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the painter

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She was an opera singer. Her life was a chromatic scale, arias of love and longing, hopelessness and doubt. He found her when she was just at the beginning.


She lived in a narrow apartment with room for only one. One bed, one nightstand, one window, one pattern of white, crinkling, crepe wallpaper on the walls.


Since the beginning of her career, she’d sang four concerts a week, every week, at an old, stately theater downtown. Every week the same, every concert alike - her whispery sopranos would float like cirrus clouds, high and buoyant as they descended upon the theater. The audience, old and dignified and refined, would smile and gasp, awash with polite enthusiasm. Until one rainy February evening.


A new, older wooden theater that she had never seen before. Her arias trembled through the building, down to the basement, where they shook an old artist’s studio, and the man within. Old paints and canvases trembled with excitement. So did he.


The opera ended, and the audience breathed a sigh of simple, satisfied delight. 


The hungry painter weaved his way through the chorus of “thank you”’s and “good evening”’s, consumed, obsessed, as he never had been before.


She was just leaving the stage, curtsying to compliments, the light reflecting off her simple white dress. Eyes of misty brown and simple blue - hers and his - reflected, simply, truly, for the first time, in each other. The eyes would never be the same.


He was dusty, dirty blonde, unassuming, electric. Perfect. 


And she was breaking.


He asked to buy her a drink, voice rushed and slurred and excited. They walked hand in hand, his big, paint-splattered umbrella, a simple blue, covering both of them.


They talked for hours, food and drinks left all but forgotten, wholly wrapped up in the sound of the other’s voice. Two songs, one lilting and sweet, the other humble and rich, dappled with the hues of hope and imagination. Free.


As they walked home, she grew weak and tired. The street came towards her, speckling her white dress with dirt as she tripped and fell. She told him she was sorry, and he told her he liked her dress better that way. Flawed. Colorful.


He whispered goodnight and left.


The weakness came back. She collapsed, exhausted, staring up at the blank white walls.


She was breaking, and she couldn’t stop it.


She sang another concert two days later, her voice louder and urgent. He walked her home that night too, and the next concert, and the one after that. He showed her his studio, and she sat and stared for hours, breathing in every detail, every emotion. The paintings were utterly unique - exquisite and wild. Almost sad.


Weeks bled into months - painting, singing, drinking, laughing. Each week, they grew closer. Each night, she felt herself drifting further away. Shaky legs, a vibrating mind - humming at a different frequency, the wrong one, so loud and foreign and wild she felt it was splitting her apart.


Three months after the first concert, she told him she was sick. Her mind was fragmenting, surrendering - to sadness, shock, and euphoria in waves - strangers with wild thoughts, telling her what to think, breaking her apart. Her music was foreign and distant, a cacophony of joy and fear. 


She told him there were two many voices in her head, and there was nothing she could do. He smiled, and went looking for a paintbrush.


Two days later, another concert, another walk home. This time, he carried her the second half of the way when she couldn’t stop falling. He told her it was just a symptom. Just temporary, and it would all be ok.
They reached her apartment, and he showed her the bag’s contents - a mess of paints and big sponges and tiny brushes, little tubes of oil-based pigments and watercolors, scrap paper and oversized water bottles. He told her she could be fixed. She could find herself again. 


He told her his mother had been sick too, sick like she was. So sick that one day, his mother had been mad with happiness, buying cars and houses and big gold dresses and eating nothing. And the next day, she had tried to kill herself.


He told her we’re all different, in our own ways, and she had nothing to be ashamed of. He showed her a faded photograph of his mother, sitting in his studio, painting. He told her that was where all the really special paintings had come from. He made her promise to tell no one, not even his father. He told her, almost sadly, he thought of her every time he painted.


Together, in that small apartment, they threw paint on the walls - sad, euphoric, angry, happy washes of flawed, unapologetic color. She painted and painted until the stark, creamy, mad white was dappled with a chromatic rainbow, wild and fiery and brilliantly out of place.


Life continued to change. Sometimes, there were doctor’s visits, and medications, and sometimes, she couldn’t tell what she was singing or what she was thinking or who she was becoming. But every night, when she was scared, she would color the walls. She would color them dark, navys and maroons and deep blues, when sadness and longing seemed to grip her. She would dust the intricate furniture with pink and gold, when she was so happy she could barely think, painting pink dresses, gold-haired children playing and dancing in the park. 


Sometimes, he would join her, and the two of them would paint light and dark, bright and quiet -two halves of one heart. 


They painted like that for two years. Over time, the walls began to change - the colors growing darker, and scarier, and harder to color over. He held her in his arms as she cried and dreamed, as reality slipped further and further away. 


Then one day she called him, her voice muffled and quiet, the beautiful arias shrinking beneath a body fighting itself. He rushed through the city, frantic, but he was too late. Her walls were mostly dark, painted over, empty. But in the corner, in simple blue, she had scribbled “i love you. i’m sorry.”






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