Amelia frowned—when had that happened? She peered at the old brick building opposite her third-floor apartment. The wall facing her had, until today, comprised a long, clean, uninterrupted sheet of neatly stacked red brick glued together by tidy lines of gray mortar. Now the once pristine surface contained outlines of what appeared to be a mural in the making. Smoothly curving lines of white paint ran across the warm blush of brick. They appeared to sketch out a tall figure topped with a bow on one side and a rainbow on the other.
Speculating as to its origins, Amelia wondered if it was the work of a guerrilla graffiti artist or a commissioned painter. She didn't remember seeing anyone with paint supplies, giving her the impression the work had taken place during the night and she was just now noticing. Amelia hoped it would be something worthy of the blank canvas since it was her only view.
Shrugging her shoulders, Amelia headed to the kitchen for another cup of coffee before resuming her research on the next branch of her client's family tree. She loved being a genealogist, but it could be lonely when she worked from home. Tomorrow she would go to the library instead for her research. Perhaps even talk to a real live human or two.
That evening, as Amelia made her way from the kitchen to the sofa after cleaning the dinner dishes, the budding mural caught her attention again. The white outline of the rainbow had been painted over. In its place, vibrant colors and detailed shading brought the image to eye-popping realism.
Amelia stopped and stared. When had that gotten done, and by whom? She had noticed no one work on the mural. How had she missed what must have been several intense hours of work, sixteen feet up the side of a brick wall? Despite her confusion, Amelia admitted the work was exceptional. She wondered if tomorrow she might see the artist in action.
The following morning with coffee in hand, Amelia went to the window and felt the blood vacate her head. While she'd slept, the artist had completed the large-headed figure sporting the bow. Now the mural contained a lifelike rainbow that arched midway up the wall and spread two-thirds the way across the once barren brick surface. It faded into billowing treetops on one side and lush pastureland on the other. Taking up the last third was the bow-topped figure. Standing from street level to two feet below the wall's twenty-foot crowning edge was none other than a larger-than-life rendition of Hello Kitty. The realistic quality made her image practically jump off the wall. She wore her characteristic pink bow, and Hello Kitty held a can of spray paint in her outstretched white paw as if she were the culprit responsible for the mysterious artwork.
A faint memory wiggled somewhere in a less accessed section of Amelia's mind. There was a familiar quality to the painting. The mere thought was as ridiculous as the mural itself. Amelia shook her head and returned to her morning ritual of breakfast and a shower before getting to work.
Deciding against a trip to the library, Amelia kept one eye on the quiet mural and the other on her computer screen. After several unproductive hours, Amelia conceded and abandoned her research. While a fresh pot of coffee brewed, she pulled her comfy blue armchair to the window and set up shop. Amelia was ready to glimpse the artist when they came back to finish their work.
She sat there late into the night, leaving her station to use the bathroom, grab snacks, and stretch her sit-numbed extremities. Yet no one ever returned.
Around three in the morning, Amelia jerked awake. She chided herself for having fallen asleep. Amelia rubbed the blurriness from her eyes and peered out the window. During her cat nap, the ninja-like artist had added a final element to their eclectic pièce de résistance. Under the rainbow, a beautifully rendered carousel horse gleamed and glimmered on a twisted golden pole.
Images from her sixth birthday bubbled to the surface of her mind. Amelia's parents had thrown a party for her and a few friends at a park near their home. Each child had been given tickets to ride the park's wooden carousel. Amelia had chosen a beautiful blue and white mare with ribbons streaming from the hand holds in wooden equine's head. They trailed prettily onto Amelia's legs and arms as the horse spun on its endless track.
Her sixth birthday was to be the last Amelia's mother would attend. Half a year later, an aneurysm had ripped through her mother's brain, killing her in the frozen food aisle of the local grocery store. Amelia's father, overwrought with the sudden loss of his wife, had taken his young daughter to live with his wife's parents. From her perch on the upstairs' landing, Amelia overheard her father say that her resemblance to her mother was too much. Each time he looked at her, his heart broke anew. Abandoned twice; once by death and once by self-preservation, Amelia had withdrawn into herself and would have trouble getting close to others for the rest of her life.
She hadn't thought about that birthday in years, decades even. Now the whole event came into focus: hot dogs from the grill, chocolate cake with pink frosting flowers, a game of capture the flag, and lots of laughter. It may have been the last perfect day the three of them spent together before her mother's sudden death.
Amelia stood, her knees shaking. She laid a clammy palm against the cold window glass and stared at the mural. A chill ran its arctic breath up her spine and into her short, brown hair. Her parents’ gifts had been a Hello Kitty doll nearly as big as her six-year-old self and a copy of Rainbow Goblins by Ul De Rico. She had lost the doll during a move long ago, something that had taken her years to get over. Yet snuggled away on the living room bookshelf was De Rico's book.
Disengaging her gaze from the spectral vision across the street, Amelia stumbled away from the window and into her tiny living room. She found the book's slender spine sandwiched between a book on bicycle repair and a Hawaiian travel guide. Amelia flipped through the pages as her stocking feet padded across the worn, hardwood floor back to her post at the window. There it was hiding innocuously on the very last page. Stunned, Amelia held the book up to the window and compared the two rainbows. They were a perfect match.
Her heart's tempo continued to gather momentum as she reexamined the carousel horse. The same crisp blue and white body and mane she remembered, and the same ribbons flying back as if the painting were a snapshot of the horse in motion. She could almost feel them against her legs and arms again.
“This is impossible,” Amelia said to her empty apartment. The only people who knew were her parents and the kids who had attended the party, and she hadn't spoken to any of them in twenty years. Her sixth birthday had been thirty years ago, in another city, in another state. How in the world could someone know three incredibly specific details from a mundane child's birthday? Not to mention find the home of said child over two decades later to paint these details with creepy accuracy on the wall facing her apartment?
“I'm either hallucinating,” Amelia said aloud, “or I've completely lost my mind.”
Maybe you're having an aneurysm like your mom, came a voice from somewhere murky and dark in her head.
Amelia shook the last thought away. She was suffering from none of her mother's symptoms which had plagued her hours before her sudden death: headache, neck pain, and nausea. An aneurysm was improbable. Crazy and hallucinating were still very much a possibility.
She decided to go downstairs to get a closer look. Amelia threw on a light coat and scampered down the three flights of stairs to the building's lobby. She emerged on the quiet street illuminated by sodium lamps and crossed.
From her position at the curb, Amelia reeled anew at the mural's detail. Ul De Rico painted the illustrations for Rainbow Goblins on wood rounds, allowing the grain to come through in the images. Amelia could see the same details in the mural. The horse was just as good. Cracked and weathered veins mapped their way along the surface of the horse's coat, each casting a tiny shadow adding to the realism.
Tilting her head back, she took in Hello Kitty. Standing almost the full height of the wall, the lively white figure was a sight to behold. Rendered in the quality of computer-generated animation, her form bubbled off the wall's surface in soft, rounded contours. The little English girl looked over her right shoulder towards the street, her visible eye winked. Her right paw-like hand held a can of spray paint releasing blue pigment into the rainbow.
Amelia frowned. Had Hello Kitty been standing like that the whole time? She couldn't remember having seen her face before now. And the wink, Amelia was positive that hadn't been there. A nervous laugh tap danced out of Amelia's mouth. Paintings don't move. The idea was preposterous, and yet nothing about the mural was logical.
Stepping closer, Amelia looked for the rough rectangular surface of the brick beneath the paint, but it was completely obscured. Knowing it must be just a trick of the lights, she reached out a hand to the horse's gently curling mane.
At once, the sounds of the sleepy city vanished, replaced by the breathy melody of a pipe organ playing a jaunty tune. Startled, Amelia snapped her hand back from the painting. The song faded like the volume on a radio being turned down quickly. Unsettled, she touched the mural again. The organ music flooded her head with familiarity. Amelia closed her eyes, allowing herself to be engulfed by the sounds of the carousel music and children laughing.
“Mommy look! I'm flying!” came the cheerful cries of her six-year-old self from the carousel. “I'm flying!”
Tears rolled down Amelia's cheeks and into the corners of her mouth.
“I see you sweetie!” she heard her mother call from beyond the gate separating the carousel from the spectators.
“Mom?” Amelia asked, opening her eyes. She no longer stood on the sidewalk opposite her apartment. Instead, she rode a majestic blue and white wooden horse. Its ribbons streamed over her summer bare arms and skirted knees.
A shocked gurgle passed through Amelia's lips. She looked out into the crowd standing in front of the ride just in time to catch her mother waving. Stunned and excited, Amelia turned to wave with her own small hand, truly happy.
Janice held the phone between her shoulder and ear as she unpacked a box labeled 'kitchen.'
“I got the keys yesterday. The landlord had to move the old tenant's stuff into storage for her family. Seems she went missing or ran off or something. Nobody knows what happened to her.”
Janice unwrapped a water glass from its protective newsprint and placed it in the cabinet adjacent the stove. “Mom, it's fine. I doubt anything happened to her in the apartment. It's a very secure building. And don't worry, I've locked the door.”
“The view?” Janice walked over to the bank of windows opposite the kitchen. “Um, it's a giant brick wall with surprisingly no graffiti on it. Yes, mom, it's a very nice neighborhood.”