workout!" Her cheery grin shines behind me.
"This canvas doesn't like my picture." The colors aren't melding the way they're supposed to, and the paint seems to be running more than usual. My newest streak of blue is glaring at me angrily. "I should change it." I grasp a different brush and start working.
Emi doesn't even react. She knows it's important for the canvas to like its new design. "So the other day, right? I was running at lunch when a teacher came outside. Apparently he'd been looking for me, and..."
The familiar buzz of Emi's voice fades into the background as I continue to work. I am throwing paint at the canvas on the floor, almost without abandon. There is a hint of what it wants to be, a mere whisper of intent, and I latch onto it. It seems to like... "Landscapes."
"Hm?" Again Emi cocks her head to one side.
"Would you mix some brown, please? Like the bark of an old, sad tree. And... no, no brown. Yes, no, yes, brown. But like a bar of chocolate, only happier, like Christmas morning and dinnertime all rolled into one. And... yellow. Hair." My first attempt must be folded into the new landscape. It can't look out of place. A seascape, blue for the ocean, gray for a lighthouse, brown and gold for sand.
A new brush, for texture. My hips no longer hurt.
Emi happily mixes paint in small bowls. "Anyway, my make-up assignment is due tomorrow, and-"
"Make-up?" I turn to look at her, slowly. She has paused mid-stroke; the paint in her bowl is mostly brown, a streak of white swirling around and down into the middle, like a whirlpool. "You are in cosmetology?"
Time freezes for a moment, then Emi giggles and resumes stirring. The correct shade of brown. "I'm glad you think I'm pretty, but no, this is for Japanese."
I shake my head once more, then turn back to the floor. "A geisha, then." White make-up, rosy cheeks. Rosy? "Mix some red. Lighter than blood, and darker, too." A sunset would help this picture. It is getting darker.
Emi notices the sun setting, as well. "Okay, but I need to go after this, there's not much time before bed and I wanted to run a few miles." Quickly she takes up another mixing bowl.
I have depleted the blue, seawater blue. Almost green, really. "Can you make some more blue before you go?" No response. I stop regarding the painting, look up. Emi is gone, the sun has set, and it is deathly quiet. "Night is very fast these days," I mumble to no-one in particular.
There is still much to be done, but my vision is fading. And the work must be completed tonight, to dry for tomorrow, to allow for touch-up.
A soft squirting sound echoes through the classroom as I squeeze a paint bottle with my feet. A satisfying sound, paint hitting a mixing bowl. Another color, green like emeralds, to complete my color and again I apply myself to the canvas on the floor.
Long, smooth strokes of the brush, held between toes caked with paint. Sweeping brushstrokes form, refine the sea, calm and serene – a scene that belies the danger for ships drawing too closely to the rocks jutting up out of the water. The lighthouse sits on a rocky outcropping, silently watching, waiting, for the sun to set and its duty to begin. More green, there must be grass around the base of the lighthouse. No, the sea would not move like that, and there is too much negative space... a rock, yes, now the sea is moving correctly. The sun... the sun is too low. Too high? Yes, too low. More shadows. No, the canvas does not like that rock there. Must make it bigger. Add more shadow. The sandy beach has... footsteps, yes! Now the scene makes sense! But the sky is far too empty... Reds and yellows sweep from side to side, the sun lighting up the sky brilliantly. Clouds, wispy and far-off, drift toward the horizon. I can smell the salty air. My canvas is happy, and so am I.
Aching hips at rest, I shake my hair out of my eyes. It is time for bed. But first, I must get this to a drying rack. "Rin?" comes a voice from behind me. I turn to see Emi in the doorway, sweaty and wearing her track clothes. "Did you lose track of time, too?"
"No, I know where it is."
She giggles and shakes her head. "It's a figure of speech. Anyway..." she took a few steps into the room and saw my work. "Oh! Rin, it's wonderful!" Her eyes lit up. "It's changed so much since I was here earlier!"
I wipe my paint-covered feet on the towel sitting next to me, then stand. "Will you help me clean up?"
A curt nod and a large smile. "Sure!"
Emi and I stand before the drying rack, regarding my painting one last time before bed. It is late, and the cleanup took longer than I wanted, but it is done.
Now Emi is quiet, now I have thoughts drifting in and out of my head – wispy, intangible things. Whose feet made those prints in the sand? Is the lighthouse lonely all the way up there? Where do clouds go when they disappear? Do Emi's hips hurt as badly as mine do?
"Thanks for helping me all the time. Painting is easier when you have arms." I don't know where those words came from, and now they're gone again. But Emi is looking at me with tears in her eyes for some reason.
"That's what friends are for, right?"
I nod curtly, and suddenly a smile plays across my face. "Everyone should have a friend like you."
A palpable silence falls over the scene. I finally turn and start toward the door. "I need to take a bath."
"Wait for me!" Traipsing after me Emi shuts off the lights and closes the door.
Faint moonlight shines in through the wall of windows, and a shaft of light plays across the surface of my painting. The sea churns indefinitely, the grass sways gently in the wind, and the clouds – whatever they are – drift off into the mysteries of the sky.