For almost as long as she could remember she had had zebras painted on her walls. It had started with one large zebra painted behind her bed. Her father had drawn the first one to cheer her up after her mother had left them. He had painstakingly mixed the paint to get just the right shades of zebra white (which wasn't actually pure white at all) - and just the right depth of black. He drew an outline of the creature first, while she watched, for days. He hardly took a break and sometimes she would get very hungry. And when her stomach became a little too insistent, she would carefully tug on his sleeve and look at him with her big black eyes and he would pause, smile, and slowly come out of his artistic daze.
"You must be hungry." He always knew. He loved her so much.
And so he painted her her very first zebra. And over the years he painted many more too. Now there were so many that some of them overlapped each other. None overlapped the very first one though. It was special. It was suppose to make her forget about the mother's absence, but it actually did the opposite. It made her feel closer to her mother. Until she left, she too had loved the girl very much. So that one stood apart. The girl liked to imagine it kept on eye on the rest of the herd. The girl also imagined that the zebras pranced around her walls during the night whispering to her in her dreamless sleep. She imagined many things. It passed the time. Just like the painting did. Now she painted the zebras. It had actually been a few days since her last painting. She had gotten very busy for the first time in her short life.
She had met a boy.
He was very sweet and didn't seem to mind how quiet she was. He was new to the town. He didn't know anything about her. With him she could be fresh and new. They had met at her mailbox. She was placing a letter into the box when he drove up in the mail truck. She'd felt awkward but he had smiled and then she felt alright. Surprisingly alright. He told her that he had wondered who lived in this house so far from town. She explained she didn't get out much. Only occasionally for food or paint brushes.
"I do," she answered innocently.
So now he was coming over for dinner on Tuesday to see her work. For a moment, after she had waved goodbye, raced back to the house and shut the door, she had panicked. Not because the only work she had to show him were zebras painted on her walls. She would never be upset about that. Not because she had just invited a strange new man to her secluded home, but because she didn't know what to cook for them. Then she calmed down. She had plenty of food, she was always well stocked. And she was an excellent cook. What she hadn't learned from her father, she had taught herself. Besides, she had a few days to practice making the perfect meal. She was good at the whole practice makes perfect thing. She had much experience from her years of painting zebras.
For the next two days she practiced making food. Perfected the mash potatoes. Perfected the steak. Perfected the cheesecake, never letting it crack. She went into town on the second day to buy a new dress from one of the few stores not touched by the tourism market, Kathy's Corner. The owner of the store, Kathy herself, wasn't much help. Would hardly look at the girl. But none the less, she perfected the dress. Deep blue, sleeveless, slightly flared and cut at the calf. Everything was perfect.
And then it was Tuesday. He came and he was very nice. He loved the dinner. He loved her dress.
But he did not love the zebras.
She was crushed. Why not?
"I don't not like them," he explained. "I was just expecting something...else." "Something better you mean." "No, no! I mean, they're nice. Really. And the way you textured the paint...its very different." As he said this he went up to the wall and ran his hand over the lone painted zebra. She was sad. But resigned.
She hit him over the head with a lamp within reach.
By the time he woke up she had pulled him into the backyard, which was more like just a clearing in the forest. When he finally opened his eyes he found himself tied to a metal chair with her looking sadly at him. She was standing very close.
"I wanted to thank you before you died. For a few days I lost my focus, but you helped me remember. It's my art that's most important." She stepped to the side revealing a table with two large metal bowls, a can of black paint, a can of white, and some other various tools; a hammer, a drill, a small saw.
"I wanted to explain to you my artistic process. You see this white? It isn't right. This black? Too bottomless. Zebras aren't just black, just white. The white is foggier, denser, with more gray in it. The black is more mute. It takes just the right kind of element added precisely to get the right shades. I can't take all the credit. It was my father who found the perfect combinations. He used my mother after she left. And others to make it better. I am perfecting it. You can help. Don't worry, I will help you understand the art. Zebras really are very beautiful." She picked up the hammer and the man flinched. He couldn't call out. His mouth was covered. He watched as she reached into a very large jacket that she must have slipped on while he was out.
"This was my father's." She pulled out a small grayish/white chunk. It was a bone. The boy absurdly wondered if she meant the jacket or the bone was her father's.
She laid it gently on the table. BAM! She began beating on it crushing, pounding, for what felt like forever. Finally, she stopped, blowing a piece of hair that had fallen away from her face.
"There!" She cupped one hand and scraped the bone dust into her palm. She deposited it into the bowl and then added a bit of white paint. Mixed. showed him the result. He looked at it and saw it looked just like the shades he had seen inside on her walls. A dull white, slightly grainy. He closed his eyes. She put the bowl back down.
"Its okay." She whispered. She felt very alone. She picked up the hammer and quickly struck him on the side of his head. He slumped. She walked away and came back a few minutes later with an armful of wood, placing it all around him. She lit the pile and watched for a second as the flames grew. She went back inside and got a small container of lighter fluid, a blanket, and a book. She would have to sit out and keep the fire going strong for as long as it took. It would take at least all night to burn it down. She hoped she could start another zebra by tomorrow night.
A finale, by Court.