|The Quicksilver Ghosts
Author: Frore PM
She painted his portrait, and he shrieked in agony.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Tragedy - Words: 3,523 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 2 - Published: 03-06-08 - Status: Complete - id: 2484975
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Paint running down the walls. Paint running everywhere, thinly, distinctly. Blues that captured new meaning like a sky colored lens, gripping the world, holding it, imbibing it. Shallows of color to deep to be treaded upon. Not shallows. Depths. Oceans of clarity in tiny, pigmented streams.
The visiting nurse always had the keenest eye for color.
"Sleeping late, are you?" She whispered, the clatter of the door long since behind her, and before him sat the most delicate creature he'd ever seen, as if observing his life had left her blind to her own; sickly and unrelenting, pale and colorless, so unlike paint that he could not paint her. Colorless, lightless, opaque. A stain of absence to refrain his eyes from the wall.
"… Asleep?" He deferred, his lips slackened with a sleepless – but never dreamless – disposition, eyes trailing across the ceiling, tracing the paintings that were never there. "I feel as if I am still there, wandering on sky-lit pathways. Does the sky make its own color, or do our eyes place it there?"
To which she would laugh, the homeliest cat she had ever seen hopping up onto his bed, settling between his knees… A patchwork of brown and black fur, bald patches more prominent than its mane at times, and one of its eyes missing, plucked from his head many years ago like gold from a river bed; perhaps an accident, a fight, or a terrible fall. The pills, white and without hue, would clatter between her fingers like a collection of skulls, not so much in hue but in pretense of action; to be buried beneath the ground, unseen and undisturbed.
"Sir, my most optimistic sir –" A smile would always be received at these words, these false deceptions. How sweetly she would pretend to not know his name, how colorlessly, and how full of color he became when he reached deep within himself and found an expression, one that spoke of all the candor bereft in their epithets. "That is not the sky, but the ceiling."
He took the medicine, and felt every ounce of color condense on the ceiling, gather itself into droplets, and drip, drip, drip away.
"Sir?..." Whispers she, but in the reflections, it is a scream. "My dear friend?..." The ghost in the rectangle turns on one heel now, and a floor board creaks, revealing the slightest of lip trembles from the lovely apparition, a nurse who was just as real as flesh, bone, and creation itself. His name rested on the edge of her lips. The ghost of her, shining in mirror beyond, anticipated its fall.
A scuffle from the bedroom.
Her footsteps continued.
"My most stubborn and impetuous adversary…" she recited like the beginning of a limerick, eyes dancing somehow, reveling in the eccentricity of him. "In the beginning you requested only that your name is never to be called, never, under any circumstance. Now it seems you refuse to be addressed at all."
"… You were far too loud," He laughed, the sound rattling from within his chest somewhere, stifled by the stillness of his lips, a strange muffle. "And your choice of hue – far too saturated today."
She glanced at the white dress she wore, and her gray sweater hung over her shoulders like a sheen of confusion.
"… Far too ever present."
"Your intellect is dizzying."
"My dear," the whisper broke through her confinement of doubt, "did you know that if you were to wear a single shade of green – even in the mildest of tones – it would light up the entire room?"
Her eyes untangled themselves from the wool of her sweater, abandoning those loops and circles, those stitches without number, and found themselves tied to the artist before her, the man with the house full of mirrors.
"… But you, you are not one for evergreen," his smile broadened knowingly, but it did not physically grow larger, only from somewhere deep within. "And violet would be too wayward for you…" Silence still, her eyes collapsed within his own, lost in gray, a world so full of color that it could not have been gray, not truly, the color of his eyes was the veriest of untruths. A world without breath tried to respire between them, but it was all dependent upon his words. "… But for you, I have a shade with the perfect meaning."
He slipped away from her, words having completed themselves with an emotionlessly heart-felt vigor, a contrivance of contradiction. And he faced a rectangle of quick-silver on the wall.
"Your medicine…?" She muttered, but he stood without motion, resolute and unmoving, a phantom too, but frozen patiently in a world with more color than time. The pills felt warm in her hand, palpable, untouchable, indigestible.
They clattered to the floor, and she left.
The scent of color is always a mystery. Breath by breath, inhale turning into exhale, one may find it impossible to decipher hue based on unlearned senses alone. A new mirror in his home today, longer than the others, the bottom of the frame level with her knees, but the top inching just above her head. The cat, ugly and slow, bumped into her legs upon turning too quickly, croaking a quick sound of surprise. His head felt texture-less and comforting beneath her fingers, warm somehow in a land of sensory deprivation, and his golden eye shown up at her like a malformed, Greek beast would stare at an aurora.
A quick meow, something aged and worn.
"Painting, then? Frantically or methodically?"
Nothing. No longer aged, no longer worn. Not a single sound to carry these attributes.
Her feet clattered up the stairs so quickly that she felt her skeleton, colorless and bland, threaten to crumble.
"… My dear sir," a bit shaken now, a bit taken aback. His hands flew up toward his head as if he were summoning every bird from the heavens, directing them south. "Sir, really, sit down."
"And for what purpose, my lady? For treatments of an unknown sort for an ailment just as feebly understood?" Wild eyes, feverish, warm, scalding, boiling over; she imagined that his tears would have flooded the entire bedroom had they not evaporated from the scalding heat. A face that was the color of madness. Frighteningly so. "To blind even inner sight from coming forward?"
"Sir, the fever has you."
"It has nothing!" His voice broke like an ancient teacup in a storm. "Does it grip me like childish trickery, like knavish deceit, like you?" He gripped her arms. Pushed her backward. Did not let go. The mirror behind her was cold, unbearably, and the phantom behind her felt frozen and displaced, slamming the world of the real with her spine. Pressed tightly. Shaking. Unable to shake. Move even. Quicksilver notions of…
Trembling lips – trembling, feminine lips, attempting to speak.
"No, no words. I've had enough." His voice was a hoarse, low echo. He plucked something from a stand next to her, but she could not even see it, could not conceive of anything in these moments, not even safety. His madness was a pulling, horrible tide - "Reveal the color you hide so delicately." – and he forced the brush into her tiny, quaking hand.
"Sir, there is water on the nightstand…" For painting? For swallowing medicine?
"Why do you say this?"
He felt the tiniest shells of white slip into his free palm, their textures cold and without remarkable pigment; - and her words, he felt them more than anything, saw them in every color, watched them drain away every shade. Felt them as he sank to the floor, tears winding down his cheek bones, making it impossible to breathe; felt them, felt them everywhere, saw them and heard them and fell between them. The pills slid down his throat only moments after the words slid out of hers, pooling in the air with unrelenting softness, sweetness, and inward reproach, staining the morning with;
"… Because you frighten me."
She sat by his bed, the cat purring at his feet, watching his lips move in relentless onslaughts of, "Forgive me."
"There is nothing to forgive, silence."
"Only if you cease these apologies."
She scowled in reply, an expression that faded immediately, eyes trailing toward the broken mirror, an array of pink – pink? Oddly enough? A pattern as well? – revealing itself beneath, estranged in a monochromatic, bromidic world.
He was an artist – her eyes flecked about the room – but there were no paintings to be found, no compositions, no signs of creativity. Blank easels, quicksilver covered hallways.
The hallways, the rectangles of silver, the…
"Why do you hide your paintings behind mirrors?" She asked, and her voice was soft and fluid, filled with amnesty and light and empathetic pink.
A gaze that waned in cycles and tides, drifting like the reflection of the moon over salt water, illuminating somewhere, but only in the darkest and most unknown of places;- it became him immediately. "Because no one ever looks past the surface."
"Of the mirrors?"
She watched him bite the inside of his lip a little harder. Something inside him shook. He was seated on the bed, eyes drawn across the floorboards, anticipating rain, hands curled into themselves, an imaginary embrace. Cold whispers, regretful tones. "I know."
Dedition then? An injury to one's self? – but no, the drawing room remained empty and his living room unfulfilled, mirrors hanging like waning moons, light dripping toward the edges instead of bouncing back.
The young nurse's hands pulled toward the mirror on the far wall, tugging her body with them, the grass outside lightly bending with the nuance of wind, spinning shadows and lines. Slowly, those hands descend… The crack in the mirror, the sharp edges. Oddly jagged in a smooth, resigned way. Accepting. The words fell without realization; "You've never painted a self portrait."
His eyes, gray and colorless, lenses so keen on lending every individual shade that they kept none for themselves, remained settled on the old, dark wood beneath his feet.
"I believe you should," she suggested in a moment of brightness, hand trailing to beside the mirror, grasping the brush he had so readily forced into her hands only days before, "And show me what colors lay inside of you."
He looked up. "And lie?"
A gentle laugh coiled about her neck like a halo. "No, I don't believe you've ever done that when you reveal what is carefully hidden within all things. I've seen them, sir. Hidden behind the mirrors, the scent of color filling the dining room… I've looked, and I hope you don't mind. I've seen them. They're an intricacy that ought not to remain shuttered away."
And every mirror could have fragmented in perfidy as he elevated his gaze, silently beckoning, needing consolation as he asked one desperate task of her, and that was to only "Look again."
Then the cracked mirror, the one she dared not look beneath, for fear that the glass would tremble as his eyes would, quake as his hands would, and break like his fever would have, could have, should have long ago, had only she kept making him take those pills…
Her hands reunite with the frame of the cracked mirror. Slowly, unsure of themselves, they slide upward across the dark wood that held her phantom image, the face of a pale, delicate female beaming back at her, a frost picture written across glass perhaps, her dress a drab gray and her skin so white that it was sickly. Upward… Upward to the corner of the frame where they paused quite unsurely, where the scent of dried paint, like a rose garden, was in full bloom. Soft presences… Slow presences… How colorless she was, mild and unaccented. He was nearby, and she could feel it.
Perhaps he knew that the mirror would come crashing to the floor, shattering like a cannon ball striking water, her scream frozen mid-way through – had he already heard it? Was it there, beneath him, inside of him, beneath the surface of him all along?
The mirror slid away. It reconciled its defeat in silver fragments all around her. But she was still reflected. Reflected there, beyond that rectangle of silver, where it was, in what was beneath it. The pink, the colors, the wonder…
"Monochromatic, my dear." The whisper comes from beyond her, hovering over her shoulder, a voice so familiar that it belongs there now, had never truly left. "You were never one who was adorned with brilliant shades. Grays, whites, rarely a soft blue…" Her eyes were wide, but his, in their closed sincerity, were wider. "Perhaps all of your color lies inward."
He had painted her in the most royal of pinks, cheeks flushed with healthy color, dress shining like a sunset, eyes glistening with a secret finally revealed.
"Yes…" He revealed. The oil lamp lit him like a nest of fire flies, the word spinning once more in repetition, "…Yes."
"The colors you lend, the worlds you paint," her words drifted somewhere over him like a forgotten sensation. "You could never paint yourself because you could not imagine something so hideous."
Wordlessness. Soundlessness. Even the cat slept on. The dame persisted. "How could you think that?"
"You have gazed past the surface and seen pieces that no one has seen, embraced what I have shown you, but you are always questioning…" A body claimed by fatigue looses none of its conviction – "Questioning as I always am, about what lies beneath, above, and ahead."
"Past the surface."
Could have shrieked, would have shrieked, but there was no sound louder than the impenetrable silence within his throat.
Then a smile broke, then a laugh, then a steady stream of tears as he buried his head into her shoulder, realizing what she had done, that clever nurse, that lovely nurse, with those hands that seemed forever delicate and bereft of pigment.
"Your arms; without cuts," she whispered, watching his eyes carefully as he pulled away, his sleeve rolling up so easily, his skin shining without devastation. "Your body; without abuse," his heart slammed against her hand as she pressed it there, feeling that slight pressure, remembering every beat. "– That manifested itself only beneath the surface, far too deep, hidden far too within."
"… You placed the portrait atop of the mirror."
"I did," she whispered, head falling against him now, resting on the apex of his ribcage, those angel wings of bone; the beat of his heart gave them life, sang of the wind. "The surface is the portrait, a painting of suffering. Beneath it…"
"… Beneath it," He looked at her. He truly looked at her. He saw light that he did not think existed, not even in art. Monet could not have invented it, nor Picasso. She shown like Calypso's tears on the isles of Ogygia, tossed between the waves and beckoning towards a distant homeland. " – Is what you have always wished for me to see, the true nature of things, what I have always concealed from myself, and would have never revealed, not truly, not artistically…"
"Yourself," she whispered. Not a single wave on a distant shore crashed; no birds cried; the wind stilled and the grass refused to weave shadows any longer. " – And what truly lies within you. The beauty of your own reflection."
"I had never intended this!" She whispers so horrifyingly. "They robbed you of your inner sight, the colors, the warmth…" Her body is shaking now, more so than the pills, her heart barely pumping blood through her veins in its frenzy. "The fever would stay – worsen, somewhere I knew this – but you were so helplessly afraid of them, so attached to your inward worlds, your paintings…" Her throat constricts. She is on her knees. "Forgive me, sir. Forgive me and all of my trespasses that have led to this end!"
He is whirring in and out of an unimaginable plain. His eyes, gliding silently across the ceiling, know only color. "I have always wanted to paint this room. Or perhaps unveil my paintings here, and rid them of their mirrors. Do you think this suitable?"
His own delirium was driving her discomposedly mad, every silver square reflecting contrition, the two ghosts in each frame so unlike the characters in a fairy tale. "Hardly…" She whispers, eyes draining, skin paling. It is breathless and quiet, falling like the wind over a chasm. "My decent, wondrous, silly man. Take these pills at once."
He refused. "Color would be wonderful in this room, but… My dear!" Concern in his voice now, a substance so cutting that it sliced through his fantasy, tearing his daydreams. "It seems that you have lost yours; your face… Paler than I have ever seen. Has there been a death?"
Sobs tore through the bedchamber, over every painting and every mirror, and through the young woman seated upon the floor, a ghost, a phantom, and nothing more. "Oh, it always has been dead. Make no mistake regarding this, for I've seen nothing else, and deny any chance to provide further opportunity. Dead, my love. It's always been dead! Deader than the skeletons you paint and the graves you emblazon with color are the insights and curiosity of the people! So long gone are they that you could paint them without nostalgic fondness. Dead; their mourners light no more candles with artistic whim; they have long since passed away."
Empty the room of even silence, now. The sunlight sways from its balcony in the sky, holding them dearly, trying to whisper with even a fragment of life. Fires burn low and the mirrors reflect onward, but only for a lack of anything better to do, holding their travail in fleeting memory.
She lies next to him on the floor, pale blue dress sprawled across the boards, a puddle of false color bathing their limbs in sky. "They will never understand this night."
And he whispers his last, eyes full of budding empathy, not for their cause but for those who remain in a place of societal disdain and misplaced apprehension, "Because no one ever looks past the surface. Not of the mirrors…"
The pills in her hand shine like the last of his fragmented words, his tears still spilling forth as his lungs rejected their last bout of air, letting it fly away – and he knows that her lips are parted expectantly as she returns, "Not of anything."