The history of paint is the story of a forest.
It happened to the first villagers in springtime. It hadn’t rained for months and the land was parched and so were its people. A quiet family were walking through weeds in an open field when, one by one and limb by limb from fingers to wrists and toes to ankles, their bodies dried out and their skin turned to glass. As the days went on, it happened to more people. Usually not more than one at a time – the first ones were an anomaly – but when it occurred and to whom seemed entirely random. The glass encasing some had a faint blue tint. Others were very pale red. Most were hard and clear and transparent.
Soon, people stopped straying from home, lest they be struck by the condition among unfamiliar faces and far from family. (Despite their fear this had not happened and would not in the future.) Eventually the glassings were coming so commonly that the people went together to the field of the first ones and lived, and prepared, and waited. As more of them turned the grounds became a vitrine forest, planted with glassy forms that reflected the summer sunlight back into the sky and drank moonlight like the water that had refused to come.
The bodies were impossible to move once they turned. And so those that remained – a dwindling population of caretakers – ground the stones and the seeds in the field and collected what few leaves they could find and stirred them in pots with meager drops of liquid they forced from their bodies and with these paints they began to brush tombs upon their loved ones.
People began to leave last wills and testaments, scratching them into the earth when the paper ran out and they were too scared to leave and fetch more, specifying designs and colors to be painted on them after they turned. The ones who remained debated: could the glass ones feel their brushstrokes? Could they sense the caresses, did the fluid in the paint soothe the dried flesh beneath the shell? (Did the flesh remain within the shell? And for how long? Once they were entombed in paint, it was impossible to tell.)
Today you can still see them if you pass the ruins of the village and keep walking. It has not rained on the glass forest in the many years since the last of them turned. (She is the most vibrant among them: a pilgrim came from far away to entomb her, and did so with paints blended of blues and reds, gem dust and ground pearls.) No one knows if it will rain again, or whether the glass ones will come back when it does.
[To return to The Elizabeths, head over here.]