The Painter. Short Story.

His paintings were renounced around the world for their brilliance, some were photo-realistic, some were portraits and others were fantastical scenes and they all had one thing in common, they were utterly captivating. A person could stand for hours in front of one and still see new things afterwards. He occasionally used live models and when he did, thousands of people applied for one position and now, now he wanted to paint her. Samantha didn’t know how he knew of her, she wasn’t a model, she wasn’t on TV, she wasn’t glamorous and yet here she was, sitting in his studio.

The studio was much smaller than she expected, smaller and much more cluttered. She had thought it would all be modern and sleek with clear white lines and neat little rows of paint pots, instead it was a mess. Brushes were scattered across the floor, drips and drops of god only knew what covered the floors and walls, a few even decorated the ceiling. There were dust sheets everywhere but they seemed to do a poor job of protecting anything. Glasses and jars of liquid were dotted around the room, she didn’t know what was in any of them. There was a wall of shelves, with references books and supplies, and in the centre of it all, a stool on which she could sit and pose, with large bright lights to illuminate her. It was on this seat that she sat, trying to stay as still as possible. Jonathan had told her she could shift and move as much as she liked, but she worried that would be detrimental to his painting. So she sat quietly, ignoring the dull ache in her back and the slight numbing of her legs, occasionally wishing she had chosen a more comfortable position in which to sit. He hadn’t arranged her, as she had expected, he merely asked her to sit comfortably. Of course then Samantha had been trying to sit in a flattering way, in a way that would make her appear beautiful, something she was not. She had no illusions about that. She had never been beautiful and she never would be, she might be considered pretty occasionally, but the closest she usually got was mildly decent. Her nose was too long, her chin too short, her forehead just a smidge too large, her eyes slightly crooked. It was a face she had hoped she would grow into as her mother so often told her she would, but sadly, she never did. Her body was equally disproportionate, her arms too long, her legs too short, her hips too thin. Samantha felt she walked oddly too, swaying just a little too much. No one ever commented on it, or said anything to her, but that didn’t make a difference. She knew what she was and what she saw, there was little point in deluding herself. She had no idea why Jonathan wanted to paint her of all people, and when she enquired he had looked at her, his head a little to the side, the picture of utter confusion, “why wouldn’t I want to paint you?” Samantha had no answer for that. She supposed you didn’t need beauty to be painted. Maybe he saw something in her she couldn’t see herself, or, more likely in her opinion, he needed a living model for the painting of a troll or some other equally ugly creature. It didn’t matter to her why he wanted to paint her, or  what he was painting her for, she just enjoyed the idea that her face would be immortalised long after she was gone. People would see the painting of her in the years to come and wonder about her. She could be the next Mona Lisa, but not as pretty. Her hair was long, it was her best feature as far as she was concerned. It was brown with a slight curl and brilliantly soft and glossy. Samantha took very good care of her hair, her skin too for that matter. It was slightly pale, but supple, smooth and soft. She had no blemishes, no spots and no blackheads. Samantha hadn’t really done much for that to happen, it just seemed to maintain itself. Her favourite comment by far was by a co-worker, displeased with a recent break out and exasperated by Samantha’s lack of help, she had exclaimed that it was as though she was a “walking, talking Photoshop.”

“Ok, I’m done for that day, so you can move all you want now.” Samantha got down from the stool and stretched, feeling her muscles begin to relax, pins and needles danced along her lower back and left thigh. She limped over towards the picture, curious as to what he had done today. Each day he focused on a different aspect of her, and today it was her eyes. She stood looking at the painting for a few moments, hardly able to believe what she was seeing. They were perfect, such a light shade of blue with a small smattering of hazel and gold, she could hardly believe Jonathan was able to see that from where she sat, she could barely see it herself in a mirror. She looked at them expecting them to blink. “They’re beautiful.” “I’m just painting what I see.” Samantha shook her head slightly, she had had this argument with him before and she knew she wouldn’t win. Nothing so beautiful could belong to her. “What time do you want me back tomorrow?” “Let’s say about twelve, is that ok? It shouldn’t be too much longer either.” “Yeah, that’s fine.” She could hear him moving about behind her, cleaning up for the day.

Samantha was there the next day a little early, as usual and Jonathan was a little late, as usual. They entered the building together and Samantha went to her seat. “We might run a little late today if that’s ok, I think I might get you finished.” “That’s fine, take as much time as you need.” She was being paid handsomely for this, she didn’t mind missing work or spending her days here. It was quite pleasant truth be told. She sat down and made sure to sit comfortably this time and, as always, as soon as Jonathan stepped up to the canvas she straightened and shifted until she was sitting in roughly the same pose as the day before.

After hours, Jonathan stepped away from the canvas, sweating lightly, his mouth slightly agape as he gasped. “Finished.” “Can I see?” “Hold on one moment.” He moved around behind her as she stood and placed his hands over her eyes. “C’mon, slowly, there we go, hang on, take an extra-large step here, ok around and…three…two…” He moved his hands, she brought hers to her mouth. It was stunning. “I…I can’t…I don’t..” “Do you like it?” “I love it.” He smiled, “good, I’m glad. I was worried you wouldn’t.” “How could anyone not love this?” “I don’t care about what anyone thinks, I care about what you think.” “What would you have done if I didn’t like it?” “I’d have burned it and started again.” “No, you couldn’t.” “I would have and it wouldn’t have been the first time.” Tears were streaming down Samantha’s face. “I’m afraid there’s just one last thing left to be done.” She nodded, not really listening. It had been explained to her before she had signed the contract. Jonathan took a small brush and scrawled his name across it in black. He handed her a pin, taking a breath Samantha pricked her finger and placed it gently on the canvas where he had pointed. She moved her finger away and put it into her mouth. “Now it’s finished. The remainder of your fee will be delivered to your bank account tonight,” he hugged her tightly, “thank you so much.” “No, thank you.”

On the journey home Samantha regretted that she wouldn’t get the painting itself, of course she would be given a poster, one that was signed at that, but it wouldn’t be the same, it wouldn’t capture the magnificence of the painting. It was simply her, sitting in front of a red curtain. It all looked so lifelike, so astounding.

The drop of blood slowly faded from the painting, the eyes of the portrait became brighter, the skin clearer. Soon it seemed to almost glow with life.

Samantha took an extra few days off work when it was done, she was feeling a little run down, but soon she began to get better. She was more tired than she had been previously, but that wasn’t any great shock, after all she had been a bit sick, obviously her body was tired from fighting off the illness. It wasn’t long before she started to feel a little depressed, not very noticeable at first, but slowly becoming stronger and stronger until one day she couldn’t get out of bed, she couldn’t move, she could barely breath. It felt as though a great weight was crushing her chest.

Three weeks later Samantha took her own life. It warranted a small article in the back of the newspapers, but no one besides her family and friends mourned her. The day she died the colours of the painting seemed to grow brighter and the eyes became a little sadder.

Jonathan looked at his latest piece. It could be difficult sometimes but he was making art and art required sacrificed. The painting would live forever, he had given them immortality. What did it matter if their souls remained in canvas. They would live far longer than they would have otherwise, they would be known around the world, they would be studied and admired, he offered them something that was far greater than anything they could have achieved alone.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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