Lydia was awake, but still in bed when I went in to check on her. Her brother had long since abandoned his place next to her and snuck downstairs to watch videos with Clara, but Lydia was still here. She had her blankets pulled up to her chin in a tiny fist and she was staring at her fish tank on top of the dresser nearby. As I entered, she looked at me and smiled.
I smiled back, but it must have been a very tired smile. I tiptoed through discarded toys and took Gideon’s empty space on the mattress.
It was rare for me to be in their room in the daylight. Most of my time here was spent at night, where I would sit in the blue armchair nearby and read to them from a growing stack of books. Then I would talk to them about what was going to happen the next day, feed Ira the fish, deliver a glass of cold water to whoever was still awake, and then scratch Lydia’s raised arm while everyone said their prayers for the night. This was the routine, and most of it was done in darkness save for the reading lamp next to the chair which I would turn off just as I left the room. Now the room was lit by brilliant daylight coming through the window over the bed, and I was noticing things I hadn’t paid much attention to before.
“I had forgotten this used to be Uncle Isaac and Uncle Adam’s bed,” I said, pointing to the words “I *Heart* Isaac” written in glue on the underside of the bunk bed.
“Yes,” Lydia said quietly.
And the room was still and silent for a long time. We could hear Clara banging around in the kitchen from time to time. A car drove by on the street. A dog barked somewhere far away.
“So,” I said finally. “This is what you look at in the morning, huh?”
“Yep,” she said. “This is it. The wall, the hanging quilt, some pictures, my dresser, Ira.” A moment later she added, “I like it. It’s nice, really.”
“What is your favorite part?”
She took her time deciding. “I think it’s the wall,” she said, very seriously.
“The wall. Just, the wall?”
“Well,” she waved a hand at it. “It’s not just a wall, right? You see there are patterns on it. It’s kind of covered in drawings. I like that.
“I squinted past her at the wall. Sure enough, the plaster texture along the surface was played with by the morning sunlight in such a way that tiny shadows formed faint lines scribbling their way from floor to ceiling all along it. No doubt as the light moved, these patterns changed.
She interrupted my thoughts to confirm this, “Somehow, it’s always different. And I always see new things. And it gives me ideas for what to draw.”
“What do you see today?” I asked.
“Well, there’s a cowboy riding something like an elephant.” She pointed at the wall just above the fish tank as if I could see through her eyes. “And in the corner this morning I saw a new way of drawing cat eyes that I have never seen before.”
I saw none of this, but I nodded anyway. “That’s very interesting. I can’t wait to see when you draw them.”
“Oh,” she said with a sad note of apology to her voice, “You probably won’t. I draw them, but I don’t actually DRAW them. I just…” she searched for the words. “I mean, I draw them in my head.” She yawned dramatically. “I’m usually too tired to get out of bed to draw them on paper. And then when I sit down to draw on paper I have so many other ideas of things to draw. So…” she shrugged her blanketed shoulders as if to say, “tough luck, cowboy.”
“I guess I understand that,” I said. I was also tired and avoiding doing things. “But I still wish I could see them.” I rest my palm gently on the side of her head and tried to feel her mind at work as the two of us lie there together, staring at the wall, decoding the tangle of lines and shadows as the mysteries of the universe unraveled themselves from the static, surfacing like whales on the surface of the ocean before disappearing again beneath the waves. I saw spaceships shaped like squids floating past planets shaped like pyramids. I saw a child in a marching band wearing a hat that was so large people could live inside of it and they waved out the windows as he stomped down the street with his trumpet. I saw a dragon lounging on an inner tube as he drifted down a lazy river of fire. Then, just above the fish tank, for a brief moment, I could have sworn I saw a cowboy riding something like an elephant as he raised his hat to me in greeting and quickly vanished into the jungle of vines.
When I left, Lydia was still there, smiling to herself, staring at the wall, as if she needed nothing else in the world, and deep down an ancient yet much younger and much wiser part of me knew she was right.