“The Painting” – Short Story
A supreme silence. Nothing and no one to disturb, and yet, no rest would come. No rest would ever come. Day or night, it made no difference. Silence or chatter, laughter or screams. There is no rest for the vigilant.
Time may pass, people come and go. They always go. There is no promise of company. Only the harsh reality of loneliness. Loneliness surpassing time; absolute.
Occasional fleeting glimpses of hope, of interest, of acknowledgement, but ultimately ending in the same inevitable situation; alone in the dark. And that’s when she could be heard.
When all else was sleeping and complete stillness had fallen, you could hear it. The soft tapping as she approached. Her gentle footsteps as she made her way closer and closer, unseen, and unknown. Then she would wait. Always the same. It was our little moment; our brief slice of time outside of time. A mutual agreement of the simplest joy, but nothing more.
She would sit and I would stand. We wouldn’t speak, and couldn’t see, but we understood. We would stay locked in that moment for as long as the darkness allowed. In those last moments, she would stand, before slowly leaving; her tapping becoming more and more distant, before fading away completely, returning the world to silence. But not this time.
The darkness began to recede. The first promise of light could be seen, but she had not yet left. A dreadful flicker of hope; poised expectation. Light began to spill into the room. The polished wooden floors started to shine in the sunlight. Reflections of my cold solemn friends, standing sparsely around the room, unknowing or uncaring.
And then there she was. Lying before me upon my vacant lounge in a peaceful slumber. The golden sunlight slowly creeping across her face, revealing her under the warm glow of morning. I couldn’t look away, even if I wanted to. Our unspoken pact was shattered, but I didn’t care. In that moment, there was only her.
I could see her, and I wanted her to see me. Even so vulnerable under the morning light, I wanted to be known. To be seen. To be admired. I surrendered myself completely, and it was then, she woke.
Slowly her eyes opened. She sat up and stared directly at me. Her gaze was fixated upon me for many moments and for the very first time, I was not alone. But as I always knew and chose to forget, there is no promise of company. She hadn’t seen me. She couldn’t.
Her gaze was unseeing; unknowing. She stood and grabbed her stick, before turning to leave. I would have called out to her – to tell her to stop, beg her to come back – but I had no words. I spoke only in colour and shape, and she understood neither.
The last I heard was the soft tapping of her stick as she left. The tapping soon faded and gave way to a supreme silence.