He could see her face so clearly. The long straight hair, the prominent nose and small eyes. They existed in his mind like a photograph. He could see her every time he closed his eyes. She lived on the back of his eyelids. He tried to forget her, to forget the small details of her face. The way her hair looked when the light shone in it, shooting the dark brown through with small bits of gold. He tried to forget the smattering of freckles that punctuated her otherwise clear complexion.
But he couldn’t.
He tried to paint other things. A house, a family, a dinner table. He even tried his hand at abstraction but somehow even then she broke her way through the art and into his studio. Stacks and stacks of paintings were built up the high ceilings until he couldn’t escape her.
He tried different styles, deciding that something akin to Picasso’s work was most effective in capturing the strangeness of her face. He experimented with color, ochre for her nose, aquamarine for her skin, brick red for her hair. She stared at him through the canvass asking for more, for a better rendition of herself.
She stared at him everywhere he looked. Blank dead eyes looking out from every canvass. It was the eyes. The small beady things he couldn’t bring life to. It was the only part of her he couldn’t remember. He couldn’t remember what her eyes looked like when they were full of joy and mirth.
He tried covering them with a white cloth. He tried painting her as he last remembered seeing her, with her eyes closed. Still nothing seemed quite right. The utensils of his trade were strewn haphazardly around his studio, oil paints smeared on the tarps and floors of his room.
He wanted to create new colors to capture her. The white walls of his studio smeared with his failure to create. He withdrew from his city. He locked himself in his studio, determined not to emerge until he had captured her in perfect vivid detail. His studio became his cell.
n. He drew the blinds and nailed them to the sill so they couldn’t be opened. Cracks of sunlight leaked in through the edges. He lit candles, brought in dim lamps, and flashlights to alleviate the darkness.
He painted her in black. The deep dark black of the void, the kind of black that stares back at you. He wanted to add red, a rich deep red. He mixed color after color but it wasn’t rich enough, not vibrant enough for her. He did not want to disappoint her, he owed her the full ability of his skill.
A smear of the black paint stained his wrist. He stared into it, hypnotized by the darkness. Trance like he lifted a knife off of the table. He stared at it. It was an old knife, the wooden handle faded and splintered from years of use. The blade was dull, chipped in places and covered in past attempts at mixing color. A rainbow of mistakes smeared the blade.
He pressed it against his skin. The blade was icy against his skin. He could feel the pulse of his blood flowing through his veins below it. He could hear his heart thumping in his ears. It pounded against his chest, trying to escape the cage of his bones.
A thousand sets of dead eyes from a thousand unsuccessful paintings stared down at him as he attempted to rectify his failure. An amphitheater of voiceless women would be his judge and jury.
When the rich vermillion splashed against the inky blackness smeared across his wrist it came out hot and thick. He sat, dripping into a bowl, as the woman watched him from her portraits staring down at him with her lifeless eyes.
The Painter saw her as he had seen her that night. Crushed and broken under the tire of his car. Blood spread over her face, her eyes staring up at the starry night. The life had already gone from them. He had stood above her, knowing already that it was too late for the both of them, the golden light from the headlights illuminating her flawed and plain features.
She’d made a terrible sound when she died. A horrible crunch of glass and metal and bone. He’d felt her go under the tire and for a moment he didn’t know what happened. He remembered the realization striking him, he’d hit something. He thought it was a deer. He hadn’t seen her run out from the woods and into the dark road.
He’d driven away. There was no one around the deserted wooded road to help. He knew the girl was dead. Her body lay mangled in the road, bones protruding through her skin. He saw her legs, bent at unnatural angles. Her arms were thrown over her body like she was trying to cover herself out of some antiquated sense of modesty. Her stomach was open, her intestines and stomach leaking out of her.
He remembered being fascinated by her organs. He hadn’t expected to like the color of them. They weren’t red or grey as he had imagined. Her intestines were a color between blue and purple, some unholy combination of the two. Her stomach was pink, the kind of rosy hue in a pretty girl’s cheek on a winter morning.
Every part of her had been broken. Every part except her face. As he painted her he could only guess at the shape her body once held, but her face remained in clear vivid detail.
He dipped his brush into the bowl into which he had bled for several minutes. He slashed it across the canvas. The chaos pleased him. He did it again and again until, as it always did, the woman’s face emerged. This time her head was attached to her body as he had seen it that night. Broken and distorted. The neck was bent sharply to the right, vertebrae peeking out from inside the skin. The flesh of her neck flayed open where the glass had cut it.
When he finished he stared at what he’d done. He felt calm, finished. He could see her transferred from his nightmares to his canvass exactly how he wanted. He sat on a chair staring at his painting through the night.
In the morning the housekeeper came. She knocked on the door and waited for her temperamental client to tell her to go away. When no answer came she unlocked the door and stepped inside. The room was in a shambles. The canvasses strewn across the floor in various stages of destruction, someone had torn through the paintings and ripped them apart.
A single painting stood on the easel. A horrific scene drawn out in black and crimson. The face of a woman emerged from the chaos, her mouth forming a scream she wouldn’t sound, her eyes black pits. The housekeeper stumbled backwards, shocked at the scene. On the floor below the painting were a pile of eyes that had been gouged out of the paintings. Atop the pile, placed delicately like a gift, were two human eyeballs, staring back at her lifelessly.
The Painter was gone.
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