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Revision: The Painting

I came to life with the first stroke of your paintbrush; it felt light and feathery over my forehead. When you created me all my senses except my vision awoke. I do not know by what magic I was brought to life, or how I knew this place was just a hovel in the great Italian city of Rome. I even knew the year 1516. I let my senses explore the room. I could smell turpentine and paint, feel its thickness spread across my forehead, my cheeks, my lips, my nose. You waited to paint my eyes so that I remain blind to you. Like so many faithful followers of God ever waiting for death to lay eyes on their Lord, so I too wait. I long to see you, but remain content with listening to the sound of your voice; it vibrates my canvas and sends waves of unknown feelings through my painted torso. I hear you talk to people; I hear you curse or bless those who purchase your other works. I am glad I am not finished. I hope you take forever, so I may have forever with you. I cannot help the feelings I have. They fill me up so fully it hurts. I want to cry out to you, shout your name or kiss you. I need release from this torment.

You are painting my left eye today. You slowly come into focus. I smile; how handsome you are! A young man’s face with remarkable eyes, one blue one green; I could gaze into those eyes forever. I memorize your beard; like a black waterfall it caresses your chin, your cheek, circling your mouth. And what a mouth, your bottom lip slightly swollen and heart-shaped at the top. You awaken my right eye and now I can see all of you so clearly. The room you stand in is so dusty and dark, except for the candles that burn in dishes and tea cups. I see you have boarded up the windows with your earlier sketches of flowers, skies, and other landscapes. The floor is dirty and dotted with spilled paint and egg shells. I smell dust and see the flakes of dried paint from long ago swirling around the room creating a yellowish glow everywhere. I see your other works of art but I am your only portrait. This secretly makes me happy. I am truly your one and only. You must notice me watching you for you smile at me, and I, with the painted smile you have given me, smile back. I wish I could paint you so you could feel the tenderness of your strokes, feel the steadiness of your hands and the focus that strains your features as you try to get every detail perfect. I love your touch, how it warms me inside. “Please kiss me?” I ask of you with my eyes.

~~~

I know she is my mirror. Her black silken hair is tied tightly into a bun atop your head. A stream of pearls cap the bun, with a thousand tiny pins keeping it in place. I love that my hair is loose and comes down in soft ripples upon my shoulders. Her dress is the height of fashion in Italy; she is wearing a crushed velvet dress with stain bows and delicate lace. The cotton dress my love painted on me is a just as expensive as the evil mirrors but so much lighter giving me the look of youth and beauty. I see my mirror and her husband looking at me, judging me, I hate them. She might look like me, but she is not me. Her green eyes are cruel while mine are soft and kind. I see a small rash on her neck marring the smooth milky complexion. I am comforted that my complexion is perfect, yet I feel self-conscious by the weight of their stares. If I was allowed tears I would beg you to paint them. I grieve that I may never again see you. You have sold me. You have been mine for two years and now, as if I was nothing more than a muse that you used over and over again. Don’t you care…about me? You wound me sir, paint a dagger in my heart, and paint the blood thick and violent, let it fill my bosom. You have used me unfairly and I want nothing more than to die. You have betrayed me… I shall miss you… I shall mourn you… and I shall never forget you. Why did you have to paint me with a smile, paint me again with grief on my lips. I listen to my mirror mock you, calling you a fraud, and fiend, a man who has no talent. She takes her leave and once she has gone through your door her husband strikes you. I watch with horror as you are thrown in my direction, at least we can die together. We do not die; we lie together on the ground as they leave. I can see you, your lip is bleeding. I hear you speak directly to me. It is the first time you have ever spoken to me. “They can go to hell, you are perfect.” I cannot help but try to smile brighter. You stare into my eyes before standing up. You right me, and you pick up the paints and brushes that had been knocked down. You use turpentine to clean the floor. As you scrub I examine you and can see your left cheek is swollen purple. I want to touch your face. I want to smooth away the horror of the day. You defended me, I love you.

~~~

You decide to keep me in your bedroom. It is the only room in your home that is not covered in your work. I am your first. I am pleased. I let out a sigh, and you jump from your bed. Your bed is made of straw with a few rags to soften it. I watch you search the room. You look under the bed and out the little window. You do not say anything, and climb back into bed. I am curious, did you really hear me? I sigh again. Again you look up startled. This time you ask “who’s there?” I can tell you are scared. Your voice trembles and you look around the room swiftly. You light a candle and I try to answer you. “I am here, my love!” but you cannot hear me. I decide to try and sigh again. You hear it, and carefully approach me. I watch you laugh, and nervously rub the back of your neck. “I must be dreaming,” you say as you are about to blowout your candle. I sigh again. You look at me stunned. “If that was you,” “can you make that noise again?” I can see your tan face grow pale. I sigh again, and you jump, and run out of the room. I think you have left me forever. I wish again for painted tears. After an hour I see you peak your head back in the room. I am angry now, but I am willing to forgive. You cautiously approach me. I almost feel like laughing, the way you shuffle your feet and tiptoe towards me is comical. You ask me to please sigh again. I don’t this time. I am too miffed. Somehow you seem to understand and you begin to beg. “Please my lady, forgive me if I offended you. Please sigh for me again.” I cannot resist your plea and I sigh. Instead of running away you laugh and clap your hands together. In an excited voice you say, “I do not know if I am awake or sleep but I am amazed.” After looking at me for a long time, checking the back of my canvass, searching my eyes, I watch you climb back into bed. Just before you fall asleep I hear you say to me, “Goodnight m’lady.” I smile as best as my paint will allow and I whisper, “Goodnight, my love.” You have fallen asleep and I listen to your soft snoring.

In the morning you place me in the living room next to your chair. You tell me “I am going to show you everything I do.”  You speak directly to me and I am pleased, but I am worried you will try to paint another me or worse, another woman. You paint a bouquet of flowers. I feel my paint crack as I try to smile when you offer the painting to me. I want to laugh.

My favorite time of day is at night when you read to me. I listen enraptured and think about the places you read about. I sigh from time to time to let you know I am listening. I follow you around the room with my eyes. You tell me every day that you prayed for seven days that I would come to life. You tell me that you are grateful to God for allowing you to paint such a beautiful work of living art. I wish you would paint blush on my cheeks. Instead, I sigh.

~~~

The sound of someone smashing open the door awakes me from my slumber. There are three men, each holding a flintlock pistol and a torch. You come into the room in your tattered nightgown. I know in my heart you are scared but you bravely shout at the men to leave. One of the men strikes you hard. I see blood seep from your nose and lips, coloring your gown crimson. I struggle against the restraints of my frame. I want to protect you. A man bearing a scar that runs down from his right eye and across his left cheek kicks you in the stomach. I try to scream but none hears me. I hear him laugh and two others join in the abuse. One is a man who smells of wine and smoke and the other whose face looks like a horse. They drag you out of the house. The man who smells of wine and smoke comes back in and starts to take the paintings. The scared man begins to light the room on fire. I can feel the flames, its hot breath breathing all around me. I can feel some of my paint crack under the intense heat. I watch as the portrait of a vase and flower begin to melt and burn. I fear I will be next. The room is bright now and black smoke billows out of every corner. A loud booming voice rings clear over the sounds of falling timber and the crackle of the fire. His voice I recognize, he is the evil mirrors husband. He wants the men to get me or he will kill them all. The horse face man leaps over the flames and finds me quickly. He takes me out into the dark. The evil husband speaks directly to me, “Ah there you are. My wife will be so pleased.” I try to scowl, he does not notice. I look around for you. I see you lying on the ground; pain and fear is clear on your face. The man with the scar holds a pistol to your head. I can tell he is waiting for his boss to give him orders. The husband looks towards my love and gives a slight dismissive gesture. A silent scream escapes my lips as I see the smoke of the flint and the loud explosion as he shoots you. I watch our home burn and I see the light and life leave your eyes. You are still and too quiet, I know you are gone. I cry as only a painting can, with invisible tears. I am taken to the monster’s home. My evil mirror kisses the fowl beast who killed my love. She takes me from his arms and dances with me as she laughs and says how perfect I am. The feelings within me are nothing more than the purest hate and despair. I hear them talk about where they wish to hang me. They take me to a large room. It is a beautiful home full of fine furnishings with gold trim and thick velvet curtains. They hang me above a large fire place. I watch with disgust as they kiss and make love before me. I let my mind wonder and think of you my love. How each day you would read me stories of places you wanted to travel to. My favorite story is the one about the boy whose wings melted under the sun. He fell into the sea and the father grieved forever. The image of you dyeing in front of me flashes through my mind. I sob. I know now I too will grieve forever.

The evil mirror brought other artists, to fix my burns and cracked paint. I felt like a harlot, letting them rape me with their brushes and paint. It pained me that I could do nothing to fight against them. At night when all was quiet, I practiced hissing and rocking. I found that if I vibrate just right, I could fall from hook from which I was held. I did not enjoy the punishment the servants received whenever my captors found me. In truth I want desperately to fall into the fireplace so that I might be with my love again.

The evil mirror is staring at me again. I hissed at her; I watch with pleasure as her eyes widen in disbelief. She called for her husband and when he looked at me I hissed again. Just as my love ran away the first time I sighed they too left the room in a hurry. Knowing they were afraid I waited until they returned. They had brought servants with them. I want to call them cowards. I was going to rock myself off the hooks but I am not cruel I did not want to frighten the servants; they, unlike my captors, are innocent. From that day forward my captors rarely came into the room.

It has been months since they entered the room. My captors brought with them a priest. I want to laugh. The priest prayed and lifted the cross with the body of Christ nailed to it. I understand how he felt being captured and tormented by those around him. The priest finishes with the Lord’s Prayer while he sprinkles me with holy-water. I do not mind for the water splashes on my eyes and for the first time I had real tears to grieve with. I feel them luke-warm on my cheek as they slide down. The Priest says to my captors that I am free from all evil spirits and they should not be afraid. They smile and both sigh with relief. They walk the priest out and when they return to gaze upon me I shake violently while they watch. This scares them and they run screaming from the room. I know they think it is you, my love. They think you are haunting them. I can hear them talk about their crimes to one another. They know they are guilty. I am gleeful and enjoy their torment as they have tormented us.

It is not long until they find a buyer and sell me to a place that holds many more paintings like me. I learn I am in a place called a gallery. There are hundreds of paintings. Some greet me with a smile others remain silent within their frames. I am hung between two paintings; one is of little angels that, like me, can whisper. The other painting is of a young boy who is playing with a ball. I do not know how he does it, but at night he bounces the ball off his frame and it rocks me. At first I was excited about this, until it became irritating. The boy would laugh when I hissed in his direction. Instead of frightening him he throws the ball more. I wish I had more than hisses and sighs to communicate with I want to speak to the other paints, learn their secrets. Instead I just listened. I found the angels were not much better than the boy and ball. They like to tell bad jokes and giggle all the time. Even if I could speak, I don’t think I would want to.

When I first arrive at the gallery I notice how dark it is; its only light came from the many candles that hung from various lanterns and chandeliers. The curator, a skinny old man, is the one to hang me between the boy and angels. The curator whispered to me that first night, he told me, “Don’t worry you will like your new home, old Willy is here to take care of you now.” I noticed how he loves to talk to us as he dusts. I have overheard him tell new jokes to the angels. He teases the boy about his filthy trousers, and he smiles at me. Not the same smile my love gives me, but it is gentle and loving. I hear him speak to every painting as he passes. As he dusts me the feathers he uses feel funny; I notice the angels giggle and the boy laughs. The sounds we make do not scare the old man. Every night as he blows out the candles he tells us he loves us. I never expected to like anyone ever again, but the aged old man is friendly, and I feel at peace.

~~~

As I hang I see the gallery change. We are covered and placed into wooden boxes that are nailed shut. I hear men working, singing, cussing, and hammering. When we return, the walls are different. Gone are the long wood planks. In its place, new solid white walls; I no longer feel breezes and drafts from the outside air. The candles are gone. I hear the work men call the new lights, electric. The brightness stings my eyes. It frightens me a little, but I do not feel the same heat as I did from the candles. When the work men left, they left the lights on, and I feared that they may cause a fire. I’ve seen first-hand the power of fire. The newer paintings have knowledge of electric lights. They spoke to some of the more vocal, older paintings. They calm us, saying, the lights will not burn us; the lights are safe. I believe them.

New painters come to take us to their homes to fix the blemishes that have occurred over time. I use the outings to witness the many changes since my love has passed. Many of the painter’s homes, like the gallery, have electric lights. I notice the clothes people wear are becoming less and less fancy. Women wear tight bodices with long skirts that touch the floor.  Men wear strange hats, not the flat velvet or cloth hood that my love wore. The hats the men wear now are tall and dark. They make their heads look elongated. Gone are the beards. The men seem to favor curled mustaches that, to me, look frightening. Nothing in this new time reminds me of my long lost love. I feel sick.

 ~~~

More time passes. The gallery lets children come and see us. I enjoy watching them. They run and jump around like the wild monkey paintings that are new to our gallery. I especially enjoy when the children play tag, they look so happy, and I can feel their happiness radiate off of them until their teacher forces them to stop. I watch how they run to each of us looking at us in wonder. I notice when they begin to lose interest the fire and light in their eyes dim as they grow bored, tired, or hungry. I am always sad when they leave. Except for the naughty children, I have had a few children try to stick gum on me. I have found that all I have to do is hiss at them and they run away with their eyes wide. I sometimes find it funny. I laugh when they tell their teachers that I growled at them. Of course the teachers do not believe. Those children always look at me as they leave and I smile as brightly as my paint will allow. They quickly turn their heads and follow the other children out.

I am bored. I have hung in the gallery for so long that time has disappeared. I overheard the curator talking of transferring me to a new gallery. The idea frightens yet excites me, but that conversation was over two years ago and my hopes of traveling dwindle to boredom. I sometimes think about the other paintings that have gone to new galleries or new homes of private collectors. I think about the little boy and wonder if these new painters ever try to add new toys to his frame, I am sure he would love those new things called trains. I hear people talk about them, and have seen the toys in the hands of small children when they come here. I wonder if the angels have new jokes to tell. I miss them. The monkeys have moved on, for which I am thankful. They were loud. I am alone on my wall now. As the gallery has grown the large space that I use to hang upon is now taken up by something called retro art. It looks like garbage people throw into trash cans around here. It has raised a lot of excitement, but art like that cannot live like I do. The only time of day I find any joy is art noon. A young man with long shaggy brown hair comes to visit me. He always holds a white cup of what people call coffee and he stares at me. Like my old love he too has one blue eye and one green. He looks a little like my love besides his eyes. His lips hold the same heart-shape as my creator. When he comes to visit my heart throbs and memories of my old life flash through my mind, I smile at him as big as my paint will allow. I let it fill my expression. I think the young man notices because he explores my painting; he is not allowed to touch me, but he circles me, and sometimes he looks behind my frame when no one is around. My heart skips as I watch him scratch his head the same way my love use to. I do not sigh for him, not yet. I enjoy his company and I fear I may scare him away. The way he studies me feels familiar, his smile matches the smile of my creator whenever my love finished a painting.

I wait and my new friend has not come to see me in three weeks. I worry that he has lost interest in me. I wish I could tell him to buy me, take me home with him. I do not cry over him like I did when I lost my love. I just feel sad. I have come to terms with my solitude and isolation, but I hope the future will not be as bleak as it has been these last few weeks. The curator has come by my painting several times this week. I watch as he takes notes with a golden pen. It upsets me that I do not know how to read. I wish suddenly I had a way to learn. What is he writing? If it is about me, I want to know! An older gentleman in a white long sleeve shirt and grey sweater lifts me from my space. Behind my wall is a small blanket and a box. I have seen other paintings being wrapped up and sealed inside these type of boxes before. I am fearful that I may be put in storage. I have heard many stories from the paintings that speak of how they have been sealed away in darkness for years. The older gentleman wraps me and slips me inside. I listen with horror as the tape seals the box shut. I am carried not far from my wall. I hear a door shut. I wait for three days before I feel myself being moved again. I hear the clanging of metal on metal and I feel my box being slid into something. I hear the metal noise again along with something even more unpleasant, a loud rumbling. I feel like I am in motion even though I am not being carried. It tosses me inside my confines. I am afraid.

It has been three more days. Each day I am jostled around, but as each day passes I am less and less afraid. I do not know where I am going but I know it is somewhere outside the gallery. My only regret is not seeing the handsome young man again before I was taken. I feel them stop and I hear a man clanking the metal again. He grunts as he pulls me from the metal room. I feel him lift me up first and then down. He does not go far, I hear three solid knocks on something wooden. I hear a familiar voice answer. I think it is the boy but I am not sure. He tells the man carrying me to take me to his living room. The man is not gentle, I feel him drop me face-down, hard on to a padded surface. I hear the boy and man speak and then a distinct sound of a door closing. I am hoping that it is the young man. I wait… and wait… and wait. I am impatient. I want to see him. If I only knew it was the young man I would hold back my frustration, as I did for my love so many years ago. I hear him walking about the room, I hear drawers open and close. I recognize those sounds from the many desks that had been added over the years in our gallery. I felt him lift me upright. And could feel the vibrations as he snips the top open, and he lays me on the ground again, this time right side up. I hear the labor of his breath as he pulls me from my cell. I can hear the fabric grip the edges of the box, almost as if it did not want to let me go. Once he freed me, he carefully removes the wrapping, and there he is, my handsome young man, with one green eye and one blue. He smiles brightly at me and he looks so much like my old love I cannot help myself, I sigh. He looks startled, but only for only a moment. He takes me to a room that is strangely furnished; I realize quickly how the time has changed not only people’s clothes but their taste in furniture. I see something that startles me, something I have never seen in all my years hanging in the gallery. A black box with moving pictures, I am mesmerized by all the color and movements as it switches from people to animals, back to people. I do not understand what I am looking at. I feel him lift me onto an old easel. It has been a long time since I have sat upon an easel. The young man does something with a stick and all the moving pictures disappear. My heart pounds, I wonder if he will make me disappear. He turns to look at me, and I see it then, a picture, not a painting, of my love inside a glass box across from me. I look at the young man, and I look at the face of my love, whom I have not seen in at least a hundred years. I am elated, sad, and joyous all in one moment. I feel overwhelmed. I know, whoever this young man is, he has to be related to my love. I sob silent tears. I am happy. He sits down in a chair and begins to read to me. I sigh and he sighs.

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