This short story is participating in Write Story from Picture India 2012 – Short Story Writing Competition.
She fixed the camera on its tripod and sat down sideways to it. The day was still as a corpse. No breeze at all. She rested her chin on her palm and smiled as she remembered that wild, windy day from so long ago.
She’d been 20 then. He was 27. 27 going on 40 he seemed to her. She remembered lying on his bed watching him paint. His angry brushstrokes, the riot of colours he thrust upon his canvas. Red, green, yellow: all muddled in forms she couldn’t imagine. It made her head reel, to watch him paint, to just stare at those angry paintings that said so much, that made their spite for his world known. His world. The world as he saw it.
He collapsed on the bed when he was done.
And mumbled, ‘I hope you love this as much as I do’
He turned to look at her. ‘This! Us! Being together! You watching me paint. And then taking off into the sunset, the way we do.’ He smiled his crooked smile.
‘What sunset?’ She giggled. ‘It’s 2 in the night.’
He clucked his tongue. ‘One day. One day we’ll sit together at sunset. We’ll do the lovers routine, darling. We’ll hold hands; we’ll tell each other how much we love being together.’ He lifted his brush-wielding hand and painted a heart in the air. ‘And then we’ll kiss a nice, long kiss’ He cocked at eyebrow at her.
She laughed and stood up. ‘Stop you nonsense. Let’s go for a ride! The weather is so fine!’
He got up. He put his arms around her tightly and whispered: ‘Listen to me. Enjoy all of this, darling. It won’t last forever. We won’t last forever. I’ll be gone one day.’
She held on to him. She told herself he was having one of his moods. It usually happened when he painted something he’d been thinking about forever. He’d told her once. ‘Once I think about a painting for too long, it becomes a part of me. It becomes a part of my every thought. I am consumed by it. When I finally put brush to canvas, then, I break that bond. It becomes a part of the world. It starts to exist by itself. Anyone can look at it. It gets a body of its own. Sometimes I can’t even bear to look at such a painting. It pains me too much.’
She pulled away and threw the bike keys at him.
What a windy, windy day. He drove like a demon. He drove on and on until they reached a nondescript hill. They sat down at the top. She flopped down to the grass and closed her eyes. She felt so happy. So happy to be there with him. He said ‘You’re beautiful. One day, when I can bear it, I’ll paint you. I’ll paint you sitting on a bench.’ He sighed. ‘I’ll paint such a lovely picture. No madness. Just your pure, ethereal beautiful face. It’ll be my masterpiece, darling. And I won’t be depressed after painting it. D’you know why? Because you’re the one subject that doesn’t need me to put any of my own self into it. You’re so beautiful, inside out darling. You’re a masterpiece already. No one can feel anything but admiration when they see you. You consume my mind and yet you stand apart. I obsess over you without losing my mind. You’re the one thing of beauty that’s my joy forever darling’ He finished with a laugh.
‘Why haven’t you painted me yet then?’ She asked.
He smiled at her. His crooked smile.
He’d been right about one thing. It didn’t last forever. Around a month after that day, she walked to his apartment only to be told that he’d left. The landlady had no idea where he’d gone. He hadn’t said. She could see the old lady was happy to have gotten rid of him and hadn’t bothered to ask.
She hadn’t forgotten him. First she’d thought about him every hour, then every day, then every week. Thoughts of anger, thoughts of despair, thoughts of hatred, thoughts of longing. So many thoughts. Until finally her only thought was why he hadn’t painted her.
It came to her in a flash finally. For him, everything culminated on a canvas. To paint was to take out the demons, the desire that lurked within him and put it out for the world to see. It was The End. The End of all the emotions that the object stirred in him. Once he painted something, he as good as ejected it from his system. It stopped throbbing in his heart, it stopped troubling him, and it stopped to whirl a storm in him.
‘He didn’t want to lose me.’ She’d said aloud. She’d smiled the beautiful smile he loved so much. She’d smiled that honest, happy smile after a decade. She’d decided to end her own suffering.
As the camera clicked, she had her painting. The beautiful girl sitting on a bench, just as he’d wanted. Calm. Beautiful. Serene.
The thing of beauty that would be his joy forever.