It happened again: a splash of glass somewhere in the house. It was a loud, strangely metallic sound, like the crash of a wave hurling sunken cutlery against a tin cliff. But we couldn’t locate the noise. Was it upstairs or down? Did it come from the next room or some more obscure corner of the house? It’s an uncanny feeling, when something shatters near you and you can’t even figure out what or where it is.
There is an initial confusion caused by any sudden disaster, however small in scale. For a moment, you’re disoriented. Something out of the ordinary has happened and it takes a while before you recover your balance, look around and start methodically trying to discover what it was. Suddenly, the most trusted, familiar settings seem suspiciously calm. Something just broke with a bang; how can everything seem so undisturbed, so much the same? Maybe that’s the biggest shock of all: your inability to spot the difference after drastic change. Anyway, we finally found out what it was: A painting in the hall had fallen off the wall.
The painting is of three stick-like figures, in poses that could be dance movements or the leisurely leanings of casual conversation. It hung above the light switch in the hall, a heavily trafficked area of our home. The adhesive backing that held the piece of string that held the painting on the nail that held it to the wall had peeled off. When it gave way, the whole thing clattered to the ground. We cleaned up the shattered glass, saved the painting and the frame for later repair. We still haven’t fixed it or hung it back up, though. So every time I walk down the stairs, I see the spot where that painting used to be. The space is now an empty white rectangle in a frame of light black dust. When you keep one thing in the same place for a long time, it cannot fail to leave an impression—even if the thing itself goes long unnoticed. That is true of this painting. I had seen it so often that I stopped seeing it. When I picked it up off the floor, being careful not to step on any glass, I had a good, long, fresh look at it. I still liked it. Its downfall was sudden, but the adhesive backing must have been coming apart for a long time. Hidden from view, the very thing that held picture and frame together was slowly coming unglued. With the painting on the floor, the wall seemed unnaturally white, painfully bright. Remove a painting from the wall and you see the wall for the first time; take away something you take for granted and you see the blank space it leaves behind.