Idle Thoughts

Rants, Raves, and Revelations . . . oh my!

Red March 23, 2011

Filed under: Writings — idlethoughtsblog @ 12:30 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This is a short story I wrote for my English 285 class my sophomore year of college (considering that was only last spring, it shouldn’t feel like it was all that long ago, but it does).  I like it, though I still think it needs work.  This need for revision is normal for me, but I can’t decide what needs to be done.  My last post merited one reader who commented, so maybe this will, too.  As usual, constructive comments will be appreciated, flames will be deleted, and it’s mine all mine, so no pinching.

————————–

__________

The painting wasn’t particularly famous among most of the people in the town.  Sure, some of the more art-minded citizens were aware of it.  Teachers who had taken their classes to the art museum dozens of times over the years might recognize it, but for the most part, she was left in obscurity.  She waited still on her back wall of a back room for her faithful few admirers as the seasons passed slowly in the world beyond her frame.

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She was stunning – beautiful in a simple sort of way – with her slight, knowing smile and wavy auburn hair that framed her face in light.  Her sparkling hazel eyes spoke uninterpreted volumes without a sound, drawing the viewer into the canvas with her if the patron wasn’t careful.  Behind her, a meadow spread so lifelike that the long green-brown stalks of grass seemed to bend with an unfelt wind and shimmer in the imagined sunlight.  Odd that an artist with such tremendous talent would neglect to leave some name or mark – anything to claim the masterpiece as his own.

———

He came to visit her on his lunch break every day.  Daniel Michaelson was fairly new in town, having found a job as a writer at the town newspaper soon after graduating from college.  The museum had never given him cause for more than a brief glance until he was called to write a story about its new manager, the son of a famous photographer in New York City.  The manager had fixed the place up and was as anxious for a new round of publicity as Daniel was anxious for a chance to see his name once again in print.  The manager showed Daniel a selection of paintings he was considering removing to the museum’s vault to make room for some newer photography when she almost audibly called out to the young reporter.  Daniel pointed to the framed canvas leaning against the wall and inquired whether the new manager was sure the picture didn’t merit a spot on a display wall.  The manager responded, jokingly, that he preferred blondes.

———–

As it turned out, Daniel had not been the first to ask about the painting’s fate.  “It seems to be something of a favorite with some of the regulars,” the manager said.  “I might keep it out if I can find a place for it.”

———

And so, the red-haired lady found herself still on display, even if it was still on the back wall of a back room.  Daniel had become enchanted with the image and after a few months, scraped some money together to sponsor a bench in her room.  This was where he could be found between the hours of one and two every day he had to work.  And then a good portion of his available Saturdays became dedicated to the lady in the meadow.

—————–

She seemed so wise, like an ancient guru draped in the body of a beautiful young woman.  It wasn’t long before, as crazy as it sounds, he started speaking to her.  Not out loud, of course.  At least not at first.  It began as whispers in his head and progressed to barely audible murmurs from his lips.  He vented his troubles and frustrations and released his hopes and dreams to his silent friend.  Disappointing months went by with Daniel mentally filling in her responses to the conversations he held with her.  It was almost a relief when he heard a voice besides his own answering him.

—————-

It had been a long week.  Deadlines were looming, with more irons being added daily to his already-overwhelmed fire.  For the first time since high school, he was seriously considering throwing away his career in journalism and finding something else to do.

—————

“What keeps you from quitting?”

———-

Daniel jerked upright from his slouched position on the bench.  He looked around, but there was no one in sight.  He looked back up at the red-haired lady.

———–

“Did you just –”

————

He couldn’t finish the sentence.  It was too preposterous, even to a man who had been imagining just such an event for nearly eight months.

———

“I’ve been here the whole time, Daniel.  Through tough interviews and great ones, the new dog, the old car with new problems.  The death of your mother, the birth of your godson.  You were the one who told me, remember?”

—————–

Daniel was mesmerized.  Even in his daydreams, he could have never imagined such a voice.  It sounded like chimes in the wind, felt like a breeze in summer, and smelled of a forest glade in springtime.  He stood and approached the painting, reaching out against museum rules to touch the canvas.  His arm recoiled in shock.  Her hair felt as real as the hair on his own head.  He touched the grasses of the meadow.  They felt as real as they had in the meadow near the cottage by the lake his parents had rented every summer when he was a boy.  He could almost smell the wildflowers.

——————

Showing no signs she had noticed the intrusion upon her canvas domain aside from a barely visible twinkle in her bright eyes, the lady repeated her question.

————-

“What keeps you from quitting?”

———–

Struggling to wrap his mind around the bizarre situation, Daniel seated himself once again on the hard wooden bench.  “Writing’s my only marketable skill.  I’ve been writing since the fifth grade – I haven’t cultivated any other talents.  I have to make a living somehow.”

—————

“Even at the expense of being happy?”

—————

Daniel had to think about that for a minute.  Happiness was something that had never really occurred to him before – not in his career.  Writing had simply been all he had known.

—————–

As if sensing his struggle to create an answer, the red-haired woman asked another question.

————-

“What makes you happy, Daniel?”

——

“Being here, talking to you.  Writing.  Not the stuff for work, but the other stuff.  The things I’ve told you about.”

=———

If he had not known better, he could have sworn he saw her nod. “I remember.  Your short story collection.  What make you set that aside?”

——-

“I couldn’t make money on it.  No one would pick it up and self-publishing would cost more than what it would make me.”

_________

“Is money so important?”

____________

Daniel paused.  Money hadn’t always been his motivation for his work.  When had it become such a driving force?

—————-

She continued. “You didn’t list money among the things that made you happy.”

————-

Daniel sighed.  His lunch hour was almost up. “In this world, we need money.  It gets us food, clothing, pays for rent.  It’s not really something we can just do without.”

-____________

“What a miserable life you people must live.”

————–

“Well, we can’t all live in canvases.  Someone must inhabit this world.  Someone must be there to paint the worlds you live in.”

————

“Yes, someone must.  Buy why must that someone be you?”

—————

His eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement. “Come again?”

—————-

“Certainly not all people are as unhappy in their lives as you.  Why can’t you leave that world and join ours?”

————–

Daniel shook his head.  “Because it’s not possible.  I was created in his world and you were created in yours.  We can’t just change universes because we don’t like the one we’ve been given.”

———

“Who’s to say what can or can’t be done?” the red-haired lady asked.  His vision blurred and before is eyes the arm of the painted woman began to move.  “Come, take my hand.  I’ll show you.”

—————-

He never would have thought it of himself, but Daniel found the proposition tempting.  Her voice, her eyes, her very presence could be felt, drawing him in.  He felt his hand rising and his peripheral vision clouded, leaving only the enchanting woman in focus.

————

BREEP!  BREEP!

———–

The alarm on his cell phone went off, snapping him back to the reality he shared with the rest of the human race.  His lunch break was over.

————-

His hand dropped to silence his blaring phone and he bent to gather his briefcase and empty big gulp cup.

—————

“Maybe next time.” He heard her whisper as he hurried from the room, anxious to be away from the odd influence he had just experienced, but at the same time sad to leave the beautiful woman in the painting.

————–

*   *   *

————-

All that day and into the night, Daniel tried to force the woman from his mind, to no avail.  While walking his dog after work he had almost been hit by a car, quelling his longing to be back in front of her for a few minutes before her face filled his mind’s eye once more.

—————

He did not sleep that night, not even after a double dose of over-the-counter sleeping pills.  After two hours of tossing and turning, Daniel gave up.  He reached for his laptop and for the first time in months, pulled up his word processor to create something other than news copy.

—————-

The sun rose the next morning to Daniel fast asleep on his couch, computer snoozing on his lap with the equivalent of over twenty new pages to finish his collection.

___________________

Thanks to his late night, Daniel decided to take the morning off, something he hadn’t done since college.  The image and proposition of the red-haired lady, still ever-present, had waned in intensity enough to allow him to edit the work he had done the night before, but returned with a vengeance.

——————

Having accomplished what he could before the lady’s presence claimed his concentration and before he had to leave for his half day of work, Daniel pulled his coat and half-jogged his way to his car through the flurries that had been falling since midnight.  On his drive to the office, he debated whether he should return to the museum.  The drug-high feeling had not entirely appealed to him, but he had never felt lighter, more carefree, in his life.  What if the lady was right? he thought.  What if I wasn’t meant to be here?  Can I pass up the opportunity to find out?

—————–

In the end, his curiosity won out and he found himself pulling up in front of the art museum and dropping a dollar in quarters into the meter.

—————-

Aside from an attendant at the front desk, the building was devoid of human life.  The old clock on the wall ticked in rhythm to his footsteps on the hardwood floors as he strode purposefully toward the back room.  Her room.

——————-

“I was hoping you’d come back.”

———

“What’s it like?  In there?  You said that maybe I belonged in there with you.  Why should I leave this world to join yours?”

———

“Your world is so hectic.  Here is simply peace – no wants, no needs.  Just being and, for the most part, being accepted as what you are.  Things you have wanted all your life, are they not?  And did you not say before that you were tired of the ‘rat race,’ as you called it?”

—————

“Could I come back?”

———

“Come back?”

————-

“If I began to miss this world and wanted to come back, could I?”

—————–

“It’s never been done, but that has no bearing as to whether or not it’s possible.”

—————–

Daniel rubbed his face with both hands.  He had spent all of the afternoon pondering what was keeping him from joining her.  His father had died when he was twelve.  His mother had died five months ago.  No siblings, no girlfriend.  He could easily be replaced at his job.  There really wasn’t anyone who would miss him.  His dog.

————

He called his neighbor, a crazy dog lady who had often stopped to admire his collie mix when she saw them together.  Surely she had room for one more four-legged friend.

————–

“Of course I can, Daniel,” his neighbor replied, a tad too gleefully.  “So sad you have to move.”

————

After ending his call, he turned back to the red-haired lady. “If I come with you, what will happen to my manuscript?  Will it just be forgotten?”

————

“Did you bring it with you?”

————-

“Of course.”

——–

“Then it will never be forgotten.”

—————-

Daniel stood silently, gazing upon the world around him, through the windows he could see at the front of the museum.   He wouldn’t miss it – not really.  And what kind of adventure would this be?  How many people had the chance to escape?

——–

“Have you made your decision, Daniel?”

——–

His eyes returned to the woman in the painting.  He felt his head nodding and his hand reaching out in front of him.  “I’m ready,” he whispered hoarsely.

———–

His heart beat wildly in his chest as his vision blurred.  He saw everything as though he was underwater, looking up at the surface.  Through the ripples he could see the porcelain arm of the red-haired lady reaching out to him.  He felt her touch is hand, sending electric shivers down his spine.  Warmth spread down his arm and through his body.  Then blinding white light filled his vision.

———-

*   *   *

————-

Two weeks later, the front page of The Checkerston Chronicle featured a story about a missing reporter.  His apartment was undisturbed, his dog given to a neighbor who hadn’t the slightest idea where he had gone.  The only clue, a thick stack of papers, containing a selection of short stories written by the missing Daniel Michaelson on a bench in front of where his favorite painting had once hung.  Now, a different image, similar enough for one to assume to have been painted by the same artist, was on display.

————–

The meadow, as lifelike and glorious as before, was the same, but where once only a red-haired lady had stood, a couple could now be seen.  A man with dark, wavy hair stood behind her, arms wrapped around the woman’s shoulders, face buried in her long, flowing hair.  Her slight smile had broadened into a frozen laugh.  A picture of happiness. A man and his love, finally brought together through the bizarrest of circumstances – but there were only two people in existence in this world or any other one who would ever know.

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