Short Story 16: Projection
[Another writing group product – hence the weird “Projection” title. I couldn’t think of an alternative title for it but I bet someone else can.]
The couple stared at the painting in silence, mesmerised by the effect the brush strokes had on their senses. The image was superior to anything they had ever seen. Neither of them were connoisseurs of art and yet they could tell that this was something to be treasured. Before they left the gallery, Angie put in an offer for the painting. She had never purchased any artwork other than prints but this was different. She had to have it, or at least try to get it.
The painting arrived at its new home on a rainy Saturday afternoon in November. She already knew exactly where she intended to display it, she had spent the last few days mulling over the decision. But when she hung it up in the chosen location in her living room, it didn’t feel quite right. It looked exposed and she knew straightaway that it was not intended to be shared in that way. It finally found its resting place on her bedroom wall, across from her bed so that she could contemplate its beauty whenever she lay awake. She knew she would still have to share it because Jeremy often spent the night at hers. Apart from locking it away in her closet, she didn’t think she had much choice but to leave it there.
As the weeks went by she realised that not much else could compare to the sense of satisfaction she received from simply observing the painting. Everything paled in comparison to the way her heart fluttered when she noticed a new stroke of red cleverly hidden underneath a more dominant yellow. Or the many different ways the image metamorphosed when she viewed it from different angles; emerging from her bathroom, waking up from sleep and catching sight of it in the moonlight, sneaking a peek as she pretended to carry on a conversation with Jeremy.
Their conversations soon developed into arguments. For some reason Jeremy wouldn’t let her be. What was so wrong with her wanting to spend more time at home? She used to love the theatre and taking long leisurely walks with him in the park but those things could still be done at a later date. For now, she just wanted to stay in and examine the masterpiece. There was nothing wrong with that.
She also used to love her job but now everyone sounded so ignorant. Her bosses seemed to be making increasingly banal decisions. There was no excitement, no spontaneity and no inspiration for her in the small PR firm where she worked. Everything seemed to be flat lining all around her.
But not the painting. When she woke up and caught her first glimpse of it, there was nothing else that mattered. She knew she needed to immerse herself in unravelling the mysteries it bore. Soon she began to miss work, she stopped showing any form of enthusiasm when Jeremy was around and even began to question the need for sustenance. What was the point of all that external distraction when she could get all she wanted from the image she cherished in her room?
“Angie, wake up.”
Jeremy’s voice sounded distant but when she opened her eyes, she saw that he was sitting at the edge of her bed.
“It’s time to come back to us,” he said gently as she struggled to rise from bed. She didn’t know exactly how long she had been lying there. In the last few days she had completely lost the will to exist. Yet she wondered what he was talking about.
Glancing at the painting, Jeremy carried on. “You’ve become obsessed with that painting, it’s changed you, made you a shadow of yourself. I knew something was wrong with it but I didn’t know what to do so I spoke to the owner of the art gallery to find out more about its origin.” He paused and looked at her before carrying on in a lower tone. “He said it was painted by a young promising artist on the day before she committed suicide. Nobody knows why she did it but her last wish was for her work to be auctioned off. You know I don’t usually pay attention to superstitious notions but somehow I think you made a connection with the emotions she felt when she painted it. I think that’s what has been eating away at you.”
That was all he said before he rose and went to remove the painting from the wall. Angie wanted to scream. What was he doing? Why was he torturing her? Where was he taking it? But her starved body was too weak to react so she lay there, silently pleading with Jeremy with her eyes to stop what he was doing. It was pointless. He left the room without looking back.
When Angie woke up a few hours later, she knew that something was different. She glanced up at the wall and wondered why she felt so hollow looking at the blank space before her. Then she remembered the painting. She had to get it back. Somehow she managed to lift herself off the bed and taking painful steps, she made it all the way to the kitchen where she found Jeremy hunched over the cooker. She remembered she liked the way he prepared his penne alfredo; she could almost taste the creamy sauce and the feeling was strangely exhilarating. She hadn’t felt the urge to eat anything in days and yet here she was, patiently waiting for him to finish preparing the meal.
“Hello,” Jeremy said when he noticed her standing by the doorway.
“Hello,” she mumbled back.
Jeremy gestured to the empty chair by the kitchen counter then turning back to the cooker, he wiped the tear that had welled up at the corner of his eye. For the first time in weeks he finally thought that maybe things would turn out alright.