The Commission

There’s a clock tower in the left-hand corner. It’s painted a red the colour of blood, which might seem an overly dramatic colour and may hint at grisly revelations to come, but were you to cut your finger and observe the colour beginning to bead, it would be that of the clock tower. Off to the right, a ten-foot penguin is framed by a sky so blue it burns. But don’t let this conjure a sky that invokes in you a wanderlust, it is nothing that isn’t seen in summer five days out of seven. Nothing special and something completely taken for granted. A ten-foot penguin might be slightly more unusual, but its only a billboard for the latest IMAX documentary.
In the center of the photograph, a couple are locked in a kiss. But its the composition that at first intrigues me more than the subjects. The couple are clearly meant to be the focal point, but they are dwarfed by their surroundings; the clock tower, the billboard, the yacht masts and glinting glass and all the finery of this waterfront tourist mecca. I find myself preoccupied more at the thought of who the photographer was then I am with the couple. Was it simply the unversed eye of a stranger? Someone who with the click of a shutter fulfilled a simple request for a couple they would never see again? Or was it someone connected to them, someone who’s unspoken secrets may have been revealed by aperture and lens.
Blood, burning skies, unsettling compositions; I’m not sure which of these contributed to my initial unease, but I accepted the commission anyway. I’m not an artist who can afford to turn down what should be easy money. Mark and Jenny were as much the couple in love sitting here in my lounge as they were in the photo. Their wedding was a month away, and a friend of a friend of a friend had told them I was someone who worked quickly and reliably. Once the honeymoon was over and they’d moved into their new place, my painting would be hanging above their bed.
So I left the photo clipped above a clean canvas for a few days, a process I normally follow while I create those first few brush strokes in my mind. It was something I did just to ensure a completed vision; more often than not, when I committed that first stroke to canvas, time tended to fold like one of those origami sculptures I hated so much, and the work would be finished before I’d even had the chance to reappraise progression.
I had become rather entranced by the Cerulean Blue Hue I had selected for the edges of the sky, when a shadow flitted behind me. You know exactly what I speak of. When you’re alone, and from beyond the edge of your vision you swear there was motion. No matter how quickly you turn, nothing is ever there. So you convince yourself that perhaps it was a lock of your own hair that strayed in front of your vision, or a trick of the light.
But that never happens to me. When I turn around, I always see something. Sometimes its soft, warm and smells of beach sand and apple blossoms. Or it’s the mist that settles over a lake at sunrise, the sound of the moon reflected by the rain. But not this time. The shadow was shredded human flesh, the smell of trenches the night after battle, the sound of an avalanche, the burnt bronze of rusted metal. It was cold and jagged and screeching.
Later that evening, I complete the sky. A few buildings have begun to take shape in the background, the slightly misshapen figures of Mark and Jenny in the foreground. There’s a sudden flash of desolate emptiness behind my eyes and my hand jerks involuntarily, the brush striking a line of Mars Black across the canvas. Defeated, I collapse on a nearby sofa, willing sleep to claim me forever.
I barely have time for self-pity. Two days later, I am informed by the friend of a friend that the wedding is off. The reasons are unknown, but rumour whispers that Mark has hurt Jenny beyond any hope of redemption. The shadow was right, again.
* * *
It should be a happy photo. A mother and her two children, dressed in outfits that would never be seen outside of the photograph. The girl, who looks four but is probably older, has her hand on the mothers lap. The younger boy is smiling, but there is no trace of impudence or mischief in that smile. I try to glean from the mothers eyes a hint of anything that would make her transformation onto canvas easier, but whatever is there is hidden from me.
I mix some Ivory Black for her cascading hair and reach for a round bristle brush. Behind me, like the last breath of a dying man, a shadow flickers.
I know this particular theme has been dealt with many times before, and by far more skilled writers. But mine has something the others didn’t. Mine is based on a true story.

~ by tenmiles on October 28, 2005.

7 Responses to “The Commission”

  1. “I find myself preoccupied more at the thought of who the photographer was then I am with the couple.”
    How did you grasp that so well? That is it, exactly.
    And the shadow … how did you know about the shadow?
    Bloody hell. I’m really glad you wrote this. I had goosie bumps all up my back all the way through reading it.
    Totally excellent.

    useofbow: use of black or white .. weird that WV would throw up these letters hey?

  2. Brilliant, young man. Totally worth the wait.

  3. Love your description of the shadow; the way one would tend to dismiss it as something more acceptable. The ‘true’ part gave me a bit of the willies, heebie-geebies, and the creeps all at once. Things work in very strange ways and they do say truth is stranger than fiction.

  4. Oooh, we certainly are there now aren’t we.
    Spotted the new entry just as I was ready to leave work, but stayed on a span to read it (and I don’t even get overtime or nuffink), but didn’t have a chance to post a comment then.

    And this line: the sound of the moon reflected by the rain. Very nice.

    icquroha: you are looking for who? Oh, you mean Uhura

  5. How absolutely fascinating – a true picture of the sensitive artist. Shadows as precursors – if you learned to accept them – would save you a lot of time, energy and frustration, wouldn’t they? Of course, how do you explain them to prospective clients? VERY interesting story, very nicely written.

  6. I cringed when the hand jerked and marred the painting.

    Nicely done!

  7. Your writing is pure genius. Every time I read this, I discover something new in the words.

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