"Come into the garden and try them there," said Indigo.
Rose cheered up as she followed Indigo outside. It was nighttime. There was a cold spring wind blowing, and windy weather always made her a little light-headed. Also it was reassuring to see that even with her new glasses on, the garden looked much as it usually did, empty and shabby and lumpy with neglected grass. She gave a sigh of relief.
"It's a very starry night tonight," commented Indigo.
Indigo had perfect eyesight. He was nearly thirteen years old, and he had known the stars for years, but even he had to say, "Gosh! I've never seen so many!"
Rose had the sort of eyes that manage perfectly well with things close by, but entirely blur out things far away. Because of this even the brightest stars had only appeared as silvery smudges in the darkness. In all her life Rose had never properly seen a star.
Tonight there was a sky full.
Rose looked up, and it was like walking into a dark room and someone switching on the universe.
The stars flung themselves at her with the impact of a gale of wind. She swayed under the shock, and for a time she was speechless, blown away by stars.
After a while Indigo fetched out the hearth rug for her so she could lie flat on the grass. Later on Caddy brought blankets. Saffron, who had walked Sarah home, came out to the garden when she returned and said, "But you've seen pictures of stars, Rose! You must have always known they were there!"
"I didn't," said Rose.
More time passed.
"They're in patterns, aren't they?"
"Yes," said Indigo.
"Some of them move."
"Those are airplanes, crossing the sky."
Later still, Rose said, "There's us. And then stars. Nothing in between. Except space."
"Aren't you scared of having to go back to school tomorrow?"
Rose and Indigo were the two youngest of the Casson family. Saffron was fourteen, and Caddy, the eldest, was nineteen. Caddy was home for the weekend, partly for Indigo's sake, because of going back to school, and partly in honor of Rose's new glasses. Caddy often came home, but the children's father did not. He preferred his studio in London, where he lived the life of a respectable artist, unburdened by family.
"He comes home on weekends," said Rose's mother.
"He doesn't," said Rose.
"Nearly every weekend, when he can fit it in."
"Only once since Christmas."
"Well, Daddy has to work very hard, Rose darling."
"So do you."
"Daddy is a proper artist," said Eve, which was how she had always explained the difference between herself and Bill to the children. "A proper artist. He needs peace and quiet....Anyway..."
Eve gave Rose a painty hug and said she had forgotten what she was trying to say.
Eve did not have a studio, but she did not mind. She was perfectly happy in the garden shed, with the old pink sofa and a kitchen table someone had given her and various lamps and heaters that shot out frightening blue flames. Here she painted pictures of anything that would sell. She was very good at pets and children. People would give her photographs, and from them Eve would create astonishing portraits. Angelic glowing pictures of pets that looked human and intelligent (like children), and children who looked wistful and beguiling (like pets). Some families were beginning to collect whole sets.
"They are not exactly Art, Eve darling, are they?" Bill had commented reprovingly on his last visit home. He was looking at a particularly radiant picture, labelled Pontus, Adam, and Katie. "What do you think, Rose?"
Rose, who was an artist herself and had her own private opinion of her mother's portraits (megagross, especially Pontus, Adam, and Katie, who appeared to be floating through pastel-colored clouds), said that she thought her mother's paintings were brilliant, much better than his rotten pictures.
Copyright © 2003 by Hilary McKay
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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