This is about a painting. Of my sister. Rachel. She died by her own hand in 1975. She was 21. In the early 90s I tried to prepare her diaries for publication. My mother and sisters did not think the plan was appropriate and nor did the one publisher who looked at the manuscript. That was fine, I accepted the decision. In the meantime, a friend, Lexia Murrell, who'd known Rachel in her youth, offered to do a painting for the cover. I gave Lexie some photos to work from. She chose to conflate two images, one the last photo of Rachel, taken a few days before she died, the other, a childhood picture of her with a friend, Sue Brierley, outside on the Brierley's farm in the backblocks of Ohakune sometime in the 1950s. The landscape from the one, the portrait from the other. Our youngest sister, Katherine, just 16, took the photo. Rachel is laughing so hard her eyes are closed, she's just washed her hair which looks kind of fuzzy ... the shot is a little out of focus. No matter. The painting is beautiful, there are bits in it like Monet water-lilies, it has symbolic force too - the stain of red around the shed window, the twiggy branch that makes a Y - but I've always found it hard to look at. And then, about ten years later, it was leaning against a wall in my room, gathering dust, when a painter came to paint the ceiling. John was his name, a decent, kindly, older man, a tradesman of the old fashioned kind. I covered everything with cloths but somehow the cloth over Rachel slipped or was dislodged and some flecks of white paint specked the canvas. This only made me feel worse. I turned it guiltily to the wall. However, when I moved in here, I hung it again, above the table in the sitting room. Often, without thinking, I find myself standing absently before it, as if in mute communciation. The image is life-size, just head and shoulders, her long black hair, her red collar, a sprig of jasmine on her lapel. The dark and light hills behind. The stones before. The shed. The sky. I've never been able to look at John's specks, until tonight. There are seven of them, like tears - I mean tear-shaped, droplet-shaped, rain on a window pane. One fell just below the dark line of the furthest range. Another below the light flushed horizon of the second range. A tiny speck beneath that, between ghostly fence posts. Three together on the clouds over the Y and one more in the blue sky above the shed with its bloody window. Suddenly they make perfect sense, I can see them, serendipitious as they are, as part of the composition. I feel, not so much that the painting has come back, but that it has arrrived.

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