Early light poured through the loft windows onto the naked floor and walls. The smell of acrylics and oils hung in the air, along with the ghost of her perfume. Lilies and juniper. The paints, the brushes, the canvases…all were gone. Except one easel, bearing one painting, in the far, far corner of the room. That damned painting. The one she’d spent months perfecting.
He stood in the doorway, gazing at stillness, feeling hollow. Dust motes floated in the light. “Like fairies,” she’d once said, smiling.
She had such an odd way of seeing things. Odd, but beautiful. It’s what he’d loved and envied about her. Spider webs were filaments. Autumn air wasn’t damp and rainy; it held the promise of rebirth in the spring. Just like the tubes of paint weren’t simply red, yellow, green and blue…they were scarlet, ochre, apple, and cerulean. There was always more, something beyond the surface.
She’d paint in the park and people would stand behind her at a respectful distance, watching strokes of color appear on the canvas, waiting to see what she saw. Once in a while, she’d smile to herself or giggle like a girl and say, “Oh, I like the way that came out! It worked!” Almost every time, on the spot, someone would ask about buying the painting…because it was filled with joy, or something like that.
He made himself walk toward the easel, the gold and blue swaths becoming more defined as he approached. Along with the figure in the center.
“Why is she holding a lantern?” he’d asked.
She shrugged, gave him that crooked, sassy little smile of hers, and said, “I don’t know. Why do you think she’s holding the lantern?”
He didn’t know, couldn’t come up with a reason. Still couldn’t. Why would you need a lantern in broad daylight?
“Don’t you think the sky is a little, I don’t know, bright or otherworldly or something? It’s kind of an unnatural color. It’s like the sky and the water are backward.”
She chuckled. “Are you telling me you’ve never seen an ocean sunrise? We ought to go up to Maine this summer. You’ll see sunrises that’ll rock your world! Besides, look at Maxfield Parrish’s paintings, or some of the Pre-Raphaelites…the colors are so vivid you can taste them!”
Gently, with unsteady hands, he lifted the painting from the easel and held it up so the daylight would catch it. Reflections blotted out the colors for a moment, but at the right angle, he could almost fall into the ocean it was so clear.
It could be a self-portrait. Those were her shoulders, her figure, her long dark hair. She might have even had a dress like that…elegant, feminine. When she wasn’t painting in jeans and old t-shirts, she liked pale colors and dresses.
The painting had begun as a woman gazing into the sun, holding a lantern. Later, she added the lighthouse.
He’d brought her some coffee while she was tapping in the trees on the rocks, and glanced at it.
“Why the lighthouse? It was fine with just the girl on the beach.”
“The lighthouse gives the scene purpose. Otherwise, it’s just a girl on a beach,” she’d sighed.
“Why does it have to have purpose?” he’d asked. She didn’t answer. “Maybe she is the lighthouse,” he’d chuckled.
She lowered her brush and just stared into the pinkish sunlight on the canvas. He stood off to the side, watching her breathe and watching her hazel eyes scan the canvas…looking for what, he didn’t know. After a few minutes, she set down her palette and brush.
“I think I need a break,” she said, standing, picking up her cup of coffee, and exiting the loft. He heard her feet on the stairs and a minute or two later, the sound of the front door closing.
With just the girl and the lighthouse, he thought the painting looked out of balance. Like something was missing.
A few days later, the ship appeared.
“Kind of strange how she’s in almost modern clothing…but the ship looks old. Is it coming or going?”
“Going,” she stated, nudging her black-framed glasses up her nose with her pinky and flipping a lock of her dark hair out of her line of vision. She reloaded her brush and caressed the sails with gray till they billowed.
Passing cars swished by on the rainy street below. Summer had become autumn and they never did get to Maine to look at sunrises.
He put the painting back on the easel, and took a few steps backward. The sunlight behind him cast his shadow across the painting, dulling the colors. He raised his hands, creating a frame that blotted out the lighthouse and the ship.
All the painting really needed was the girl holding the lantern looking at the cerulean sea. That would have been enough.
Another flash fic effort for Bluebell Books’ weekly short story slam/photo challenge.