When the cab stopped in front of the Appeldorn’s house that
second time something about it seemed to have changed. Perhaps just the play of
light and shadow bringing more definition to the windows like twinkling eyes;
maybe from the different position of the sun shining down from the pale blue
sky, casting banners of light like the Arizona flag. Whatever it was, Vex felt
like the house looked more open, inviting.
Unsurprisingly, the door wasn’t locked and swung inward
On the trip from Scottsdale to the house Katrina had taken
directly to nostalgia about her old abode and began a verbal tour of the house
that she now led in astonished silence. “It’s really… It’s really here.” Those
were the only words that escaped her lips before she crossed the threshold and
set foot into the interior, and then the strange woman seemed to change before Vex’s
very eyes—childlike wonder rejuvenated her movements, lent grace and tender
familiarity to her gentle fingers, and an amazed glee to her round lips.
As Katrina had mentioned, the kitchen was filled with
daffodils. They covered every cupboard from floor to ceiling and spread out
across the green painted floor like brilliant yellow, star-petal autumn leaves.
The living room became an elaborate forest generated by crayon drawings of tree
trunks, replete with strangling vines, Spanish moss, and intimately carved
gnarling wood textures. Even with no furniture in the room, it still felt
filled with life—some of the crayoned trees appeared so perfectly rendered that
their leaves seemed to shiver in an unseen wind. Vex extended her fingers to
touch a shadowy hollow in the foliage, half expecting the timidly glimmering
eyes painted there to vanish when she did.
In contemplative quiet, Katrina touched everything she
passed. As they moved through the house, Vex recalled her description of life
there. “Every room became my canvas,” she had explained. “And my escape. The
dining room is where I started, but without a plan. I hit the room like a
typhoon, picking a bit here, a patch there—my mother only asked that I be
subtle about it. She perceived that digestion was a delicate thing and couldn’t
suffer too much distraction.” So the images painted on the walls of the dining
room were subdued, carefully brushed oil paints. Their real splendor glistened
when Katrina slowly dimmed the lights with the switch on the wall. In the
shallow radiance the interplay of shadows brought out a kaleidoscopic chiaroscuro
on the walls and made the room feel larger than it was—as if with the dimming
of the light, the walls fell away and revealed the dining room really rested
upon a small island in a grotto. “I painted the walls with oils and matte
charcoal so that candles on the dining room table would look like ocean water
and the ceiling so it would look like stars.” Vex looked up and was greeted by
the telltale twinkle of small glints of light that winked as she moved around
Every room in the house had been touched by Katrina’s
creative force, bent, molded, painted, scraped, carved, and nurtured into
artworks of spectacular variety and dedication. Not a single flat surface or
nook remained unaltered; it was like watching a carefully designed art museum
unfold in front of her as Vex followed Katrina up the stairs and into the
attic. The stairs themselves had footprints painted onto them and faux
paintings—designed to look like real paintings complete with metallic frames—had
been delicately brushed onto the walls. Even the bars of the guard rail had
been carved meticulously with swirling patterns and tiny frolicking animals.
Paper and canvas blanketed every surface of the attic. Artwork
of all variants and maturity surrounded the two in a maelstrom of color and
shape: crayon, charcoal, pencil, oil, pastel, carvings, crumpled newspaper
collages, photographs… The floor crinkled with Katrina’s each ginger footstep
as she slowly circled the room. At every wall, she paused, as if following the
steps of a dance, paying notice to her memory.
After a time, she passed by Vex again barely seeing her,
spirited down the steps, and stopped at the bottom. Vex smiled at Katrina,
wondering what thoughts were passing through the woman’s mind then, what it
must be like to visit home again—a home she had put so much energy and
childhood wonder into.
“I’m amazed that all of this survived the fire,” Katrina
said, finally breaking her silence.
“I don’t believe it did.”
“This house,” Vex said. All of the indications were there,
they were impossible to miss. She extended her arms as if to embrace the truth
of it. “It did burn down—it didn’t make it. This house died in that fire. What
we’re seeing is its last dying wish. The most powerful force on Earth: the every
passion and love of a young girl. Your passion. Infused into these walls such
will that they remain even through its destruction.”
Katrina knelt down next to the bottom of the stairs, there
brilliant sunlight punched through the open door and cast a stark streamer of
white across a relatively barren portion of the wall.
“I never thought that I’d see any of my work ever again. I
thought I’d lost this forever.”