Over the next several days, Unless and Until felt the lack of a project keenly. There was weeding to be done in both the garden and the front yard, and there were always chores and tending that could be found around the house, but it was not possible to fill up all the time. Each would wander from picture to picture occasionally, or stand at the mantle to wonder over some of the strange objects they had sent home from their travel. Carl’s picture and message device were a diversion, and Unless and Until listened to the message every day or so.
One afternoon they were standing in the hall and puzzling anew over Carl’s painting when someone knocked rather loudly on the front door. Unless was closer to the door, so they opened it and stepped back to see who it was.
A tall and tired-looking woman stood there, dressed in grey robes. Behind her Unless could see a pack and a familiar-looking trunk in a small push-cart.
“Ah. Now you are home. Been toting your trunk around for more than a year now. Well, gave me time to add to it, and here you are, and I hope I can stay a night or two. I’m beat and I don’t like the looks of that town back there anyway.”
A startling wave of memory came over both Unless and Until. They both knew this woman from their travel. “Perdita!” they cried together, “Welcome!”
Until said, “Of course you can stay, please come in. Have you eaten? We have been home all this time and had forgotten all about the trunks. Come in.”
Perdita looked at both of them. “Trunks? There’s just the one there, with my pack. You still want it? And, yeah, I could eat.”
Unless and Until looked at each other. Until said, “Certainly, and many thanks to you for bringing it to us. Bring your pack to the spare bedroom.” There was some bustle for a while as Until led Perdita, with her pack, to the spare room and Unless managed to lift the trunk and carry it to the front room. Unless paced the floor and thought over this new memory of their travel, several weeks in the company of Perdita through a land of villages and farms where she always seemed to know how to find a way forward. Until had shown Perdita the spare room and directed her to the necessary and the bath upstairs to refresh herself while Until prepared some food.
Until was unusually clumsy in the kitchen, going over their own memories of Perdita. There were broth and greens and ale for a filling meal, manageable even with some clumsiness. Until felt exhilarated at remembering something more from their travel but conflicted over this new complication of Perdita’s presence, with her having carted a trunk for them for so long. Clearly, Unless and Until had expected to be home before Perdita reached them and it appeared she had attempted to deliver the trunk long ago. Why she had not simply left it for them was another mystery.
The three shared an awkward meal. Perdita ate with gusto, deflecting questions with just the intensity of her focus on the food. Eventually they gathered in the front room around the trunk. Perdita had taken a last bite and announced, “Well, I need to show you what’s in your trunk.”
She undid the latch and opened the trunk. At the top was a picture of no landscape Unless or Until could imagine. Perdita plucked out of the trunk and held it up for them to see. It was more a collection of doorways with a pink banner in the middle. “I made a picture for you two,” said Perdita, “Saw how you had these other pictures, thought I could throw one in there.” She turned toward the trunk, letting the picture swing in one hand.
Before she could take anything else out of the trunk, Unless cut in, “Why don’t you put your picture on this easel here, and let us tell you about our project?”
Until sighed with relief and took the lead, showing Perdita all the pictures they and Unless had looked at and hung around the house. Unless finished cleaning up in the kitchen, anxious to get back to the trunk and see what they had sent home. Unless was waiting in the front room by the trunk when Until and Perdita had finished the tour. Unless took items out of the trunk one by one and put them on the low table in front of the loveseat, where Until and Perdita had sat down. There was a brass keychain with no keys on it, a chip of dark brown stone, a smooth dark piece of stone in the shape of a pointy tooth, a small metal case enameled in bright swirls, and a rounded quartz pebble. There were four more paintings, too, and Unless and Until exchanged pleased expressions.
“That keychain was mine,” said Perdita, “But I lost all the keys. It kind of goes with that picture I made you, so I threw it on in the trunk for you.”
“Thank you,” said Until, “For the keychain and for the wonderful picture.”
“Well, it was real nice traveling with you two for a while. It’s hard to find folks who don’t meddle beyond what needs doing. It gets lonesome traveling by myself, but other people are too much trouble. Usually. You two were alright. I am glad you were home this time. It is good to see you, really.”
“It is good to see you, Perdita,” said Unless, “We have the worst trouble keeping everything straight from when we were traveling, and you coming to visit has helped us to remember so much.”
“I remember something, too,” said Perdita, grinning, “I remember that you two, particularly you, Unless, can’t stop singing toasts about things. And right in the middle of the meal, usually. So I made you up a song to go with my picture, because I want to toast you guys, who were with me during a rough time. So sit down, I have a toast.”
Unless sat on the loveseat next to Until, where Perdita had been sitting. She went and stood next to the easel and faced them.
There are doors and gates that I could go through
Some doors I went through and some I passed by
And so it goes as long as I am I
I know well there is always more to do
I gave up a place of trouble and peace
And in the first months of my lonely way
You friends kindly showed me how not to stay
For having no place my travel could cease
Although I’ve been lonely without you friends,
I’ve learned how to rest and how to move on
To be there a bit and then to be gone
A visit helps meet the road as it bends.
So now I can tell you how good you are,
That’s worth any travel, and I’ve come far.
Unless and Until applauded Perdita’s toast, both because they were impressed and because they were touched very deeply. Neither had been aware that she had felt so attached to them during the time they traveled together. They pressed her with questions about her travels, but she seemed to feel it was all pretty much the same things over and over again in different places. The difficulty, she told them, was always in figuring out what was in the way of her path, getting it out of the way, and then moving on is easy. She said that had been in her mind when she made the painting.
Until asked, “So you don’t think your painting needs more discussion?”
Perdita looked at the painting, grinned at some private amusement, and answered, “Not really. You’re going to hang it up?”
“Of course!” said Unless. “May we hang it in your room, to remember that was where you stayed?”
“Of course,” Perdita answered. “But I hope you will do it now or tomorrow, because I will need to go to sleep soon or you are going to be stuck with me sleeping in the middle of the floor here in your front room.”
Unless and Until quickly assured Perdita it could wait until tomorrow. All exchanged good-nights. Perdita went to bed immediately. Unless and Until sat together and admired the painting for a couple of hours before going to bed.