I’ve recently joined a writer’s group on Facebook, at the invitation of my new-found niece, Taryn. She and her best friend Kat are both really awesome writers, and I’m always looking for a cool community to grow with. Both as a writer and as a friend. Too often I find myself isolated, and that leads to stagnation in my relationships and in my writing.
In any case, one of the benefits of this group, aside from super cool people to talk to, is the frequent posting of writing prompts. This particular prompt sparked inspiration (doesn’t happen often!) and I sat down and wrote this short story in about 2 hours. You can absolutely tell it only took 2 hours, but I’ve endeavored to edit lightly and make it readable. Enjoy and comment your thoughts!
Prompt # 2 (Paranormal) – posted by Taryn:
Your hero is an artist, and he’s been painting the same woman from his dreams for decades. Then she walks through the front door of his gallery. What happens? What does he say to her? Who is she? Why has your hero been painting her all his life, and what’s their connection?
“I am Saulo, the son of Lugh, and I am a creator of goddesses. I have birthed light and beauty into this dull world for centuries, though it be strewn with corpses and all the repugnance of humankind. So why in the name of the Morrigan can I only paint the same blasted woman over and over?”
“What did you say, Uncle?” asked my niece. I plunked my paintbrush into its cup, and ran shaking hands through my matted hair.
“Do not listen to old men, sweet Madeline. We gibber and crow only mad things.”
Madeline, ten years old and guileless as all children are, smiled at me and continued her sketching. A bird, I saw. A great black raven done in pencil. Graphite smeared her fingers and caked under her nails. I smiled.
We stood at our easels in a bare fluorescent glow. My gallery, white-washed to better display my work, was little more than one room in a grey-faced office building situated in a downtown urban sprawl. Like any other inner city, we didn’t have an abundance of sunlight, and now heavy storm clouds gathered above. Not the best locale for an artist, but one must make do. The universe gives many gifts.
And the universe dealt me many gifts, indeed. The last centuries had seen the destruction of my ancestral home, the execution of my father, the cowards’ deaths of my sisters and brothers, and my flight from Erin to this New World – this stinking charnel house of factories and office buildings and rap music.
And what could I do to rebuild my father’s tattered legacy? Raise my orphan niece and paint. Hide. Sell my treasured works to idiots who hang them in their dining room so their brats can throw gravy at it.
“Uncultured, godless, fear-mongering…,” I whispered.
My niece knew nothing of the horrors we faced. She, being but an infant in light of all the years ahead of her, saw only the innocent and good of her new home. She attended the local elementary school, where the barbaric educators taught her the ignorant ways of this land. “Read this book for your age group, don’t read ahead. Speak our language, no one knows what you’re saying. Don’t paint so well, you intimidate the other children.”
Fools! We immortal creatures will reach our zenith long after the rest wither and die. And I will be the old man watching, tutoring, guiding her heart toward that which is bright and beautiful and transcendent. It is the curse and the gift of the Children of Lugh. I must make my father proud and his granddaughter as great as himself!
And yet, how can I create all manner of beauty if my work never varies? Even now, as I stood at my easel in the far corner of my gallery, this woman’s face took unconscious shape in the landscape I’d been painting only moments ago.
“Who is she, Uncle?”
Madeline stood on tiptoe, one bright eye closed to better see the face of the mysterious woman peering from between vibrant flowers.
Small and lacking any distinctive attributes – not a too-high brow, or uneven nostrils, or a crooked smile! – this woman’s image flowed from my paint brush for thirty years. She haunted me as often as I breathed and slept and dreamed. My heart ached to possess her, to know her, to forget her.
I stepped back and waved, my hand an emerald and violet smear in the close air of the gallery.
“Who can say? She is Fate. She is Doom. Perhaps she is Destiny. Or she is only a figment of an old man’s mind. I have made a living painting her, and yet I hate her very bones.”
“If you hate her, why do you paint her so often?”
Why, indeed? Even a hoary man of uncounted years cannot plumb the depths of fate.
The tinkling of the bell above the entrance stifled any answer I could give. I quickly wiped my fingers on a rag soaked in turpentine, and twisted my easel around to hide it from view.
A man, dressed in an ill-fitting blue suit, strolled up to my counter, ignoring the riot of color around him.
“Hello, I’m wondering if you could show me how to get to city hall?”
He’d entered with another, to whom I paid little attention as I brought out a map with a huff. Bought only a month ago, my map was stained with coffee rings and grimy with dirt. It belied the majority of my clientele; most people wanted directions, but never stopped to enjoy the beauty. Why go anywhere if you can’t enjoy the journey?
I brought my finger to the gallery’s location, circled in blue ink, and began to trace the route. His gaze followed my movement, though cognizance seemed lacking.
“You’ll want to continue down this street. Turn left here, but if you pass the fountain, you’ve gone too far. I’ll not be directing you again, so find it the first time.”
A clatter and thudding clunk beyond the man made me start.
“What are ye doing there? This is an art gallery, not an obstacle course!”
I reached and plopped Madeline down in front of the map with an instruction to “help this poor sod, best as you can. Uncle will be back in a moment.”
A woman, short and raven-haired, reached down to right the column stand she’d knocked over. I grabbed for the sculpture, obscenely sideways in its new position on the floor.
“Leave it! You’ll only chip the plasterwork. It’s not dry yet.”
Her face, flushed with embarrassment, caused my harsh words to die in my throat.
“I’m terribly sorry, is anything damaged? Please forgive me, I’m not usually so clumsy!”
A sunflower-print dress flowed over her trim body to her ankles. Her small hands fluttered about as she spoke, like butterflies on a windy day. The ebony of her hair matched perfectly her eyes, which glistened with concern over a slender, rosy face. For an instant, something squeezed in my breast.
She frowned at my word, and hastily opened my mouth before she could speak.
“It’s quite alright, I assure you. Nothing…nothing damaged. What is your name, may I ask? Why did you stop in today?”
I wiped my hands on my apron, leaving more smudges to mingle with the others. Perhaps it caused me to look like some ancient parrot, for she gave a brilliant smile and stuck her hand out to shake mine.
“Iris. Iris Balor. I just pass by this place every so often on my way to the city court. I’m a lawyer, you see. I collect art. My fiance didn’t want to come in, but I’m desperate. I need a piece. A good one.”
My heart rose again with rapture. I bared my teeth and took her by the arm.
“Of course, my dear, I have everything! Anything you like. Any style. We are the best here, only the best for patrons with an eye for beauty.”
Here was my first admirer, my only customer with real taste in a month! I paraded my work for her – paintings, sculptures, even the small, moody, pastoral sketches I would do on parchment over simple dinners of boxed pasta. I hid those from most of my customers, whose eyes would not savor the clean, dark lines of pasture, glen, or mountain range.
She pulled her arm out of my grasp.
“Just something simple, really. It’s going over the bed in my guestroom. We host a lot of dignitaries, government officials, ambassadors, people of that sort. I just want something unobtrusive, but impressive. Would you have anything suitable? Maybe a landscape.”
I froze, gesturing hand hanging in midair. My mouth blubbed open and shut, like a vulgar fish.
My congealed heart dropped, like a titan falling from the heavens. She wanted a masterpiece to display for some stranger to ignore. To gather dust as the years of wedded bliss and misery float by until all the belongings are split between the ill-dressed man and this goddess. Perhaps she’d wander by, every day, never pausing to gaze for more than a second or wonder at her resemblance. Perhaps she’d dismiss all mysteries and never return to this cesspool of a gallery.
Here was my paragon! My unknowing muse! Could she see her likeness in my work? Thirty years. Thirty years! The universe taunts me with foresight of my own humiliation. A last insult to a decrepit and forgotten son of a god. Me, a downtrod and crumpled immigrant scraping an existence with an orphan, the pair of us cowering against the onslaught of business and technology, science and hard fact.
We myths and legends, with our truth and beauty, had no place in such a New World.
“Why don’t you try Ikea?” I growled.
I turned away against her expression, feeling as though every rib had shattered and stabbed into my lungs.
“I’ll come back another time. Perhaps you’ll have something then.”
The man and woman left, both disappointed, and I returned to my niece and my landscape, taking comfort in the pride of my art as only a Son of Lugh could do. I rubbed the woman’s image out of the painting, out of my head, out of my heart – and started again.
“Uncle,” my niece asked, “what kind of flowers are you painting? Aren’t those irises?”