Light Coming on the Martian Plains, by William Davidson

 

If, on another planet years from now, we live under a dome and I am in charge of the colours of the sky, I will choose the blues of Georgia O’Keeffe. I will choose the watercolour blues of Light Coming on the Plains. She painted them in Texas in 1917 on three pieces of newsprint paper.

 

Light Coming on the Plains No. I

Six arching washes of darkening blue emanate from the horizon. They are separated by thin lines of unpainted paper that are like rays. A final wash of blue is squared-off at the top corners of the paper.

 

Light Coming on the Plains No. II

There is no squared-off section so the sky curves against the bare paper. The rays of unpainted paper have gone, but there is a thread of unpainted paper at the horizon. The blues blend and glow.

 

Light Coming on the Plains No. III

The sky is curved again, but the brightest source of light at the horizon is duller. The shape of the sky is like an arch. No, it’s something else. The shape of the sky is like a dome.

 

If, on another planet like Mars, I am employed to animate the roof of the dome, the dust outside obscuring the real sky, I’ll take the early shift so I can make the sunrise like Georgia’s. You think that’s just nostalgia for home? You think I’m from America? I’ve never been there.

 

“Hey Billy,” my boss in the dome will say, “just give the crops some light. That’s all we ask of you. A bit of light.”

“Yes,” I will say, “the light’s coming for the crops. But look at these indigo blues.”

“It doesn’t really matter about the blues,” he’ll say. “So don’t waste time on the colour palette. Your job’s more solar agronomy than fine art.”

We’ll have the same conversation every day. He’ll say it’s all about the crops and I’ll say that actually it’s about the people too. I’ll explain the importance of colour for everyone’s mental health, the value of blue skies, the vast hopeful dawn. I’ll replicate the brushstrokes of Georgia O’Keeffe for the sleepy citizens.

 

But let’s say I don’t get that job, in charge of the colours of the sky under the dome on Mars. Let’s say the person who gets that job is you. You may be more a fan of Constable and all his clouds. Sure he could do a rainbow, but there’s a storm behind it. Or maybe you love Turner – yes, plenty of skies to choose from, but they’re usually above the sea or the river – we’re not going to have much water to be artful with under the dome. Also, the sky and the land have to be right for each other, don’t they? I bet Mars is more like the plains of Texas than Flatford Mill or Margate. If it is you who gets the job, think of Georgia O’Keeffe, and think of the people.

 

 

Author note

I wrote ‘Light Coming on the Martian Plains’ following the creative writing and planting workshop at the Terra Two and Pollination Project Allotment.

In the story, Billy intends to replicate the blue from the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, who painted the sky she saw in Texas. For his imagined future, Billy is not planning to design a sky he knows, but to copy the image of a past sky that he never saw. There is a pollination of blueness across time and space. I have been influenced by novels in which real people from history are written about in a playful way, such as Sri Ramakrishna in The Cauliflower by Nicola Barker and Velázquez in Painter to the King by Amy Sackville.

At the workshop on the allotment, we had a stimulating afternoon under a real blue sky.

 

References

Barker, N. (2016) The Cauliflower. London, William Heinemann.

Sackville, A. (2018) Painter to the King. London, Granta Books.

Zilczer, J. (1999) Light Coming on the Plains: Georgia O’Keeffe’s Sunrise Series. Artibus et Historiae, 20 (40), pp. 191-208.

 

 

 

 

William Davidson’s stories have been published online at Synaesthesia Magazine and Cheap Pop, and in the anthologies Solstice Shorts, Rattle Tales and York Literary Review. He won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2015. He graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from York St John in 2017.

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