He is a street artist, making money off the paintings he sells to tourists. In order to draw them in, he creates intricate chalk drawings on the sidewalk. Critics have praised him for the incredibly life-like art he produces. The short life of the fantastic drawings pulls people in as much as the art itself. If anything, the chalk drawings are more realistic than the more permanent oil paintings he sells. He creates with oils to feed his body, but he creates with chalk to feed his soul.
He doesn't talk often, indeed questions asked while he draws often go unanswered. He is in another place, someplace where the only reality is the colored dust on his fingers.
You walk by this artist often. Lately you've begun to notice a trend in his work, a woman in white. She shows up in the distance, her ivory umbrella setting her apart from the rest of the average city crowds. You are entranced by this woman. You've walked by his work countless times, but this is the day you purchase something.
It's one of his smaller works, one of the few chalk drawings he sells. The city skyline in the background in infinite detail and the faceless gray mob rushing through the streets. It perfectly depicts life in the city; the sparkling hope you hold in the back corner of your mind contrasted with the day to day minutiae that threaten to drown you. Uplifting and depressing, all at once. In the back is a flash of white, the woman. Maybe she is the woman you are meant to meet? Maybe somewhere in this grand city is the woman destined for you.
You hang it up on your wall in your living room. It hangs there for months, just an ordinary piece of wall art. You soon forget about it, it becomes a blur in your life just like the people you pass on the street.
One cold winter day, you spy a white butterfly on the stairs to your apartment building. It flaps its wings lazily then flutters away as you draw near, hopefully to some warmer climate. While watching the butterfly, you slip on a patch of black ice and fall.
People in the city are not sympathetic to a person in crutches. And the concussion has left you with aphasia and occasional memory loss.
As the winter goes on, you begin to see the white butterflies more often. Sometimes the accidents are immediate, but more often they happen when you are not paying attention. Then you remember seeing their delicate beauty flying around whatever instigated the accident.
Toward the beginning of spring, the painting on your wall stops being a simple blur in your life. You notice it has changed. The woman in white is closer now, halfway to the front of the frame.
That's when you see what the street artist has done. She is not the woman in white, she is not a woman at all. She is the absence of a woman, of a person, of color. She is blank paper, yet somehow even less than that. She is a hole that hurts your eyes, hurts your mind. You can't bear to look at the painting any longer, you leave for work.
The constant accidents have taken their toll on your body. You have gotten rid of the crutches, but you have steel rods in your leg. An accidental cut with a utility knife needed stitches, and the stitches are infected. You've had at least two more concussions, leaving you with migraines. The memory loss is even worse than before. Your medical insurance agent knows you by the sound of your voice.
This day, you spy them again. A small flock of ivory butterflies perches on the yellow line in the subway. Against your will you are drawn to them, peering close to see the ragged edges, as if they have been drawn on concrete. They burst into flight and you are surrounded by a familiar smell of chalk. Next thing you know, you have been pushed onto the tracks. The quick actions of a heroic soul are the only thing keeping you from being a mile-long red splotch.
When you get home, the ivory woman is closer. She is almost close enough for you to see her not-face. On that not-face is a not-smile, one that chills you to the bone. There will be no good Samaritan to save you next time. She is done teasing with you, the next time will be the last.
The street artist created with chalk to feed his soul. What if his soul wasn't the only thing he was feeding?
You spend all day at home now. You don't dare go out into the world. Too many opportunities for an accident. But you forget that 77% of accidents happen in the home.
You don't notice the wallpaper until you turn off the shower. Butterflies. Butterflies cover the wallpaper, slowly flapping their wings and making the bathroom walls ripple. You rush to leave the room but the shower door was not fully closed and water has pooled on the floor. You slip and your stitches tear when you try to catch your balance. Instead of regaining your feet, you fall and hit your head against the counter.
It isn't the end for you, but it might as well be. You lie in a hospital bed, reacting to nothing. Your parents found the chalk painting. It hangs on the wall opposite you now. The Ivory Lady is gone now. Her games are done and she has moved on to a new target.