The Painter

He was around 21 when he heard it for the first time, a serene voice, a whisper in a dream. It was a voice so delicate, so sweet that when he had awoken, he had cursed his very existence, for the voice had ceased speaking. Yet what he did not know at the time was that the voice would follow him, every night, without fail.

Whenever he slept, he heard her voice. It was as if a goddess had spoken, for he felt a rush of life in his soul whenever her soft singing charmed him. If words could create, her voice would surely be able to form a new world, for such was the power of her gentle whisper.

But the waking world was bitter, cold, and polluted. When he wandered out of his small apartment in London, he saw nothing but towering constructions, an obsidian sky, and piles of rot at the side of the pavement. All colours of the world turned into a singular grey machine, spitting out its pollution in the form of men’s cold hearts and the callousness of all people. It terrified him and even at the prime of his life, his heart turned weary and his legs faltered, forcing him to sit on a lonely bench in the desolate park. He gasped for air as he gazed at the darkened heavens in search of a single sparkle of light while a desperate prayer formed on his trembling lips.

His heart howled within his chest, like a wounded wolf at the mountains of the mystical northern lands. His mind and the fortress he had built around it, crumbled every day and with great force and desperation, he rebuilt it every evening before his usual cup of tea. The struggle drained him of all his power and he would always return home defeated, bleeding from his eyes. For years he had sought and found comfort in his private moments when he remained alone in the covers of his home with a warm cup of tea in hand. Yet as the years had marched forth, even the surface of his beverage turned into a cold reminder of the world outside, its surface turning dark and losing the light it once had.

His home, his sanctuary, where colour existed, where the spirit of life itself still held onto existence, he remained most of his days. Whenever he ventured out for a walk, he would spend at least two days inside just to recover from the sights, from the hateful wind that smote his face. Surrounded by the light of candles and the gentle ticking of a clock, he would sit in silence and often wander into the greatest room of his home.

The room was like an altar for him, yet instead of the Lord’s Table, there was a canvas. A round table remained close by where vibrant colours waited for him. His brushes, and his palette knives, all stood taller whenever he stepped into the room. When he was younger, he used to savour the tunes of classical music, but as years went by, a new tune revealed itself to him.

At the age of 26, he had gone on a walk and seen the dark visages of men as they marched without gazing at the sky. He had seen the towers of progress rising, strangling the life and colour all around them and the sky had begun to bleed. It felt as if heaven itself had now laid its finger on his shoulder and the weight of the world nearly killed him right there and then. Murky and violent thorns crawled from the sewers, spiralling around the remaining trees and draining them too from light and life.

Yet he survived home and he crumbled. He studied the countless paintings around his home and asked, why? Each painting owned in them a slash of his blood, a piece of his soul, yet they were like pieces of rot, filthy and reeking of all the pain that he carried within himself. The walls were closing in, and the air felt like fire and smoke in his lungs. The world was about to end. And at that moment, he crossed his fingers for the first time in two decades.

Speaking out a silent prayer to the God he knew was there, yet feared more than the thunder at sea, he prayed. His words flowed like an unsteady river, as did his tears, and he begged for an escape from the living nightmare he had found himself in. He prayed for sanctuary, for him to be lifted out of this world into a forest of colour, into a land where life bloomed as it was meant to bloom at the dawn of time.

Yet he heard nothing. He saw no angel at his doorstep, nor did he see the sky splitting in half. A bitter wind wailed deep within his soul and he collapsed onto the floor, surrounded by the works that he now detested more than he had ever done. He could not bare to look at them.

As the greyness of the world strangled him, he heard a voice. It was her voice, the lady in his dreams. Startled, he pinched himself. He was indeed awake. She spoke to him now with utmost gentleness and by the fortitude of her quiet whisper, he stood. It was as if she had breathed out a breath of life into his broken spirit, for he felt his heart beating, his eyes widening. She sang him a tune unlike he had heard in his dreams and his spirit rose from the darkness, sailing on a stream of beauty. With his soul lifted, he wandered back to his canvas.

From that point on her voice remained with him even during the day. When he walked in the streets, where the dimmed streetlamps cast his shadow against the hard pavement, she whispered to him. He could nearly feel her embrace as if she truly was with him, and he sought comfort in her. Her voice awarded inspiration to him and he confessed all of them through painting.

Whenever he stared at the empty canvas, the vast sea of possibilities, he no longer harkened unto the tunes of musical genius, but instead, he listened to her. Her invisible hand guided his own and he painted as he had never done before. His works were the works of a soul and he bled all his life into each piece.  Yet no matter how hard he tried, he could never truly follow her guidance and distortion, a hint of darkness, they always inserted themselves into his work. The realisation of his failure nearly broke him and he begged her not to abandon him, to keep guiding him and so she did.

And decades passed, his black hair grew grey, and his soft features turned sharp. His face lost its softness and wrinkles struck him like a plague. A long white beard had covered his cheeks and his back hunched over. Yet he still painted without losing any of his strength or resolve. Whenever he painted, her voice became stronger and he savoured the moments when his spirit was lifted, when colour appeared and life was created before his tired eyes. His paintings took on a new shape, for there were times when her whisper cast him into a frenzy. During those brief moments, he could truly surrender to her guidance and paint a piece of her character, yet it was never complete; it always lacked the spirit he heard in her voice, yet he never ceased trying. 

The longer the days were drawn, the colder the world around him turned, and the more he attempted to manifest her before his eyes. With the slight movement of the brush, he tried to bring her to life, yet he could only conquer forth a figure without a distinct shape. She remained ever close, yet distant, but even when he sighed in pain, her voice never left him into darkness.

As his physique weakened, he no longer went outside. His home had become his fortress and he no longer wished to even see the greyness the world outside held within itself, for life and majestical colour was in abundance in his home. Even when the distortions in his paintings roared at him whenever he looked at them, the colour was still there and the piece of his soul stood mightily on the canvas and radiated life all around his home.

One day, he coughed blood in his bathroom and felt his heart trying to escape its prison. His legs shivered, and his breaths struggled to gain form, yet he began wandering back to his altar of creation. As he walked through the narrow and darkened corridors of his home, he glanced at some of his least disappointing works with a tender memory of the youth he held within himself when he had painted them.

His wavering feet stumbled forth, towards the canvas on which his most recent work remained, full of green and with a sky that held within itself the beauty of heaven. At the forefront, covered by the mystery of the garden, stood a slender figure.

It was a woman. It was her. He had never seen her, yet only by the sound of her voice, he had gained revelation of her appearance. She had long raven hair, dancing in the wind, and her eyes were like two stars shining brightly, surrounded by a violet sea. She was like an angel and as he smiled at his work, she whispered to him yet again. Her voice was like honey and he could see her eyes looking at him over a misty sea of darkness.

He sat down in his armchair and closed his eyes just for a moment. Every shadow of the world vanished and all he could see and hear was her. Her voice grew in power, yet remained soft. He could see her extending her hand across an infinite sea and he took hold of it.

Seas split, the heavens were laid open and the radiant sun beamed upon him with a fanfare welcome. The wind was gentle and he could smell a sweet stream in it. He followed her by the hand with a peaceful smile on his face and walked through the infinite veil.

And there, as he opened his eyes, he found himself in a radiant forest, where birds never ceased singing and where the sun never gave way to a polluted sky. He stood among the tallest of trees, beheld the most colourful of flowers and felt the softness of grass under his bare feet. Every breath he drew was cool, soft, and without struggle. His senses savoured the scent of the morning dew and his lungs drew themselves full of the cool, blissful air. He felt younger the more he breathed and his chest reshaped itself and his back straightened out.

His eyes gazed around him, looking for her. He could still hear her whispers, her quiet laughter, but this time they sounded as if she truly stood before him. At the bottom of a mighty oak, he saw her standing, dressed in a white gown and with her hair flowing free. Her eyes smiled at him and her radiant face glimmered like the silvery surface of the moon.

He walked to her, took her hand and kissed it for the first time. She was real, her skin warm and soft. Her gaze melted whatever ice remained in his heart and she smiled at him. His cheeks rose and he smiled as he had never done before and as his eyes narrowed from the peace and blissfulness of his spirit, they wandered into the forest.

Now, for the first time in decades, he heard not her voice, but he felt her heart beating as he held her hand. They crossed a crystal stream and wandered through green fields of life. They got to a gentle peak, where they beheld the endlessness of life below them. There, at the top of the new world, they shared their first kiss and without a word, they continued on into this new land, without a hint of bitterness, without fear, without pain. 

They were one at last and he had gained a new shape, free of his mortal weaknesses. Though they shared not a word, he knew her intimately. A bond stronger than anything a man could make had formed between them and their smiles declared the truth. He was home, at long last.