Once the pictures were on the easel and they could see the first one, Unless and Until took a new interest in their home’s natural surroundings. They each began to notice the vitality of the vines that grew up outside the front garden fence, the way small tendrils imperceptibly reached out to grip and hold the smooth new-painted wooden pickets. The wildflowers along the path were wild with Autumn, gone to seed and inching into the garden between the advancing vines. Where it was damp from rain in shade under the bushes, where Unless and Until had slept their first night home, delicious mushrooms grew overnight with great oblong caps the color of sunset.
The trees on the other side of the lake appeared to become one great creature, the colors of the leaves condensing with the shade beneath them to become smooth and opaque like oiled fur. Despite the advancing Summer, so clear in the vines and wildflowers and practically on their doorstep, Unless and Until saw Spring, or something like it, lingering on the land in the hazy distance.
Unless was the first to really look at the painting, which sat on the easel in the front room. Until was, secretly, slightly unnerved by the wilderness it suggested. Until kept catching themself taking the picture for a window and shuddering at the thought of such things right outside the cozy house. After a few days, however, Until noticed how much Unless seemed to enjoy looking at the painting and became curious.
“What do you see in the painting?” Until asked.
“It reminds me of something, I think” Unless replied. “There are places where there are not seasons, aren’t there? Where it is always warm or always cold? Am I wrong?”
Until considered the matter, and said “I believe that is so. This painting looks like it is somewhere warm. Somewhere warm with enormous snakes.”
Unless became a little heated, all of a sudden. “And tigers!”
“Tigers?” Until echoed.
“Great fierce animals – look at those claws!”
“She does have impressive claws.”
“Rahr!” said Unless, “Very impressive!” and flexed ten claws in imitation of the tiger in the painting.
Until was a little put off by Unless’s vehemence in the matter of tigers, but then noticed the tiny tiger child near its mother. That changed Until’s whole impression of the picture, and even drew attention to the strange and vibrant plants depicted in the foreground along the bottom of the picture. Until was interested in plants, and thought about what it would be to have such an enticing wilderness of strange flora right outside the door to explore and admire any old time. And it would always be warm!
Unless, wrapped in its own reverie, had moved on to consideration of the huge snake. “That is simply inconceivable,” Unless murmured, “how could a snake be so big?” Unless then remembered learning in school that snakes like to be very warm, and reasoned that in places where it was always very warm, snakes would feel comfortable growing as big as they wanted to be. “But if I had seen such a big snake – why wouldn’t I remember it?”
Until heard that last bit, and was a little startled. Yes, that was the tricky bit. Wouldn’t they remember having seen these things? In fact, after a few more days of admiring the picture, each in their own way, both Unless and Until were convinced they did remember the scene exactly as it appeared in the picture.
Having reached this satisfactory conclusion, Unless expressed interest in a celebratory dinner for having finished looking at the first picture. It would be so. Until cooked a peppery stew, to make things warm, with the delicious mushrooms that had grown under the bushes, and Unless gathered the greenest branches and vines to decorate the dining room. They fetched the punchbowl from the bottom shelf of the cabinet and placed it, with the enormous pearl, as a centerpiece on the table.
Before sitting down to eat, finding the evening surprisingly fine, they opened all the doors and windows. When a flock of small green birds circled the house and began to fly in and out, warbling like children, Until hastened to tear up a loaf of crusty bread and set it out on plates for the birds. After completing the stew and mushrooms, it was time for the toast (in that land, the toast comes after the meal and before dessert). Unless and Until set out a bowl of water for the birds and poured themselves small glasses of yellow wine.
The sun had set again, but twilight still shone, and the enormous pearl glowed in the half light of the evening and the small fire in the fireplace. Its radiance lit the room, and particularly the faces of Unless, Until, and all the little green birds.
“Will you do the honor of the toast?” Until asked Unless.
Unless scuffed the floor with a foot, but was pleased to be asked, because they had been considering the toast all day. In that land, not only do toasts come after dinner, but they are often sung. And so Unless sang the toast to having thoroughly looked at the first picture, keeping time by tapping on the wineglass, and the birds joined in, which seemed to both Unless and Until a great blessing on the new picture-looking venture.
I wonder if there was a lake
And if there was a swimming snake
Behind a tiger and her child
Looking fierce but watching mild
If they were there then so were we
And so the island and the tree
Someone knows all this was there
Although we can’t remember where