Now that Spring had arrived, there was work to do. Unless and Until left the last painting on the easel in the front room and set about the necessary chores of growing food and keeping up the land around the house.
It was easy work in the garden. The earth was soft, and Until had dug out the worst of the weeds all those months ago when they had first returned home. Many hardy and useful plants had held out through the Winter and wanted only pruning. Unless and Until sorted through the seeds in the shed and set a garden-full to sprout in a glass-covered planting box by the back door.
Unless surveyed the front yard, and regretfully cut back most of the vines that had crept in through the fence and begun to envelop it. The fence needed repainting then, and the front flower beds a thorough weeding.
The first bulbs had already broken through the earth weeks before, indicating that Winter was ending. Unless and Until spent a whole day in the back garden, transferring tiny plants from the glass-covered box to the garden. Unless’s rummaging in the cellar had unearthed seed stock for root vegetables. After several days of work, the garden was ready, and would need only light tending for a few months.
Unless and Until rested for a few days, and Unless announced they would go hunting. Until, with no concerns now that Spring had come, agreed. The hunting trip was to last several days. Until dug through the linen closet to find things that needed mending or airing, to keep themself busy while Unless was away hunting.
Until worked on the linens while Unless hunted. Both were pleased with the results. Until restocked the linen closet with fresh, mended linens. Unless returned home with a couple of rabbits and a few pheasants. It was more than they could eat quickly, and Until took a rabbit and a pheasant out to barter for eggs and other baking supplies.
They settled into a rhythm of housekeeping they remembered from the time before their travels: tending the garden, hunting, mending, trading with their neighbors, watching the plants and trees around their house grow and bloom.
All this time, the last painting from the second trunk sat on the easel. It seemed to match the season, Until thought. Unless and Until were both aware that once they had discussed the painting and chosen where to hang it the project would be over. There was no telling whether another trunk would arrive.
Outside, leaves sprouted and unfurled. Brisk spring rains came and went, nourishing the forest, the front yard, and the garden. The seasonal birds that had arrived weeks ago were sitting on eggs. Soon their young would be hatched. Everything became more green, more green than memory painted it ever having been.
Until looked at the painting in the front room, and thought about spring in dry places. They wondered whether rain fell, whether leaves grew, and whether seed sprouted in the red lands shown in some of the paintings from their travels. “So many differences in all the lands,” they thought, “although the lands can’t be too different if we saw the same things over and over again.” Questions began to rise in their mind, and Until left the painting and went to putter in the garden until time to prepare dinner.
Unless came into the front room, at first looking for Until to invite them to see a bird’s nest they had spotted in one of the big bushes out front of the house. When they found Until wasn’t there, they was distracted into standing and looking at the painting for quite a long time. It had been up on the easel in the front room for so long, and Unless had looked at it many times. This was different. It was Spring in the painting and Spring outside and that made Unless very interested in how things were the same inside and outside. Looking at the red lands in the picture, Unless also thought that things far away on their travels must be the same as their home in some ways. They pulled one of the chairs up to the easel and just sat and looked and thought. Until found them there when it was time to sit down to dinner.
Dinner was roast pheasant with a salad of fresh sprouted greens, and both ate with a hearty appetite. At the same moment, both Unless and Until said, “I was looking at the picture today.”
Then they both had to laugh, but they both felt a little sad. The moment had come for discussion of the last painting. They were both quiet for a little while.
Until said, “It seems a shame to bring the project to an end, but it is a lovely picture, and we need to talk about it sometime.”
Unless said, “Yes. And it needs to be hung on a wall, so we can keep enjoying it, even if we have finished talking about it.”
Until chewed their last bite of salad and took a big sip of ale. “There are so many differences in all the lands.”
Unless nodded, “And there are so many things the same there and here, and inside and outside.”
After that exchange, there seemed nothing more either wanted to say, and they finished their dinners. Unless announced, “I will sing a toast.”
To wondrous places, distant lands,
To ocean, jungle, hot red sands.
Wondrous things we both have seen
From wondrous places we have been.
Although we wonder even now
Quite where we went, and when and how,
We still have paintings on the wall
To show us what we don’t recall.
Unless had trailed off a little uncertainly at the end, feeling it wasn’t one of their better toasts. Until raised their mug, took a sip, and complimented the toast, although Unless did not really feel up to being complimented. Things still felt a bit constrained, so there was nothing to do but clean up the dinner things in near silence.
Until, humming the toast to themself, suddenly said “On the wall . . . We need to hang that painting.” Unless thought about it for just a moment and agreed, “But, where should it go?” Until, who had grown accustomed to having the picture in the front room, said “Why not the front room? It is such a pretty picture, and the light is good there.”
And so it was. Unless and Until hung the last painting over the loveseat in the front room, and then went to bed.