She squeezed the cadmium in a bright yellow streak across the palette.
She had painted in every medium, every material possible, but she still loved the richness of oils – that wonderful buttery smear of vivid colour, the smell of the linseed, the texture of the paint as it glided across the canvas.
All of it seemed more real to her than anything else. A life of its own, raw, visceral.
She dipped the sable brush in her own concoction of white spirit and linseed, to thin the paint whilst keeping the gloss. Too much white spirit would dull the verdant hues, too little would make them too sticky, too slick.
Her movements were erratic, not the usual smooth motions of wandering mind and sparkling imagination. She’d often complete a commission in a daze, almost unaware of where she was or what she was doing. Her conscious self, the side of her that was always acutely cautious, would be suppressed, allowing her hands to take over, her fingers to find the form she wanted.
That was where the magic lay…not in the end result, but in its creation.
Today was different.
Today, she was painting for her life.
The music swelled to a crescendo, pushing her adrenaline forward, hurrying her hand. The mottled texture of the canvas swirled before her eyes, a flamenco dance of colours.
Titanium white, a flash of cerulean, a dab of burnt umber and then the thinning haze of vermillion, red as flesh, peering out at her, reminding her of her slowing heart, the constrictions of her arteries, the pulsating electricity through her veins, which told her she was running out of time.
She worked fast now, pounding the canvas until the wooden stretcher creaked beneath the pressure.
The outside noises had faded away. No traffic, no loud Saturday night voices and wailing sirens. It was silent everywhere but inside her head.
Mixing now, hurried new hues emerging from the clogged up mess. Phaltho blue enriching the green she had created, a hint of lemon, a sparkle of ultra-marine.
Throat dry now. Hands shaking, fingers slipping on the brush shaft.
She HAD to finish this.
Shadows clouded her vision. The music soared as eyes emerged from the canvas, eyes she knew so well, eyes staring into her soul, accusing her, condemning her, gloating at her demise.
“I won’t give in, I won’t!” she muttered feverishly.
Mars black, thick and glossy, impenetrable, unfathomable…she was losing the fight.
“Why did you leave me?”
Amber liquid pooled in the crevices, little streaks finding a route through the strokes, dripping in splashes at her feet.
She was always fighting gravity, as most women do. Always fighting, yes, her whole life she had been fighting.
Through the gloom, the full image stared back at her.
“So, you finally painted me? Finally… It only took you fifty years,” it sneered.
“I…I couldn’t do it before. I couldn’t see you,” she stuttered.
The painting smiled at her. “Are you pleased with yourself?”
“No…no…I, just had to see you. I had to say sorry.”
“But it’s too late for that now, isn’t it?”
She dropped to her knees. Her chest compressing in on itself, pain shooting through her shoulder, her arm, down her right side. She knew what this was.
“I need you to…forgive me.” She panted, fighting to breathe, her jeans soaking up the puddles of paint on the floor, seeping slowly through the fibres to her bruised knees beneath.
The painting watched as she slumped forward, struggling to keep conscious, fighting as she had done her whole existence, fighting to try and hold onto something…love.
“Please…” her voice was raspy, desperate, forcing itself through closing valves, through density of flesh, through spasms of life.
The painting stared down at her as the music floundered.
Thump, thump, thump…
“You don’t deserve forgiveness,” it whispered to her coolly. “You know what you deserve.”
“You let her die, didn’t you? What did you do to save her?”
The painting took pity on the thing before it, crumpled like an old newspaper, suddenly a child itself, curling up as an infant, as her infant had been curled up when she found it, smashed by the roadside, barely recognisable. Her baby, her life, gone, snuffed out in a moment of stupidity and violence.
It had been her fault, she was late. She should have been there as she had promised. Instead her daughter had taken a ride with a friend, a drunken friend. What was left behind didn’t even resemble a car anymore.
It had been her fault.
“Pleaseeee…” she drooled, words slurred, barely audible.
The painting sighed, better to quicken her misery than give her hope. “No.”
Sophie E Tallis © 2013