Photo by Grigoriy on Pexels
When the birds in the trees sang in the morning I decided to leave, I listened. Their singing, I’ve heard, is meant as a territorial calling, claiming the spot they landed upon. This morning I didn’t hear much of a call, all I heard was a shouting demand of “buy a paintbrush!”. At the chirp of three black-capped chickadees, the sensation of a brush in my hand consumed me. All I could feel or see in front of me was outlines and smudges and mess in the shape of a pathway with a door at the end, latched. I wanted to unlatch it and walk through, find a box with an answer and a step-by-step guide on where to go and when to do it; I wanted this so deeply I turned around, and never left at all. I did buy a paintbrush, though.
Sat in front of the canvas I couldn’t visualise the door anymore, only the pathway, with you at the end of it, your face and your brows furrowed and eyes dark. This was predictable, you as the door I longed for, you inhibiting the spot reserved for something new. Suddenly I had nothing but the brush and the paint; the four walls I tried to live in collapsed and the kitchen table had no plates on it, no flowers, no fruit. You remained though — barely in my mind, but sheepishly at the bottom of the stairway, breathing quietly and angrily. I was unsure if you were real or not, both options equally as defeating. To paint you would be surreal, I told myself — I heard a lot online about what they call the ‘uncanny valley’; maybe that’s what I felt when you appeared fully formed on the white slab. Familiar yet distant, unsettled.
In that sober room, your face sat for 3 weeks — the paint had to dry, after all, and every morning, you appeared differently — ironic, that this temperament of yours stayed even in a reality I created. As the sky changed and leaves faded, so did you. The contours under your cheeks were more muted, grey; it’s so funny how oil paint dries, isn’t it? The dimming sepia of your skin reminded me more of you than I care to admit, your mantra of “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side”. You weren’t wrong; the grass on the other side was hard and brown and dry, not that I minded, it meant the paint blended together the way I intended. Looking back I became too familiar with your portrait, sitting with it, drinking a hot coffee and telling it about my dream from the night before. Your portrait doesn’t react, but that’s softer than you were.
One evening, after dinner, the walls seemed to rebuild; they popped back up into place like a set from a film, and finally I didn’t feel so exposed. It was easy to breathe in the fumes from the white spirit as I cleaned my brushes, it made it simpler to see this version of you as my own, a Frankenstein without the monstrous connotations. You weren’t monstrous this way; you were different. It was easy to love you when you were different. This is my creation but your doing, and yet they still blame me, criticise my work and my paint brushes. If they only heard the birdsong that one early Autumn morning, I think they’d know why you couldn’t exist anymore.
I thanked them when they took away my painting, but I didn’t mean it, they will now hang it on a wall and preserve you in formaldehyde. There’s no justice in that, there’s no meaning in it if I become the twisted mind behind you, and not the other way around. It is left for people to enquire and peer into to see the details, and I cannot help but think about the eroticism of this. Is it like a twisted taboo fetish contained upon an easel, a hand that lived within your ruined face reaching out into that curiosity, perturbing the back of our brains? Curiosity is comfort though, in not knowing. In creating narratives and stories and theories, all to appease that small incompetence in our intellect (some call it an incompetence, I call it humanity). As voyeuristic as this investigation is to me, it does confirm one thing. Curiosity doesn't kill the cat, as they say, the creation that comes after, is what does the killing. What holds the knife and carves up the body- so maybe it is best to leave the curiosity to the painters.
When they looked close enough at you carved up with the oil paints they said I must leave, and so I did. Just like I wanted to before the birds came.
White mist on the top of a mountain, clouds and rock and sky and horizon, air that shocks. That is what I feel now, in this minute, as I breathe with my eyes closed. I feel new and old, reborn upon a hard surface with nothing below me. This is the end. This is the start.
1st October - 31st October is Domestic Abuse awareness month, and we should be aware on how to help for more than a small portion of the year. Some helpful resources are linked below.
Edited by Natalie Cheung & Lara Mae, Essays Editor/ Literature Editor