No one knew quite what was wrong with Claire. As a child she was taken to see several psychologists and other assorted doctors. She would sit in a chair, on the edge of the cushion, her feet dangling, clutching her stuffed toy cat (black with blue plastic eyes and the tail ripped out, permanently lost), or on a examination table, naked underneath a gown, her socks slumped around her heels, and her back unnaturally stiff, staring blankly ahead. Her face was always far from blank however. She smiled constantly, even in her sleep, and the smiles only stopped when she grinned so big that her eyes wrinkled up and closed completely just before she dissolved into a fit of giggles that could last an hour.
The doctors poked and prodded her, and tried to ask her questions, but she never responded because she never ever spoke. Finally her parents gave up on a diagnosis and just let her be, in her room at the top of the house, looking out at the street below and the goings-on of all the neighbors. She spent hours there, with the window thrown open when the weather was warm and sunny, and behind nose-printed glass when the weather was cold and wet.
She was a good child and learned to eat politely and to tie her shoes, and how to sweep the floor (though she often left the broom in the middle of a room in a pile of dust if a sound from the street carried into the house and attracted her to her window), but never spoke and never showed interest in going outside or interacting with people face-to-face.
As she grew, her teeth twisted in her crowded mouth.
"Why get it fixed? She'll never date anyone," said her father, dismissing the expense of a cosmetic dental procedure.
"Date? She'll never know the difference if she looked in the mirror," countered her mother, upset at her husband's last-century perspective, but in agreement with his conclusion.
Her dark hair grew long and unmanageable, and she never bothered to comb it herself.
"It's a shame," said the neighbor, beating out a rug in the backyard shared with Claire's family. "That girl could be such a looker if she would only take some pride in herself. That hair! Oh that hair that shines like onyx!"
"There's more to life than long hair," said her mother. The next day she took the kitchen scissors to Claire's hair, chopping it off until she was left with a boyish bob. Her mother ruffled her fingers ruefully across her daughter's head. "Much better," she said with some regret.
As the years passed, Claire's parents took to spending the evenings in her room, with her father reading and her mother painting with oils, both soothed by Claire's periodic fits of giggling. They never knew if she was lonely or not.
One evening, when her mother was putting the finishing touches on a reasonable facsimile of Van Gogh's Skull with Burning Cigarette, and her father was three quarters of the way through a reread of Doctor Zhivago, Claire climbed out the window. She was standing completely on the sill, her hands clutching the curtains for balance, before her parents noticed.
"Claire!" screamed her mother. They rushed towards her, and her father's fingers brushed against the fabric of her clothes just as she jumped.
Instead of falling, she glided effortless up into the air, giggling. Her mother clamped her hands over her mouth. Her father stared out with dull, uncomprehending eyes. Claire performed a barrel roll then burst into a peal of laughter. She dove and touched the pavement of the street with her toes, then zoomed up until she was a dot in the sky, then she swooped back down and circled the neighborhood.
"Come back!" yelled her father. Claire only laughed.
Her mother thrust the top of her torso through the window.
"The window will always be open!" she shouted. Claire quieted down, and stared back at her parents. Then she swirled around and flew out of sight.
Whether day or night, the window to her room was left wide open. Her parents still spent the evenings there, chatting and working at their hobbies, and very occasionally they pondered aloud what part of the Earth Claire might be visiting right then.
This is Skull with Burning Cigarette, the awesomest thing Van Gogh ever painted.