This story is one of the February Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
In the back of an art museum, hanging lopsided on a plain, water damaged wall, was a painting. It was simple, and the colors were faded from age, and it was hanging in a hall off the room with flower paintings when it should really have been in the room with the other portraits. It was a very odd type of painting, and even the people who worked in the gallery seemed to have forgotten about it. A woman with what used to be brilliant red hair pulled back into a perfectly round bun stood in the exact center facing the right edge. Her hands were folded in front of her, and she wore a plain gray coat pulled tightly around her body. The top of the painting, however, cut off the part of her face right above the nostril, so that her eyes were not visible to the world. The background was solid gray, but if one looked close enough, they could just make out the scenes of battle on one side and the gatherings of a peaceful market on the other. The painting had no frame and no name. Nothing to even distinguish how it had ended up in the gallery in the first place or where it had come from.
The years passed, and a new generation of people came to work in and observe the gallery— though no one ever ventured far enough to stand and look at the mysterious painting of the woman in the gray coat. The dust was still cleaned away by the caretakers, but even they did not seem to really look at the portrait itself. Until the day when an old woman with white hair pulled back into a perfect bun came into the gallery. She bypassed all the rooms decorated with landscapes and people and searched for the room with flowers. She found it and was much delighted. Entering the dim hallway off of the room, she simply took out a pen and began to write on the wall.
No one saw her while she did it, and the woman herself doubted anyone would have tried to stop her if they had seen. When she was done, she took a step back and admired her work for a brief moment. Satisfied, she walked away, pulling her threadbare gray coat tight around her body, even though it was the middle of June, and climbing into her bright blue car, drove away. It was sometime later when a young girl hiding from her brother in a game stumbled into the small hallway off the room of flowers and was surprised to see words carved on the wall in neat, elegant cursive. It read:
A girl with a smile and hope lived with her mother across the sea,
Everyone was happy and things were good.
But when her mother no longer awoke in the morning and the soldiers stormed the market,
She took the gray coat from the back of the chair in the house and left without a glance.
She journeyed to the land where the streets were lined with gold and the people ate money,
All the while clutching the gray coat tightly around her body on the ship’s deck.
She landed on the dirt of the land across the sea,
Where she found the streets were not lined with gold and the people did not eat money,
All the while clutching the gray coat.
Instead, she worked every day to put the bread in her mouth,
To ensure that her own children, when the time came,
Would not have to journey across the sea when she no longer awoke in the morning,
And that one day she could stand looking out at all she had achieved,
While the gray coat hung loosely at her sides,
And her heart would once again be filled with hope and smiles.