The Painting

Think of the city as an egg, a slightly wonky egg with hills on it and hidden alleyways. On the sharpest narrowest part is the exit normally hidden from sight, just below that is the caravan with a peculiar Salesman and his collection of bottles.  Around the edge of the egg the houses leaned against each other in almost silence. There are three or four rows of houses and other buildings depending on the mood of the city, in the middle all mashed together is the market and on the base of the egg is the dock. Exit the egg and there is the park that looks almost neat and taken care of mostly by a fox woman and outside of that is nothing of importance, nothing in the fog, nothing across the low mountains and nothing screaming in the middle of the afternoon.

Annabelle sketched the egg on her living room wall in soft pencil, she sketched the market booths and the ships in the dock before she decided it was too small. Not bothering erasing she chose another pencil and started sketching a boat down at the dock, still not satisfied she moved to the kitchen and started making the wall behind her sink the dock. She was sketching water running from the sink into the wall, ships resting comfortably against her fridge and fishermen sitting on her counter top.  The city outside her flat was dark colours, greys and almost sepia tones covered the whole of it. It was rotten wood and brick that had once been red but now seemed washed out. It was tired 70s yellow which made people feel anxious and it as every shade of light blue you could think of and Annabelle mourned the lack of colours. She needed dark green trees and houses with new, fresh paint in different colours, she needed the bricks to be red again and the docks to be dark blue. She needed a city without the 70 yellow. Annabelle needed paint, she was a painter who currently had no colours and she dreaded having to go get them. Taking a bag full of empty containers and jars with not that noticeable chips in them she walked out the door. She walked with slow hesitant steps down to the edge of where the market met the dock and she knocked carefully on a booth that was was really nothing more than a tent held up by rotten wooden beams. The man who stepped out had a stubbly face and a smile with yellow teeth that he directed in her general direction, greying hair and he wore a tuxedo that had gradually decayed on his form. “Annabelle, back so soon!” She said nothing in return but held out her bag and he took it. “Same as usual?” he asked and she nodded. “always the polite conversationalist.” He snickered and disappeared into the tent and left her waiting outside.  

The booth next to the colour trader belonged to the woman who read the future in her customers’ tears. She would give vague instructions instead of actual fortunes, don’t eat lemons, don’t colour your hair and she wouldn’t say what happened if they did. She didn’t say that the man would choke on a lemon pit and die or that the woman who coloured her hair chose a colour exactly like her husband’s mistress and in a fit of nostalgia he would leave her. So sometimes they didn’t heed her advice and more often than not they would end up blaming her for being so vague.  Annabelle had never visited her, but she had stood outside sketching the pattern of the canvas covering the booth and she had heard the conversations whether she wanted to or not. This day the booth was quiet save for the faint clinking of glasses and she heard the lady herself humming softly. The rest of the market was busy as usual, there were people walking sluggishly browsing the booths in idle curiosity and there were people desperately clutching their valuables to their chest while jogging to the booth they needed. The whole place stank of decay and something she couldn’t place her finger on but she suspected it came from the creature cages a few booths up.

The trader stepped out of his booth and gave the bag to Annabelle, the colours in the container were so out of place in the muted colours of the city they seem to radiate. A few people stopped to gawk and Annabelle waved them away with contained irritation. The man smiled again and she looked at him “I have gold to pay you with, and a couple of pearls.” She said with a neutral voice but he waved the words away with his paint coloured hand. “No matter, I’ll knock when I need you.” He said with a grin and she tightened her lips, nodded and walked back home. She would have liked the colour trader to be one of the people who accepted gold as payment, and he did sometimes, but other times he would come knocking on her door in the middle of the night and she needed to help him dig. Square holes down in the sand by the water and she never saw what he did with the holes, she always went straight home after, covered in sea water and sand and telling herself it was worth the colours.

At home she started putting colours onto the dock, the sea stretched itself all the way up to her ceiling where she started to add the blue and open sky. She painted rows of houses on the wall behind her dining table, her bedroom wall had hills and mountains on them and just by the window in her living room was a caravan with a lanky looking man and two red cats. She painted for days, eating cans of tomato soup while she smoked and sketched patterns that she wanted to incorporate into the walls of the houses. She would paint for a good 25 hours at a time, then collapse for 13 hours then paint for 25 and so on. While she slept she dreamt of the painting, she swore she could hear the pubs on her bedroom door, customers arguing over beer and bottles of wine smashing right before the sun came up. In the middle of one of her sleeping cycles she got up and grabbed one of her safety blades and she cut a square out of her carpet and started sketching on the floor board with coal which she later painted over in deep emerald green, royal blue and grey. It was a thing of teeth and tentacles, it had no eyes but several mouths, it had no hands or feet as such but on every tentacle was a ring of sharp barbs and one curved claw, it all added up to over a hundred curved claws. When Annabelle was finished she stood for a long time at the edge of her carpet hole and smoked cigarettes, the ash falling where she stood. She said nothing, her heart beating faster than what was logical and then she put glue on the edge of the carpet and the carpet back into place. The next few days she never stepped on that part, even as she was stretching to finish the piece of sky on the ceiling above it.   


When it was complete the whole city was painted onto her small flat and it looked as if it was bathed in sunlight. The people had smiles on their faces and the birds looked like birds. Annabelle sat in the middle of the living room chewing on a slice of buttered bread and she picked off flakes of dried paint from her hands. She closed her eyes and could almost feel the sun warming up the flat, the sound of an ordinary city coming from the walls rather than outside her windows, windows that had been painted over so much that there was hardly any light at all inside.  That night when she fell asleep she heard the excited voices of children playing; she could feel the light drizzle of rain on her face and then felt the sky break with sun pouring down. She woke up and in a daze she got dressed and stepped outside. The city was new. The houses were freshly painted in colours like fuchsia and bright orange, she felt her heart soar at the thought of her somehow making this reality. That her weeks of hard work had somehow manifested and made the city better. When she stopped someone in the street the feeling slowly faded as she looked upon the plastered smile on the face of a woman, when the woman opened her mouth to speak it wasn’t her that spoke, rather it was like she channelled the sound of the new city out through her mouth before she laughed and moved on down the street. None of the people spoke, she had not given them any words to speak.  She ran down to the market and realised she hadn’t painted the colour traders booth, the woman who told the future in tears were nowhere to be seen cause she had not painted her, only the booth itself and there was no opening. And as she sat down in the middle of the market square to try and think if there was anything she could do to fix it she felt under her fingertips the slow knocking of something trying to reach up from under the cobble stones.  She heard the faint scraping of curved claws on hollow rocks. 


1 Comment

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One response to “The Painting

  1. I started thinking maybe I’d have a go at the painting. I even recognised some of the characters straight away.

    By the end I wasn’t so sure.

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