Sometimes I wish I could paint. A brush in my hand, a white, empty canvas in front of me. It would be just like writing songs. I would start with a feeling, translate that into an image, a situation, and erase until everything rhymes and sounds perfectly.
Painting would be just like that. Applying a thick layer of paint on the canvas. Soft touches, like the gentle shine of pearls. Adding shadows. Light, delicate lines like hairs upon his arm.
Andrew would be like a landscape standing still. Trees with no seasons. Seas with no waves. Open skies with no clouds. Untouchable. Forever. For a second, I wish I can keep him with me like that. A painting. A photograph. Still. Forever.
Paintings never perish. They dress the walls of rich people’s houses, are passed down from father to son to son. Adam will perish. One day, his bed will be empty. One day, the canvas will be forgotten. One day, a new, ill boy will lay in this bed. He will look out the window, to the trees dancing outside. To the cities faraway.
My fingers caress his skin like whispers. I draw lines from his hand to his arm, following the raw skin of his elbow and the blue veins in the hollow of his arm. The bones in his shoulders bulge beneath tight, luminescent skin. His chest is flat and smooth. I can count his ribs. His throat is soft. Blood flows beneath his skin. Cross corpuscles flow beneath that soft kin, beneath all those lines.
Blue. I need blue paint. Blue is the color of the lines in his neck, in the hollow of his arm. Blue is the color of the markings on his skin. Bruises. Blue is the color of the shadows covering his closed eyes.
With a small, precise brush and black ink I draw his eyelashes. One by one, until a delicate fan waves at me. Pale pink for his lips, slender, with sharp curves in his upper lip.
“Rose?” he asks me softly. “What are you doing?”
I catch him smile as I awake from my dream state. “Nothing.”
“Liar.” He opens his eyes and finds me. “What? Studying me?”
“I was painting you,” I tell him. I sit down on the side of his bed and reach out to touch his hand. The skin is smooth and dry.
“How? In your head?”
I nod. “Like a painting.”
“Are you doing to put it up?”
“I will. In old houses with tall windows, so the sun will know where to find you. There’ll be so much light, you might just have a direct line to God.”
Adam laughs softly. “If God knew how much fun you made of him, he’d probably turn you away on the stairway to heaven.”
I watch him bury himself in the pillows and breath in deep. As if you touch wood with sandpaper, that’s what it sounds like. “Does it hurt.”
He closes his eyes. “No.”
Adam smiles. Yawns. Reaches for my fingers. “Are you staying?”
I cover him with blankets, touch his head gently and kiss the soft spot between his eyebrows. “Always.”
It’s almost dark when I turn off the lights and sit down in the chair beside his bed. I watch how he breathes, how he slips away, how his fingers dance in his sleep. I wonder what he dreams about. The sea, maybe. Ice cones and sandcastles.
When I’m sure he has drifted far away, I reach towards him and put my head down besides him. He’s a still life, waiting to come back to life.
This short story won first prize in the art competition Kunstbende Zeeland. It was later turned into a novel, titled “Kaleidoscope”, of which excerpts can be found here.