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The Artist of Morokov
The artist Checkov chose to reside in the small town of Morokov, in order to establish his talent. The young man soon became a symbol of fine art and taste among the town and its people. He studied under the most famous artisans such as Teranov, Illanavich, and Piotr, known in the legendary St. Petersburg Conservatory of Art. All the paintings he created were revered by the townspeople and they would often be amazed at the images popping out of his canvas. The humble people of Morokov were content with having such a fine artist in their presence, but as their admiration for him grew, CheckovÕs paintings would take on a duller and darker tone, for he was not happy with life. Look at the fine lilac flowers he paints! And look at the giant strokes he makes! They are simply marvelous!Ó exclaimed his admirers.
The people would often pass by CheckovÕs lonely dwellings in the outskirts of town, only to go to their communal vegetable land, just across the Ogden River. Checkov would set-up his canvas on the dirt road in front of his miniature hut, no longer looking at the peasants or noblemen passing him. And if Checkov needed to reply it would be in a short huff of breath. He had no time to listen to the likes of them!
Different oils and pastels of dark color would be spread across the ground in blotches or colorful arrays on the palette and Checkov would immerse himself in a world of sight without sound. His brown matted hair would stick to his head and his delicate hands swept the white board in circular motions, no longer knowing what he wished to draw---only drawing what his fingers told him to paint.
One day, the townÕs leader Yetskin Ivanov was making his way towards the Ogden River with his daughter, Alina. Ivanov marched haughtily forward, his balding head shining and his gray beard flowing. His daughter Alina was carrying an empty bucket that clashed and clanged against deep blue dress and knees. They made such a ruckus that Checkov had to look up. Ah, Checkov! I knew I would meet you along the way. You must be surprised, we are gathering water but I would like to talk to you about a simple matter of business,Ó waved Ivanov as he approached.
Checkov stopped his brush in midair. He was sitting for hours trying to paint a thunderstorm scene he saw in a dream, but his fingers would not budge. What business would that be?Ó he looked at Alina. Why donÕt you go on ahead, Alina? Remember to fill the bucket to the brim!Ó said Ivanov to Alina, I have a quick manner of discussion with Master Checkov.Ó
The beautiful Alina lowered her heavy eyelids and swept away, this time silencing the loud silver bucket. After Ivanov saw his daughter leave, he bent low and whispered into CheckovÕs ear, As you know, Alina is to marry Nikolai, the local shoemakerÕs son--and I was wondering if you could paint a portrait of the two tomorrow---before their wedding.Ó
Checkov glared at Ivanov in anger and replied, That I cannot grant you, no matter how much gold or silver you may offer me.Ó Come now,Ó gestured old Ivanov with sympathy, You know it is not my fault. Alina chose Nikolai, not you. There are many beautiful women out there who would give their dowry and house for you! I am but a petty man, only with a noble name entitled to meÉ.But in either case, you even refuse to come to their wedding! If you loathe me, fine! But do this for AlinaÕs sake because she requested you to paint their portrait!Ó
With that said the sly old man gave Checkov a pat on the back and slipped away. Lies!Ó thought Checkov. The words of Ivanov did not manage to reach his barren heart. Though, lingering in his mind was plot for revenge against Ivanov. One year ago when he went with an offer of marriage to the Morokov leaderÕs well-to-do house, he believed Ivanov convinced his daughter to choose Nikolai because it would do the family much benefit financially. Ivanov disliked the attention that Checkov received, whereas a potential son like Nikolai was virtually unknown. Ivanov, you are a poison to my work and insult me with this task!Ó whispered Checkov. Since you taunt me and have broken my gift of art I will make sure your life suffer greatly after this deed is complete!Ó
With that said Checkov went inside his small, dampened hut and pulled out a fresh canvas with lines of crispness. He sat down on his stool and waited for Ivanov to pass him again. Several minutes later the old Ivanov strode briskly forward and looked back at Checkov with his head held high. Alina was bounding up the path slowly, dragging her delicate feet behind. When she approached Checkov and saw his white canvas her crimson lips formed quick, curved smile. She stopped in her path and stood next to Checkov, the ghastly pale of her hands and face matching the whiteness in which he was soon to set work upon. Thank-you for taking this offer,Ó said the sweet girl. Checkov said nothing and his heart no longer felt pangs of pain, because he only looked at the puppet doll treading dust in her path. He did not want to wait until tomorrow to start his task, since the black and dull hues of his palette were calling him. Calling him to paint a picture of sorrow and death!
With rage and fervor acting as his fuel, Checkov worked until dawn that morning. When he finished his hands were stained with black, almost as though they could be soaked and mistaken for blood. He hurriedly balanced the large canvas on one arm and dashed off towards the house of Ivanov. The fog engulfed the road and all of CheckovÕs surroundings. He had to grope around the cold mist until he reached the gates of Morokov and entered, greeted by the townÕs water fountain with a jagged woman in the middle. He needed to take a left turn from there and follow the brick linings that instantly led to his destination. No one was out, and fog acted as a covering for the wretched canvas he held under his arm.
Engulfed by the heavy mist, the house was slanted looking and parts of it had black daggers sharply piercing out in all directions. The great oak door was left ajar, and CheckovÕs hand felt for it and wedged inside. Stepping in, Checkov found himself on a carpet of deep scarlet and an abyss lighted by dim candles. The walls had hanging drapes of the same color, too. Ivanov!Ó yelled Checkov, I have come to give you a portrait!Ó
Only CheckovÕs voice echoed throughout the red-stained house and suddenly there was a ripple among the long lines of drapes hanging from the walls. They surrounded Checkov, who took a step back. The door slammed and there was utter deafness in the resumed silence. Checkov turned on the crumpled scarlet carpet and when he did he saw a white hand grasp his shoulder slightly. Ah-hah, my dear Checkov! Almost leaving?Ó asked a crazed looking Ivanov. Has the Devil possessed you, old Ivanov? Or have you finally gone mad!Ó exclaimed Checkov, staring nervously into the town leaderÕs bulging eyes.
Ivanov twitched and looked at the floor, widening his eyes. He gripped CheckovÕs shoulder more tightly and placed his pointed nose next to his face. What black magic do you possess? You sent Death upon Nikolai, havenÕt you? And now, let me show you something!Ó said Ivanov, and he dragged the artist up the stairs to a dark room.
Ivanov flung AlinaÕs chamber open and it was filled with darkness and the scent of fading candles. In the center of the room was a hanging cloth of crimson red, almost touching the ground. Ivanov circled it and laughed. Pull it, dear Checkov! I have rearranged it for you! I want you to see what surprise is underneath!Ó cackled the maddening Ivanov.
Checkov approached the cloth and pulled. The crimson cloth fell and hanging from the wall to a rope was Alina! Her eyes were open in death as though in a trance and glazed by a grey, glossy color. Blood streamed from her face and trickled down to her fingertips. A drop of blood fell upon the canvas that Checkov held and when he saw her he was seized by instant shock and horror. But this is Alina, not Nikolai!Ó said Checkov grabbing Ivanov.
Ivanov turned his head crookedly towards the artist. Who says that Nikolai did not come to visit? You are standing on him!Ó said Ivanov, and he pointed at the pale, limp figure of Nikolai.
Ivanov held his finger and laughed. His eyes were looking about the room and they sparkled. Louder and louder he roared, even as the artist dropped the canvas and wept on the cold floor. IvanovÕs voice echoed throughout the house and as he continued his delirium, he pointed at the canvas that only had a drop of blood in its center.