Madeline likes to draw.
She draws a picture of a house with a window. Outside it there is a dinosaur and a tree. The dinosaur is eating an apple. He looks happy.
She draws a fighter plane shooting a cloud.
She draws a bunch of happy people standing around.
Madeline draws at a big white desk. It doesn’t have any drawers. The desk faces a glass door. Outside the glass door there is Madeline’s mom’s garden.
Madeline’s mom’s garden is very weird.
It is a hedge maze. It is very complicated. Growing through the hedges there are dark purple flowers. And when you look up there is more maze on top going up to a great sideways sundial and when you look down there are holes that lead to more of the maze.
Also there are some herbs and carrots.
Madeline gets up. She’s done drawing. She goes to the refrigerator. She gets a Fanta. She pours it into a glass with ice and gets a crazy straw.
“I’m going outside!” she calls.
Her mom is busy working on her physics so she just says, “‘Kay!”
It is pretty safe in Madeline’s mom’s garden because if a murderous killer wanted to attack Madeline there he would get lost first.
Madeline goes out. She sips her drink. She wanders in the garden.
She finds a place where there is a fountain. It is mostly hollow. It is the outline of a cube, cut from dark marble, unfinished in spots, and suspended in midair. The water projects inwards from the eight corners of the cube, splashes in onto itself, falls into a basin, and is gone.
There is an old woman sitting on the far side of the basin. She is wearing a nnamok and rubbing her hands together. Possibly she is cold.
“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” Madeline apologizes.
She sits down on the near side of the basin.
There’s a bit of a pause.
“That’s fair,” the old woman says.
Madeline tries to figure out how to ask the old woman what she’s doing in Madeline’s mom’s garden without talking. This is very difficult.
“Some people said on television that Fanta has benzine,” Madeline says. Not to the old woman. Just, you know, aloud. “But Mom says it’s okay.”
“You’re not going to die of Fanta,” the old woman says.
This makes Madeline curious and she abandons her resolve.
“What am I going to die of?” she asks.
“Poverty,” says the old woman. “But not for many years.”
Madeline thinks about that.
Then she shrugs.
“Some people got hit by a plane,” she says.
“More or less,” the old woman says.
“More or less?”
“Mostly it was the secondary effects,” the old woman says.
“I was thinking,” says Madeline, “that I could draw a world where nobody got hit by planes.”
“And I thought, why would anyone make a world where that kind of thing happens?”
The old woman looks up at the hedge.
“I suppose,” she says, “that whomever was responsible, they might have overlooked it. Humanity determined to make mistakes, the memo might have said, but what can you do? Creation determined to contain errors. Evil snakes destined to eat everything. You know how it goes.”
“It’s in Revelations,” the old woman says. “At the end. They eat everything. Even each other.”
“Well,” says Madeline stubbornly, “that’s not why I think it was.”
“I thought about it, and I thought, maybe you just can’t make something without errors that bad. Like, it’s just . . . it’s necessary. If something is, it’s at least as bad as three thousand people getting hit by a plane.”
“Or Fanta having benzine in it?”
“Yeah. Or . . . whatchacallem. Um.”
“The Sci-Fi Channel’s Earthsea movie?”
“Yeah!” says Madeline, impressed that the old woman knew what she meant. Then, feeling a bit guilty about lowering the level of the discourse, she adds, “Or that Darfur stuff. Whatever it is.”
“Mmhm,” says the old woman.
“So I looked at my pictures,” says Madeline. “And I could see it. Like blood and screaming and fire, but not really. Just this . . . just, every little screwed up line.”
“That probably makes more sense than the memo thing,” the old woman says. “I know that when I make stuff, it’s always totally a mess.”
“What do you make?”
The old woman gestures with the back of her head towards the fountain.
Madeline’s eyes go wide.
“Really? You’re a . . .”
“An abstract fountaineer,” the old woman confirms. “But it’s totally messed up, because it was supposed to look like a cherub.”
Madeline looks at the fountain.
“How could you . . . how . . . what?”
“One way and another,” the old woman says. “You add a bit there thinking it’ll help emphasize the cherub, trim a bit there because it doesn’t go with the emphasis, and next thing you know you’re building a different fountain altogether.”
Madeline can see error in the fountain, now, and screaming, and choking smoke; not, you understand, with her eyes, but with her imagination, which sees in the stone and water of the fountain’s shape the fundamental erroneousness of things.
“It’s supposed to be pretty,” the old woman says. “Stop staring death into it.”
“Why is the world so broken?” Madeline asks.
The old woman shrugs.
She mumbles something under her breath.
“It’s a perfectly good fountain,” the old woman says. She sounds a bit miffed. “I mean, it’s not like it’s a cartwheeling death-fountain that leaps down at you with fangs or anything. Not like Claude makes, if you quite get my meaning.”
Madeline drains the last of her Fanta.
“I guess,” Madeline says.
“Things aren’t just error,” the old woman says.
“No,” Madeline agrees.