It had become apparent for some time that Eleanor’s affection for me was rapidly waning. Those long, tender gazes that we had once shared had long since escaped our daily existence; the paused and sincere conversations which had once passed between us were becoming ever more one-sided, and the intoxicating, languid feeling of sleepy happiness had given way to monotony. We both grew unhappier as the days passed, though for very different reasons. Eleanor was losing her original fondness for me; she saw it slipping from her heart at an alarming speed, and I believe she felt some guilt. I had done nothing to harm or offend her, and we had never had any violent disagreements. Yet she naturally came to love me less and less, and evidently the idea that she would inevitably cease to love me entirely, while married to me, took a great toll on her conscience. From my point of view, however, the situation was far more ghastly. For though Eleanor may have been losing that original tenderness for me that had so blissfully characterised the early days of our courtship, I had lost none. In truth, I was still entirely enraptured by her figure and person.
Oh, at this desperate time, why should I attempt to hide behind words? I loved her! She was the soul of my existence, my raison d’etre. My life and work depended on her as they depended on no other living creature. My portraits of her were considered the very best examples of my work, and it was thanks to her that I had become so successful a painter. Yet it was not the influence she yielded upon the excellent execution of my craft that drew me to her; it was everything. Her auburn hair, wildly cascading down to her shoulders in an undulant, silky mass. The palour of her alabaster skin was the perfect frame for her light hazel eyes, which on the hottest of days melted into the most alluring emerald lagoons. Her nose was delicate and quite symmetrical, though certainly not as much as her full red lips, which threatened to shatter every time they met. It was this physical beauty which made her the perfect model for me, and initially I deceived myself into believing that it was merely her beauty which enchanted me. But as my portraits of her became more and more perfect, I realized that I had painted with more than skill and dedication; I had painted with love.
It was a wild, foolish thing to do, marrying a girl I had only known as my model, but I was truly in awe of her, and she revered me as well. As we became better acquainted, it became clear that nothing could prevent our union. She had a carefree, defiant personality, one which more than entirely satisfied the mercurial nature of my own. For though Eleanor witnessed several moments of truly sincere anguish, she stood by and let her defiant nature steer me out of them. And thus, we were married and acquired a small house in the country.
How I remember it. Its whitewashed walls and old, red tiles were the only proof that man had been there, for around it all was pure. The agglomerations of trees in which we spent so many childish hours, the clearings where we lay side by side in the sweetest silence, the meadows where we sat in joyous contemplation… all this once perfect natural landscape was made imperfect by our presence, but certainly more blissful by our love. I can still remember drawing her as she sat by a blossoming orange tree and looking on without the pencil touching the paper. The superb sea of colours of the orange tree, its white flowers in full bloom, the leaves gently rocking with the wind and its ripe fruit lustfully exhibiting itself. All this was complemented by the gentle aroma of the flowers, but it was all naught compared to her. For though surrounded by beauty imaginable to every sense, she embodied that beauty. She was that beauty. And though I have said it, and though words are meaningless not just to a painter but to any human, I shall say it still: I loved her… I love her.
Such was the extent of my torment. She may have experienced some anguish at her inability to reciprocate my feelings, for I was always kind to her. Yet it was my anguish that reigned supreme in that wretched world, and every day I saw her love for me weaken more and more. The long silences that had once been so pleasurable at the breakfast table were now evermore torturous. Soon, they ceased to be silences at all, and became punctuated by reserved, painfully distant questions about the upcoming day. She would then retire to her drawing, and I to my painting, both of which were carried out in the same room. My paintings assumed an entirely new proportion, depicting the tragedy of life rather than its passing joy. It did not worsen, and my critics were evermore praising of the works which I produced, splashed as they were with my own misery. But did the success which I had attained amount to anything if she did not love me? How could I live knowing that the one creature on this earth that I truly adored had ceased to entertain warm thoughts about me?
It could not be! There was such beauty left for me to create, such artistic perfection that I had still left to achieve that I could not allow her to ruin me! And yet what do I say? What art, what beauty could be compared to her? It was her I loved most, not my paintings, not my life. It was because of her that I was driven to the harshest of measures, the most sinful of sins! It must be understood that it was not wrath, or jealousy, or mere insanity that led me to do what I did; it was love. In my present situation, why should I fail to tell the truth? What have I to loose when all I have lost is all that can be lost? It was love, pure, unwavering love that led me to pursue the acts that led to my current wretched state.
At first, I contemplated suicide. After all, if I were to take my own life, I would never have to see the last shimmer of love fade away from her eyes. I should be at peace, and she would remember me as one who she had loved, not one who had subjected her to a life of tedious indifference. I had never feared injuring myself, and many were the evenings in which, under the influence of many a glass of whisky, I had held a black revolver in my hands and fiddled with the trigger. I wrote multiple suicide notes, each one insisting that it was not she who had driven me to such vile extremes, lest her love for me expire once I directly lay the blame for so dreadful an act upon her. I even contemplated more methods of perpetrating the deed, so that when she found my lifeless body, she might be spared the ugliness of mutilation. However, it soon dawned on me that my death would take from me the chance of witnessing her own despair. I would never see the unceasing tears of loving desolation running down her pallid cheeks, nor hear her sobbed professions of undying love as she laid her trembling hand upon my silent breast.
It was not that I wanted her to suffer; I merely wanted some great proof of her love, and dead, I would have none. Much though she may have loved me after death, I would never know it. I therefore decided against pursuing such a course of action and tried once more to adjust myself to my grey life. Once again, I found it impossible. The great walks that we took were now tense and brisk. We did not pause to behold the natural marvels that surrounded us, and though we were still as silent as ever, the quietness was one of awkwardness and desolation. Our eyes refused to meet, and we merely exchanged the quickest glances, which poured sadness and nervousness. It was as if we were still in the first days of our courtship, and were too riddled by fear to confess our love for each other; sadly, that feeling only existed within me by then. The memory of happier days made the entire situation even more unbearable, and once again, I knew something had to be done expediently. I pondered telling her that I knew what she felt, but quickly decided against this. It was then, in a rainy spring afternoon as I sat by the fire, that I decided the course of action to follow and sealed my fate forever.
The thought first dawned upon me after I painted a country funeral scene. In the casket lay a young man with golden hair, and surrounding him was a multitude of mourners. The grey sky emphasized the sadness of the dark multitude, led by the figure of his lover, who knelt by the open casket and wept onto the red roses that she carried. Her eyes, grieving though they were, expressed the greatest love for that golden haired creature. And he, though dead, had surely loved her as well; had he not? What gestures could he make that would deny his love? Clasped between his hands was also a red rose, just like those his lover carried. In her eyes, she loved him and through the silken veil of death, he loved her. He could not deny it, now that his lips could not move, his eyes were fixed in an empty glare and his entire form was powerless. She, however, could remember all the moments of tenderness and preserve those only as evidence that his love was true, and lasting, and pure, as opposed to the moments in which he might have shown otherwise. After all, his loveless eyes were shut forever, and if they opened in her mind, there would be naught but affection in them.
As I met her eyes, pale and full of pity, I gazed at the painting once more. Why shouldn’t I? What would be lost but a body of expiring love? The true Eleanor, my Eleanor, she would be preserved in my paintings; her auburn hair made more beautiful by art, and her lovely, imperfect countenance made perfect by the strokes of the brush. Greater still, however, her hazel eyes would forever be expressive of her tender feelings for me. Such an act would not merely be a favour to me; it would be a mercy to her. Already the blossom of her youth was beginning to fade, and with it, that beauty that had so enraptured me. Yet she was always more beautiful in my paintings, where every minor blemish in her true countenance had been disposed of so as to elevate the human to a work of art. Why should she suffer her beauty to fade away with the passing of time? Why should I suffer it? But most of all, why should art and beauty suffer it? They had to be preserved as much as her love, and thus the sacrifice was a benevolent one. I thus resolved to kill her.
Her routine was well known to me; she rose at ten in the morning and retired at ten in the evening. During that period of time, she occupied herself with small pleasures and activities. After breakfast she would take a walk with me, and upon our return home, she would play the piano for exactly one hour. At 12, we had our luncheon, and the two hours that followed were occupied by her sketching. After this point, we lived quite a separate existence. I remained in my studio until our evening repast, whereas she dedicated the rest of the day to whatever took her fancy. She could return to the piano, or she could withdraw to the library and read. If the day happened to be a lovely one, however, she would be most likely to spend it outside, often with her sketchbook or a volume of poetry.
The past days, however, had certainly not been lovely. Though it was spring, a storm had been approaching for quite some time, and the wind and rain became wilder with the passing of the hours. The daunting prelude to the forthcoming storm made me grow more and more apprehensive; though I knew my plan, every rustling made me jump. The rain beating furiously against the windows seemed like a warning spirit, begging me to restrain my passions. The wailing wind a voice, which in a mixture of anger and angst desired that I should not do what I had set out to do. All these warnings of nature startled me, and if they grew louder every day, I became more silent. At first, I was struck by a flood of doubt. Perhaps murder would merely increase my own sadness, perhaps it would merely add to my torment. And could I follow through with it? Could I, looking at that splendid brow, bury a dagger in her heart?
Suddenly, I realized that the more I allowed those ungodly sounds to torment me, the more I would be averse to my own decision. It had to be executed that very day. I remember it well; it was the day of the tempest. The rain now battered the walls of our abode, and the wind seemed to wish to overrun us. Most violent of all, however, was the thunder. It drummed down from heaven in a burst of lightning which made everything tremble and left its promise to return on the malicious echo that ensued. And soon enough, by its word, came others, thousands more like it, assaulting the earth in merciless brutality and terrifying me beyond extent. My resolve was binding, and much though I may have wished to yield to the demands of Vulcan, I knew what had to be done. As the branches outside wildly rustled, as if begging us to shelter them from the storm, as the whole world seemed to descend into chaos and insanity as the tempest grew, within me reigned a deadly calm. Suddenly nothing was of consequence to me; the rain, the wind, even the thunder might have been the deadliest silence. I looked at the silver dagger clasped within my hands, and knew what I must do.
I rose from my leathery seat in the drawing room and walked, in a stern, unaffected pace, to the kitchen. Therein, I opened a bottle of red wine. Eleanor and I always had a glass before retiring for the night, and it was always I who poured them. I carefully tipped the bottle over the crystal glass and allowed the crimson liquid to drizzle into it. The odour of mellow, dry prunes pervaded the air surrounding the receptacle, and for a moment I was quite full of joy. However, it was not long before I remembered the dark nature of the task at hand, and so, corking the bottle, I placed my hand in my pocket and removed from it a small silver box. It was a charming oval container, perfectly smooth and bright as the stars, save for the small circle on the box on which my initials were engraved. I opened it and emptied its content, a white, odourless powder, into the glass of wine. This powerful drug was designed to make her sleep heavily, so that little would awaken her. Placing my hand on a silver spoon, I mixed the substance until it dissolved in a red, bloody whirl of wine. To finish the preparations, I opened a bottle of port and poured the sweet nectar into another glass. Looking at both, they were identical; a dark cherry hue punctuated the body of both, whereas the mild foam at the top had a violet colour. The difference was only palpable in the smell.
Holding both glasses, I walked to our bedroom. The corridors glowed at the sound of each thunder, and the gusts of wind entered through the creaks in every door and rustled the dark green curtains. Unperturbed, I reached the hall where the gloomy wooden staircase was. Lightning once more, followed by dull darkness. My feet were louder to me than all the wrath of Mother Nature, and the beating of my heart, oh the beating of my heart as I trod on every step of that stairway! As the wood creaked underneath my feet, I could hear it drumming within me, the fear within my breast increasing, increasing… Keeping my strength of mind, I endeavoured to ignore the palpitations in my bosom, and proceeded. As I finally reached the first floor, I turned to the right, following the oaken balustrade and walking towards a small door at the end of the corridor. I walked and walked, the constant beating of my heels against the carpet on the floor, and never seemed to reach that confounded entry. Suddenly, I wanted to stop, my heart collapsed within me, and all the terror of the storm was audible once again. Yet my legs, against the fear of my heart, drove me forward. I could not, I would not… And yet, there I was, standing before the door of our sleeping chamber. Taking the port to my mouth, I drank it down to give me strength. Then, once the warmth and courage provided by the drink roamed all through my body, I drove my hand towards the copper handle, pressed it down to the sound of creaking wood and pushed open the door.
Eleanor was reclined upon our bed; like Helen, she wore a white gown, the length of which allowed merely her bare, frail feet to be seen. In spite of all our troubles, as I looked at that pure countenance, my heart froze. There she lay, her auburn hair released, undulant and cascading to her shoulders, those soulful hazel eyes, those red lips… They smiled! Did she mock my despair? She could not think I wanted to do what must be done! No, she did not know, and it must be done, it must be done. My hand would have to place the glass in hers, I would see that she drank its contents and that would be that. Yet, my arm was immobile, as was the rest of me. I could not say a word, for I could think of nothing to say, as indeed, I could not think at all! Yet she merely lay there and smiled, smiled, smiled, oh, mercy! Tears began to fill my eyes and I repressed a sob! My senses shocked me with the expedience of their return, and I quickly turned my face away so that she might not see the moistening of my brow. Then, breathing in, I turned around and walked towards her. With a stone face, hiding the turmoil of love, premature repentance and despair that reigned within me, I handed her the glass. She raised it to her lips and quickly drained the wine.
It was but a moment before her eyes closed and her entire figure fell to one side and lay still in the most peaceful sleep. Her hair now lay wild and spread over the pillow, but her face maintained that smile of peace and happiness. I allowed the scalding tears to flow down my cheeks, some of them gently dropping to the carpet and some entering my mouth. Their mild salty taste caused me to open it, from which a sob violently ensued. I knelt by her side, holding her warm pallid hand and repeating her name under my breath: Eleanor, Eleanor, Eleanor… I could hear nothing of the tempest, nothing at all, but her name and my despair. My hand moved towards her face and slowly stroked its smooth, flushed cheek. Then, my head fell upon her breast and I lay there weeping for what cannot have been more than a few minutes. Finally, when the sobbing ceased, I raised my head and kissed her on the lips. Feeling the plump softness of her mouth calmed me entirely, and in a moment I felt happiness beyond measure. Then, as I gradually brought that final kiss to an end, I beheld her beauteous face once more and ruthlessly planted the silver knife in her heart.
A strong, warm sigh encircled my hand, and that was the last warmth that Eleanor radiated. From a moment to another, her body grew motionless, stiff and cold, oh… so cold! It wasn’t the icy cold that I expected, indeed she was not even very cold, but to feel her skin, her softness under me as if it were nothing! The heat that had once circulated through her was gone, and suddenly there was nothing but this chilly sensation upon touching her… No, the cold of the dead is not that of ice, but it is far more affecting. Her white gown was now more and more succumbing to the widening pool of crimson blood that evaded her chest. It was such a peaceful sight, seeing the silent blood tint the front of that ivory dress as if some unseen artist were painting a great picture. However, as I lifted my eyes to her face, I saw that same smile, as if her lips refused to conform to her fate. Every part of her was dead, she herself was dead, but her face smiled as if she lay sleeping in a field of jasmine.
I knew that if I looked at her for too long, my resolution would leave me entirely, and now that the central part of the plan had been achieved, I must follow through with it. Quickly, I rapped her in her bed-linen, which had already a few drops of blood upon it. Once nothing but a long form could be seen, I raised her up with my arms. The weight shocked me somewhat, and I had to pause to catch my balance, but it was not long before I grew used to the bulk, and walked towards the door, which I had left open. Carefully and slowly, I descended the stairs, which creaked even more beneath my feet, almost as if threatening to collapse. Flashes of thunder illuminated the path only to give way to habitual gloom, and the wind and rain were now at their height, but I was not detained. As I finally reached the front door, I lay her body on the wooden floor and quickly stepped into the larder, where a shovel with a large leather belt attached was kept. Running my arm through the belt, I opened the front door and raised her up again.
A sudden blaze of light immediately followed by a cruel blast shocked me more than the violence of the rain upon my face. The wind quickly ran through my white cotton shirt and I began to shiver with cold and fear. The tempest was truly wild, and its sight was as terrifying as its sound. The trees seemed to desire nothing more than to be released from the ground, so maddening was the force with which the wind hit and bent them, and its piercing chill was all around me. And the night was dark, truly dark. The stars could not be seen and only a few faint wisps of glimmering silver were visible from behind the black clouds. Black was everything, for the poetic, soothing navy colour of the night was well enshrouded by the tempestuous mists.
Hurriedly, I stepped out of the door towards the mass of trees, attempting not to fall on the drenched dirt beneath my feet. Blaze and thunder fell every each way, encircling me like a deadly volley. It served both to frighten me and plunge me into a sea of regret, only to suddenly strengthen my resolve. What had been done was done, and that which was still to be accomplished must be completed. My arms ached at the weight of her inanimate body, and it became clear to me that I must walk on. Between the deafening breaking of the thunders and beneath the shrieks of the wind and rain, I heard the sound of my feet sinking in the mud as I hurriedly trod on. I dodged the wild branches of many a tree in my search of the small clearing in which Eleanor and I had spent so many moments of bliss, ignoring another surge of misery at my action brought by that tender memory. I searched frantically, my resolve strengthened by the cold so enhanced by my soaked garments. The white shirt I wore clung to me, and countless drops of water slithered down my back, causing me to shiver at their creeping movement. The inability to shake them off with my hands turned my angst into irritation, which rapidly grew into a great fury. The dread darkness of the night ceased to frighten me, and in a maddening rage my firm pace quickly increased until I found myself running. Those woods were well known to me, and the folly of the moment made me supremely confident that the blackness that surrounded me would bring about no accident. Despite the mud, I ran until I found myself looking at the clearing.
It wasn’t a wide space, and during such a night it was easy to miss. Indeed, had it not been for that peculiar state of utter certainty so often brought about by sudden tragedy, it is probable that I would never have found it. I walked towards its centre, where none of the solid roots of ancient trees could impede my work, and in a momentary movement, I dropped her from my arms. A faint sound was heard, akin to a murky, dense splash, and the white blanket in which she was wrapped, rendered almost transparent by the rain, quickly acquired the dark hues of the drenched dirt. A sudden urge to fall beside her and rest came over me, and it was only the shovel hanging from my arm which had taken to violently beating my leg on account of the ruthless wind that brought me to my senses. Speedily, I buried its spade in the soft, mellow ground, unearthing a strong and pleasant scent of wet earth. The smooth condition of the soil greatly facilitated the digging, and it was not long before the small grave was deep to the extent of forcing me to jump in so that I might continue in my toil. Downwards and downwards, my arms almost shattering with the tremendous effort of the labour at hand and my entire form becoming more drenched by rain and sweat.
The endeavour was pursued for half an hour before I had succeeded in digging a tomb from where only the top of my head was visible when I stood therein. Hastily, I climbed out of there and walked towards the corpse, still peacefully lying near the newly dug orifice. I uncovered her face and looked upon that pure countenance once again. I would lose human beauty and gain artistic beauty instead, but most of all, I would forever have her love. For without her saddened features, I would never know of that lost sentiment, never! Was this, then, not the right course of action to pursue? Of course! With years to come, her beauty would fade away, but thusly, it remained, engrained forever in my heart and mind. And for the first time in many months, I felt the corners of my mouth extending over the lower half of my face in a smile of sheer tranquillity. Gently, I covered her face with the blanket and placed my arms around her for the final time, raising her from the ground. I walked over to her tomb and slowly, so as not to damage her corpse, deposited her therein. I cannot remember how long it took me to cover up the grave, but it must not have been long, for I remember no pain, no great effort. When the task at hand was complete, I turned my back on that clearing and in complete defiance of the raging elements, slowly walked back to the house.
The next morning I awoke to a beautiful day of spring. The storm had finally cleared, and in its stead the golden sun shone above the earth, its light brilliantly reflected in the clear drops of rain that clung to the green leafs of every tree. The events of the previous night were still clear in my head, and awaking in a lonely bed was at first disquieting. However, as the sweet sight of that day presented itself, I sensed the last shreds of remorse fleeing my soul, and from that moment, all was bliss. I had a long, soothing bath, after which I dressed myself, taking great pains to be as handsomely clothed as I had not been for many a month. After a highly enjoyable breakfast, I walked into my studio and continued work on a portrait of Eleanor, one which I had been working on for a week. Without the model, the artistic liberties I took were far bolder, and the freedom of expression that I had carried me into a sort of daydream. Vibrant colours punctuated it, red, pink, yellow, and beneath the blur stood a typically Grecian scene. Unclothed goddesses of unsurmountable beauty were bathed by pale, golden-haired nymphs of exquisite prettiness, and on the azure and alabaster colours of the running stream, the reflection of their splendour seemed even greater than that of the swelling scene. They languidly covered their naked bodies with white linen sheets, leaving bare thighs or breasts visible above the simple covers. Enchanted by this deific vision, I painted with a fervour never felt before, depicting Eleanor and Eleanor alone as if she had been the fairest of those goddesses, covered only by a white sheet. Her pale shoulders were bare and her unruly auburn hair fell upon them with entrancing savagery. Her eyes had a deceiving look of regal calm about them, beneath which lurked a fiery, uncontrolled passion. Her red lips, slightly open in an expression of drowsy contentment, expressed a sensuousness far greater than her true lips ever had. It was Eleanor, now a goddess, passing from an imperfect frame to a perfect one.
Hours had passed since I had entered the studio that day, and the portrait was finished. A fire of creativity had consumed me, and as if maddened by opiates I had amalgamated all of that daydream into my greatest painting: the portrait of Eleanor. She was goddess and nymph alike, creature and reflection, majesty and allure… she was all. Many were the portraits that I had painted of her, many the likenesses, and in all the model was clearly identified. But they dwelt within the frame, attached to the canvas. At last, Eleanor lived once more, full of passion and adoration, and all directed to me. I wept with joy as I relished the mastery of my greatest creation.
My eyes fell upon the dark oak wall clock hanging above the fireplace, and it was with great surprise that I noticed it to be a quarter past eight in the evening. Immediately after noticing the time, a great feeling of hunger struck me, as if I had been in so profound a trance that all bodily needs had been forsaken. It was therefore with a hurried step that I walked towards the kitchen, where I found that a cold chicken, left over from the previous night’s dinner, still lay on the table. I thought of myself sitting curved before it, tearing pieces off the animal and gorging upon them with utter brutality. The animal behaviour was worsened by streams of grease running down the palms of my hands onto the cuffs of my shirt and sullying my grey trousers. Revolted at the idea, I left the kitchen for the dining room, where a beautiful bowl of fruit made the centrepiece of the table. Placing my hand upon a cluster of jade grapes, I sat gracefully at the head seat and ate them slowly, one by one. Their sweet taste was made a thousand times more palatable on account of the dreadful hunger I felt, and when I finished, I ate yet another. Satisfied, though scarcely full, I wiped my hands on a white cotton napkin and left towards my bed chambers.
That night I succumbed to a truly remarkable dream. The same Olympian setting, the forest, the stream, the pastures, all was equal to my vision. However, instead of the presence of goddesses and nymphs, the scene was still and silent, save for the gentle rustling of the breeze in the leaves and the sighing water as it caressed the banks of its way. Then, even this soft harmony ceased, and the entire wood seemed taken out of a painting, still and unbroken. And as if out of nowhere, Eleanor appeared, clad in a long white tunic. Her white shoulders were bare, and from beneath that long garment her feet gracefully paced the grass, denuded and on their tips. Every elaborate movement seemed to be part of an effortless dance, with her raising her arms and slowly looking one way, and then dropping them and standing, like a dryad, painlessly on her foot. Her face expressed the sweetest innocence, as her red lips opened in a natural smile and her gazelle eyes dissolved in an expression of unaffected tenderness. Truly, she was superb, her beauty raised to the heights of the sacred mount, where she stood alone without pretence or vanity.
Then, in a mere moment, she dropped her tunic. It slithered down her nimble figure, ruffling and wrinkling until it lay at her ankles. She stepped out of it and stood before that wood unclothed, the sun shining upon her marble body and showing it in all its sublimity. That pure, unspoiled nakedness expressed the greatest sincerity and nobility in her soul, for she merely stood thus, like a marvellous Athenian statue. Her bosom was still, and her arms lay by the sides of her form without showing any reaction. Her legs stood petrified, moving up to her hips in so still a manner that no movement of shame, cold or hubris could be observed. She stood smiling beneath the sunlight; nothing more.
With time, however, she began to move once more, first raising her right arm towards the sun and then tossing her light chestnut hair over one arm. By and by, she turned, exhibiting merely her elegant back, her thighs and a cascading mass of auburn waves. At a slow pace, she drowsily tiptoed towards the stream and placed one of her pointed feet above the clear water. Then, her leg sank into the sapphire liquid and the other followed. She then walked towards a large rock in the middle of the waterway, and easily sat upon it. One of her legs remained in the water, leaving merely the area above the knee visible. The other, however, could be mostly seen, as it was ornately crossed above the other. She sat there, cherishing the running water and playing with it as if she were a mere child. Her face turned towards me gradually, that same smile still upon it, until she opened her lips and began singing. It was a song with no words, and though it was sung in a pleasant, soothing way, all other sounds once again ceased to be heard. The melody was truly beautiful, utterly enrapturing, and though it said nothing, nothing at all, it spoke plainly of chaste love.
As I awoke the following day, I followed the same morning rituals that I had done. A long bath was followed by a considerable amount of time spent before the mirror, after which I had a satisfying breakfast. However, as I entered the studio, I was captivated by the portrait I had painted. I dragged a dark green armchair towards it and sat beholding it, reliving the marvellous dream of the previous night. My eyes remained enchanted by the picture, and once again, I dedicated much of the day to it, merely gazing at it with unnatural delight. I thought of having it framed, but I was loth to part with it, and therefore refused to touch it. Nothing must disturb it, none must be permitted to behold my greatest work of art other than myself! It was my beauty, it belonged to me. Not merely because I had drawn and painted it, but because Eleanor was mine. That Eleanor, the perfect Eleanor that dwelt within that canvas, belonged entirely to me. And I adored her, and she must adore me. Her eyes spoke of it, her entire countenance seemed to withhold that wonderful secret of love, and none could enjoy the tender feeling besides me. I sat there all day, and at night, when my eyes began to close, they were still fixed on her.
I experienced the same dream that night, with no palpable alteration. The following days were spent in exactly the same fashion; I was transfixed with Eleanor and refused to let her out of my sight. I ate little, and as it became clear to me that it was merely the presence of clocks that made me conscious of my corporal hunger, I disposed of them. The passing of days became less and less noticeable to me, until the passing of time itself seemed unclear and all seemed to be one glorious, everlasting moment. The portrait that still stood upon the wooden easel was the object of my complete devotion.
However, such devotion began to exert a corrupting influence, and the ghastly deed slowly but steadily began to seep back into my mind. The dreams by the stream with Eleanor, once so beautiful, began to change with time. Her smile, once one of innocence, now became one of human desire. Her dancing became more frantic, more sensuous in nature, and when she stripped herself of her white tunic, the gaze in her eyes was altogether different. It was now a fiery call, a corporeal provocation, and though she remained as beautiful as any who dwell in Olympus, her deific perfection was altogether external. For within seemed to burn a consuming fire, one of demeaning carnal needs, and as it struck her, it struck me. Those dreams that I so cherished became violent pictures of licentiousness, and I found myself desiring above all else to walk towards her and hold her in my arms. Alas, in such dreams, I could only see her, and was scarcely sure of my existence. They ended, as usual, in the song that she sang while sitting upon that smooth rock in the stream. Though still wordless, the melody had lost all its evocations of chaste love, and now it evoked only the most animalesque representations of lust.
Waking from these dreams was momentarily satisfying, but my overpowering need to see the picture was too great to resist, and also drove me to abysmal depths of despair. For as Eleanor had changed in the dream, she had changed in her portrait. As lovely as ever, her auburn hair gently reposing upon her shoulders, her perfection was sullied by what I perceived, by what I knew to be a gaze of temptation! Her plump lips now aroused the senses, not the spirit, and with them came a primitive yearning to kiss her once more, and feel the warmth of her body pressed against mine. Madly, I jumped up from the green armchair, and taking the canvas in my arms, embraced it and planted a sobbing kiss upon the lips of the portrait’s object. Canvas! The rough texture of the material met my mouth as I wildly attempted to experience the warmth that I had once felt. Nothing, all in vain! I fell upon my seat, now weeping hysterically, the portrait still in my hands. And beneath the scalding tears, I saw her. Her smile seemed equal, but it was not! Innocence had turned to lust, and lust to mockery! How dare she, how dare she!? I ran towards the fire and in a moment of pure insanity, threw the portrait therein to be consumed by the flames. Behind them, I saw Eleanor once again, now exhibiting a peaceful smile… I fell to the floor, crying intensely and gazing at her. I had killed her, I had buried her; but it was I who was condemned to suffer.