A single 8’8 painting encompasses the lifetime of an artist. Every color, shape, figure, and design is a story in itself. That story really is something so beautiful. The unfortunate thing is that it’s constantly being misrepresented in the eyes of the beholder. It’s a shame that someone can simply walk by someone’s lifeline tied to a canvas and think “that reminds me of my pet dog”. It’s all obscure and vague. We tell ourselves that art is subjective and it can mean a million things to a million different people. That’s a silly excuse. There is always a deeper meaning that out ways all the divisional ones.
Emi’s painting has a deeper meaning. As I stand here, it hangs poised and self-effacing on the virginal concrete wall. A young girl looks across a spectacle of spirits and flowers. One of her finest works in my opinion. Everyone we know always questioned the meaning of the painting. She would always give the same answer with a smirk and a wink: “it’s exactly what it is”. I hated that answer. Emi has always been so private with her paintings. She would never let me into her study or as I liked to call it, “chamber of secrets”. She would always say that the painting would be spoiled if it was seen before it was finished. I wasn’t apologetic for wanting to see her unfinished work. I wasn’t apologetic for wanting to understand her work.
However, now I stand empty and complacent at a singular piece in which I am deeply sorry for not understanding. Here lies the Spirited Wonderland and I will never get the chance to pressure her into telling me why she painted what she painted. I don’t ever want to think that it was designed randomly from her imaginative brain. That idea keeps me awake at night. Emi was such a genius. Her genius by no meaning could be aimless and arbitrary. I refuse to think that.
I stare into the eyes of the young girl in the painting. Is it Emi? No. It can’t be. Emi had long black hair and this girl has short red tendrils. Maybe this girl is someone she knew? An old classmate, friend, or neighbor? Emi had an abundance of friends in her late twenties, but she never spoke of older companions from her childhood. She never spoke of her childhood in general. Emi loved flowers. She was known in the art world for the gorgeous and marvelous paintings of roses and violets. The flowers in the painting made complete sense. It was her signature. But how did they tie into the spirits and ghosts? Well, maybe they aren’t ghosts. They float and meander into the field of roses. They look like specters in a vivid dream.
I have to know what it means. It’s the only thing I have left of her in this world. We never did get around to having children. I was too busy with my job and she was too busy with her art. Personally, I like to imagine that the little girl in the painting would have been our own child. It would have been nice. The pitter patter of feet around the small apartment and the incessant nagging of a set bedtime. Maybe the red-headed girl would have been the next step in our little family. Maybe she’d look too much like me, but was everything and more like her mother. Her name would have been Rose and she would smile and laugh just like Emi. She would also make the apartment seem less empty. Blank canvases haunt my every turn in that dingy place. They’re constant reminders of how Emi is gone and that there is one less angel in this world. Maybe make that two since Rose is only a figment of my imagination.
After the day she died, I didn’t have the heart to look at any of her paintings. It was strange. I stared for hours and hours at pictures of her. I watched film after film of her interviews and home videos. But for the life of me, I could not pay a singular glance towards anything that was touched by her paint brush. It wasn’t until today that I decided to face my greatest fear. What exactly is that fear? I’m not sure. It’s as obscure as Emi’s art. Honestly, it’s as obscure as Emi herself. We had been married for over eight years and I still know so little about her. She never spoke about her childhood or her greatest fears as an artist. She was always so light-hearted. She didn’t complain too much and when she did it was for the sake of other people. She wasn’t close to her family. She always vouched for us to spend time with friends on holidays.
No matter how many questions I asked, I always felt like I was interrogating a brick wall. A brick wall with painted faces and flowers smeared on all together. Emi was my favorite person. It kills me not to understand her even after her death. When I look at this 8’8 painting, I am reminded of how far away I am from the person I was devoted to. The little girl with red tendrils could possibly understand. She was painted with precision into a painting she’ll never come to terms with.
I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to be without her. I don’t want to go back to our small apartment full of dead air. I don’t want to leave this museum with the same dread that I had walked in with only hours before. I don’t want to walk away from a semblance of her lifeline… I don’t think I get a choice.
I realize with humiliation that tears have smothered my eyes. I can hardly see, but I’m scared to blink and have the tears cascade down my face. I quickly step over to the nearest bench and pull out my handy handkerchief. I dab my face and console my eyes. Once the ability to see came back to my range of capabilities, I let out an elongated sigh. I have to start living again. The first step to living is always breathing. I breathe in through my nose and close my eyes. I see Emi. There’s no shock there. She’s burned into the back of my eye sockets. I smile for a false moment and try to imagine her sitting beside me. She would lounge on the velvet seat with her hideous cherry-lense sunglasses perched on the tip of her nose. She’d pull her left leg into her stomach and ramble on about the importance of local museums. I would partly listen, but most of my attention would be watching her speak. She would then chortle at my mediocre feedback that related-little to the conversation.
I open my eyes and I don’t see Emi. That part still feels like a knife to the chest.
Instead, I see a blue door with a golden knob in the far corner of the room. Stationed on the front of the door is a plaque that says “Art and Design Room”. Below it is a tiny painted rose with yellow petals. Without thought or recognition of action, I stand up and walk to the door. I stare at the rose in consideration. It reminded me of Emi. That much was obvious.
Inside the room was a group of scattered participants from teenage-hood to elder-hood staring meticulously at the canvases and easels in front of them. I wandered to the edge of the room and stared at their work. The youngest girl in the room was painting a portrait of a woman and her dog. Another woman was painting a picturesque version of a subway. An older man painted colorful geometric shapes. There were many other portraits that lined the wall. They were all different and they all had a different story to tell.
It overwhelmed me. Every painting and person in this room had something to say. I sat down at one of the easels in the back. A kind-looking older woman came by with a tiny canvas and set it against my easel with a warming smile and nod. I nodded back and stared blankly at the pristine portrait.
I couldn’t paint. That was Emi’s expertise. She always attempted to persuade me into painting something, anything. I would occasionally humor her and paint something worthless and mundane compared to her signature style. Maybe a dog or the building we lived in. She would hang it in our kitchen all the same.
I wasn’t like her. I didn’t have a genius mind. I didn’t have the creativity to take a story out of words and into color. I didn’t have an interesting life or story. My mind was as blank as the canvas before me. All that popped into my head was that little yellow rose and the little red-headed girl.
I felt the need to get up and gaze at the painting again. I was about to stand up when the older woman came back with a collection of pastel paints. My thoughts and wants were quashed when she politely nodded at the paints. She wanted me to paint something. I didn’t want to disappoint her, but at the same time I didn’t want to disappoint her with my unambiguous vision by painting something austere.
She grabbed a small-bristled brush and placed it in my hand with another naturally-tender nod of the head. I was about to apologize and tell her that I was just here to examine as a wallflower when she pointed to a bright orange paint. It reminded me of the little red-headed girl. And in turn it reminded me of Emi.
I felt a gush of deep sorrow and longing. I couldn’t just come here everyday to stare at her painting. I needed to start living my life again. It wasn’t healthy to obsess over something that was so detached from reality. After the woman got up to help another newcomer, I began to brush orange curls onto the canvas. By no means did it look as natural and whole as Emi’s version, but it made me feel a little closer to her.
Maybe it was half an hour later, but I had finally wrapped up my copy of Spirited Wonderland. It looked pathetic, but I felt more alive than I had in months. I didn’t understand the meaning of the painting, but I finally understood the yearning to be a part of the process.
I was just happy to take a part of Emi home with me.
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Heartbreaking. Great job!
A beautifully written and a well crafted story. I enjoyed reading.
So sweet and sad! You feel as if you were the one who lost a loved one.
Your story feels so beautiful, mesmerizing, and poetic at the same time Caroline. Great job.