The next morning, Perdita joined Unless and Until in the dining room for breakfast. There were plenty of fried potatoes and Perdita ate with the same appetite she had shown the day before. After breakfast, Until had some trouble preventing Perdita from assisting in clean-up, “You are our guest here!”
“I am restless, Until, you must remember that. Can’t ever be without doing something.” She left the kitchen and stood at the window that looked down toward the lake for a while, then found Unless in the front yard where they was digging at the intrusive vines.
“Unless,” she said, “Are there fish in that lake? I have to do something, might as well get us some fish, if you have tackle. And fish in the lake.”
“Yes and yes,” said Unless, and they led Perdita to the shed behind the house. Fully equipped, she set off down the hill to the lake.
Unless and Until were discussing lunch when she returned with several fish. “If you two were talking about lunch, I have an idea,” she said.
Perdita left the fish with Until and went off for a bath and change of clothes. She rejoined them just as the fish were ready and asked about washing her clothes. Until assured her it would be no trouble, and the three of them applied themselves to the meal.
After lunch, Perdita asked if she could look at the next picture with them. Unless and Until both said, “Of course!” and they all proceeded to the front room. Until was distracted by the trunk still sitting open on the floor and the various items cluttering the low table.
Unless saw Until’s hesitation and offered, “That keychain would be good for the key to the shed.” Until nodded and handed Unless the keychain.
Perdita sat down on the loveseat to watch the proceedings.
Until picked up the metal case, “This would be good for pins,” and excused themself briefly to put the case in their sewing basket. Unless picked up the chip of dark brown stone and found it surprisingly heavy for its size. They took it over to the desk to serve as a paperweight on the Needs Reply pile. Until returned to find Unless fitting the two remaining items, the stone tooth and the quartz pebble, onto the mantle, where there was just room.
They hung Perdita’s picture in the spare room and placed the four new pictures on the easel. Unless and Until were disappointed not to recognize anything. They could each see that there were ocean waves whipped up in a storm against strange cliffs rising up out of the water, but it did not look like any place they remembered seeing in their time on the Mirror.
“You know what that looks like,” said Perdita, “I could’ve painted that for you. Looks like where I used to live, just before I met you two, before I started traveling.”
“What is it?” asked Unless.
“How could you live there?” asked Until.
“Funny,” she replied, “both your questions have the same answer. It was a community. A kind of big cluster of buildings for lots of people to live in when they don’t want to be a part of the world outside. I was happy there for a while, but I got restless. I do get restless, especially when the storms get worse and worse and you start to see giant animals in the sky.”
Neither Unless nor Until had particularly remarked on the giant animal in the painting. It only reminded them of some of the things they had seen out on the deep ocean.
Unless remarked, “If this painting is what it was like, it looks like the outside world was trying to get in.”
Perdita laughed, “That’s what it felt like, sometimes, enough to change my mind about a life of seclusion and contemplation.”
Until became very curious, “Whatever did you contemplate?”
Perdita looked at the painting and became unusually still. After a few minutes, she said softly, “It will be easier to show you.”
“Show us how?” asked Unless.
“Yes. I can show you a little of how we contemplated. There was music, songs. I will sing one for you.”
Of water tell me what you know
that it can be both friend and foe
And which of those will it be first
keep water close or die of thirst
Now tell me what you know of air
that it is in us everywhere
And can you see how deep how much?
It can’t be seen except by touch.
Now tell me what you know of earth
that men will dig for all they’re worth
And who gets paid from all that work?
Each butcher, banker, grocer, clerk.
Now tell me what you know of fire
that I have put aside desire
But did the flame not warm your skin
It only burned me from within
Unless and Until were silent for a long moment after Perdita finished singing. Until couldn’t help remarking, “What a peculiar sort of song.”
Perdita smiled, “It was a peculiar sort of place. It was very good for me there, for a while, until the outside world seemed to insist that I get out into it. And inside me, too, wanted to be outside.”
Until felt bad about having said the song was peculiar. “It is really a lovely song, and it is good to know what this picture is of. I don’t know what we would have made of it without you.”
Perdita smiled again, “Thank you. It was something of a shock for me to see it the first time, but now I am glad to share my story with you. When I was traveling with you two, I wasn’t much interested in anyone knowing so much about me, but now I am glad to tell about it, at least to you.”
Unless leaned forward, “It is good to know the whole story. Perhaps we can hang this picture in the spare room with the one you painted. Would you mind?”
“Of course I wouldn’t mind. Wherever you want to hang it.”
Until said, “I would be glad to have the pictures near each other, too. Time for tea, I think. We can hang the picture after.”
They had tea together in the front room and then hung the picture. Until and Perdita decided to do Perdita’s laundry before dinner. Unless couldn’t think of anything to do but go through the Needs Reply pile and then pile all of the items back together under their new paperweight. Soon it would be time for dinner.