it was a seaside painting …

            In the very center, in front of the glimmering sea, some wide, curved steps came down to a pavilion. A man descending the steps had swept off his hat in a polite bow. But there was no one facing him. Only a little dog. It stood on the pavilion on its hind legs with its forepaws flourished, as if it were bowing back.

            In one part of the painting, the shoreline climbed to hills covered in houses. They stood at odd angles, with upper stories piled fantastically on slender foundations. Pink and white striped laundry billowed in an alley, from a line stretched between two windows. Two small figures walking underneath cast two long, dancing shadows down a steep street. Their shadow clothes and hats seemed to fly like kites from their thin, spindly shadow legs.

            The painting was very large, in a heavy, ornately carved wood frame. Propped on the attic floor, it was taller than Effie. If she stretched out both her arms and wriggled her fingertips, she could not touch its sides. It had been left in Effie’s aunt’s house by the previous owner. Or perhaps, it had been left by the owner before that, or by an owner even more previous. It was an old house, and an old painting.

            Effie’s aunt paid an art expert to look at it and tell her if it was valuable. It was such a strange painting. But the name in the corner was unknown. Perhaps someone who once lived in the house had painted it for a beloved child, the expert suggested. It affected him with tender whimsy: perhaps the little dog was a representation of someone’s pet. Effie’s aunt did not know. The expert concluded that apart from its sentimental value, it was not worth much: the frame would be of more interest to a collector. He advised Effie’s aunt to donate it to a secondhand store for someone else to enjoy, if she took no pleasure in it.

            It did not seem to Effie that her aunt took pleasure in the painting. Yet the painting remained propped in the attic, and her aunt displayed no tendency to call a thrift store…

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