There once was a magician who spent a year dreaming her nightmares and waking to another. Then in a series of fever dreams she discovered the answers to the universe and carefully catalogued them until needed. She was the last human and was tired of sleeping alone in the crumbling, sunken shopping centre. One day she had the impulse to paint, and in a dusty arts supply shop she found the necessary equipment. By dim torchlight she painted a pink rose on the concrete floor of her makeshift alcove. With a few spoken words, recalled from a dream, she conjured the rose to life and cradled its perfumed petals in her dirt-cracked palm. In the following months she conjured a rose garden amongst modernity’s ruins, then slept for another year.
Upon waking the magician desired to paint a child and bring her into reality. That morning she climbed through the labyrinth of rubble to the bleak world above, to see if any plants or insects had returned, and for more light. On the surface she stumbled over twisted metal and concrete, clutching her water-damaged easel and charred satchel of paints. Before her, a purple skyline bent around the towering gods of a lost civilisation. A circular ruin of office building innards swayed and creaked, like brittle metal skeletons with see-through holes, revealing the one behind it and the one behind it. In the centre was the deep, hollow blast zone. She set up her easel on the flattened roof of a collapsed car park. The dry, noxious wind grabbed at the paper. She held the thick paper down with one hand and dipped the brush into the paint.
Each day she spent the few hours of fractured daylight in the world above, painting and reworking the image. When darkness fell she returned to the shopping centre to study her catalogue of answers and sleep. At times her own form faded with the light and her body slipped into a lost universe. She dreamed she was in her sun-filled kitchen, pressing buttons to make coffee from an endless supply of aluminium pods. Her family had grown and was visiting for the weekend. It was a world brighter and more colourful than reality itself.
A month went by before she woke. She climbed to the surface and continued painting her dream child.
The day came when the child was ready. The magician spoke her dream words and conjured the girl into reality. She made sure to include the words for forgetting—for both of them. Upon wakening the child studied the circular ruins, and marvelled at the purple sky. There was nothing else for her to compare it to and she accepted her broken surroundings as all there had ever been.
There were no mirrors, and they looked to the other as proof of their existence. The child happily sheltered in the shopping centre and played with ash-coated plush toys. For the next few months her mother did not sleep. The magician observed her mini-me constantly, fearing she would wake up to find the child dead and withered like the rose garden. To her the child was as real as the wind and dust.
As long as the child was in her sights she existed.
The child grew: older, wiser and stronger. She sometimes asked, where are the other people? So the magician taught her to paint to help fill in the hours. As the mother had also forgotten her knowledge of the universe, she told the child to paint what she thought the answers might be. The child’s paintings mimicked the picture books she’d collected from outside a compressed bookstore, where the books had scattered long ago like sand from a ruptured hourglass. They covered the cracked walls and floors of the shopping centre with paintings that trailed all the way up to the ruined city above.
After a time, the magician became weary and her body began to fade more often into the lost universe. Whenever she walked too far with the child a fluid-filled cough would convulse out of her. She slept for longer periods and her lost dreams, of a brightly lit home with electric switches for everything, returned. Alone, the child explored the outskirts of the city, seeking answers, and sometimes not returning for days. When the magician woke from her fretful sleep she imagined the wandering girl had vanished forever. She would clutch her child’s paintings, listening intently for the scuffling pebbles of footsteps.
One day the grown child returned from her wanderings to find her mother sleeping peacefully in her alcove. Covered in a thick dust. She got out her paints and drew the woman asleep in a garden bed of pink roses, with twigs and grass cushioning her statuesque form. The child spoke a few words recalled from a recent dream then kissed her mother gently, lingering in the moment’s exquisite and melancholic sweetness.
The magician withered and faded into dust.
Alone, the young woman began painting a new world of simulacra. She painted images from her dreams and the books she had collected in her wanderings. One image in particular, of a child swinging from an old tire tied to a flourishing tree branch, caught her attention. She readied her brush.