Instructor: Susan McGraw
An Empty Canvas
Science Fiction & Fantasy
An Empty Canvas
I remember a neighborhood.
It wasn't particularly cramped, derelict, or any trait that would deem it as too desirable or undesirable. If anything, it was more of a normal set of a few blocks, lacking any indication of interesting occurrences. Although unremarkable, it was still lovely, especially in the springtime. I reckoned the outside was still covered with pink blushing skies, even though that time of year has long passed.
In one of such nondescript houses, I remember, oddly enough, that I sat on a linen-lined verdant green couch as fading light cast a golden aura over the room. The telly, playing a race of some sort, emanated a soft sound, the voice of the commentator interrupted by the footsteps coming from upstairs.
"Honey, have you taken out the trash yet? It's nearly four o'clock, you know." Her voice was crooked, straining under a worn-out and cracked throat. Nevertheless, I could still hear her gallant, yet soft voice under all the clutter, a discernible resonation that dates back to that fateful ball four years ago. The memory is imprinted in my mind, an encounter and an adoration I shall never forget.
"Yes, I have," I replied while fixing my gaze stoically on the screen. She nodded and proceeded down through the galley kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. The commentator droned in the background. Despite the depressive weather outside, she still went about the chores with the vitality of a young lady. She radiated youthfulness in her grace despite her age, making her the light of my life, forty years and counting.
I then stared at her. It's something I just like to do sometimes. I just can't help it. I studied her for some time, and some more, scrutinizing for the perfect frame, composition, and makeup to form a perfect painting. My memory was cloudy at best; I could only remember simpler ones with less complex movements. I chose a pose before returning to my room. best to keep my old hands busy, I figured. Can't just be sitting around doing nothing these days.
Settling down on the maple rocking chair, a blank canvas presented itself in front of me like an egress into another dimension. I stared at the white void, the void stared back at me. The void was mocking me. In a split second, it was as if the abyss consumed me, engulfing my mind in an empty chasm until I could pull myself out again from the brief ordeal. I couldn't remember what I was doing- oh, yes, yes, the painting.
My brush touched the canvas, and my arm commanded sweeping motions across the void, incrementally animating it with each passing stroke. It was coming together. It was beginning to mirror her. She came to life, right there where the mocking void once stood. I made sure every detail was matching according to my memory- her countenance, dress, even the teapot. It only took minutes for her to present herself fully, illuminating the canvas like a beacon of light, all emerging from the tip of my hand. My countrymen called that the "magical power of art". I could only describe it as magic, indeed.
I labeled the painting, and then inserted the canvas into a compartment in the cupboard at the edge of the room- I wouldn't want to forget about it, anyways.
Then, the canvas faded.
The room faded.
the memory faded into nothingness.
I remember a house.
It was a simple house- not particularly derelict or refurbished, just a house living among other houses. I come and go every day in it, I settle in it as a humble abode, and I perform chores throughout its interiors. The particulars of which are muddled, and I miss some here and there unintentionally, but I still proceed through them with relative ease each day through muscle memory.
I remember that I was rummaging through the crate of my personal possessions that stored items like old worn-out radios, a vintage guitar, cassettes, and old VHS tapes. I could remember how I got some of them, at flea markets and convenience stores, but not all. Nevertheless, one particular oblate object stood out: a record. It was a pavement one, a 90s soul with Doc Martens on. No idea where that came from, but a wave of nostalgia still washed over me, as a gush of the warmth of the Wisconsin sun washed over my body, the faint calls of children rang in the background. Deep down, I know I will never experience it again. Yet another memory burning in my head.
Searching the wardrobes and the shelves, I found some old wedding pictures adorned in antique frames. Heirlooms, perhaps, as they were kept intact throughout the years with great care despite being out of sight most of the time. But one was broken. The frame was fractured into two separate joints. Must have been a pretty bad fall. I don't blame the person who broke it. I just thought that it was a shame that one of my favorite memories was simply shattered like that.
She called me from downstairs.
"Honey, did you call Sam today or anything like that? You told me some time ago you would."
"Yes … I did, I think it was around this morning-"
I stopped myself when I realized I hadn't called Samson, or even bothered to write to him at all. Must have slipped under my mind somehow. I told her that, cursed myself silently, and then hauled my old legs down the stairs.
The sun was setting outside. The skies danced into a shade of vermillion, as it bled through the window onto the walls, the floor, and even into the fish tank, scintillating in disorienting beams of brilliance. Objects surrounding me gleamed with saturation, my mind awash in a sea of radiance. I can't handle it. It happens every single day. I turn my back against it and continued to stumble down the flimsy stairway. When I reached the bottom, I saw that she sat on her preferred chesterfield chair reading the local newspaper, facing the sun at an optimal angle while still receiving ample breeze from the vents. A soothing ballroom record played in the background.
"So, how's Sam doing?" I asked.
"Oh, he's doing fine. Toiling with some philanthropist work in LA. Tech stuff, I guess."
"Did it gain any traction yet?"
"Even if he did, he didn't tell me yet…why would these small efforts need traction anyway? "She finished the sentence with a signature giggle.
"I guess. Is he available?"
"Depends on if he's back from work or not. He's so busy these days, stayin' afloat." she appended her sentence with a sigh this time.
I walked past her and headed to the telephone. The old thing has been sitting there in the corner of the room for months on end without use, Its gears are rusty and cogs misaligned. Reaching for the panels, I positioned my hand to operate it, but then something just went… wrong. No matter if it was the god-awful vermilion glow or my memory, I just couldn't organize myself using such a simple thing as a telephone. I just couldn't. Not only could I not remember the number of my own son, but the meaning of those buttons as well. I fumbled around with it for three entire minutes until she took notice.
"Honey, are you still calling Sam? You've just been standing there."
"Yeah, I just…"
she stared with concern.
"I'll call him later." In an awkward motion, I jerked to retreat to my room again.
I knew that the problem existed. I knew that the problem was getting worse. Despite the diagnosis, I was, and am, fine with it. The true problem now is that she knew. She is concerned now, which I anticipated, yet I just didn't want it to happen so soon- she deserved to be happy in the last of the golden days.
That night, when I drew her, I did not bother with using paint. The aches have only gotten worse, using them would take too much effort. Instead, I drew with pencils on a sketchpad, tracing her outline and then filling in the details. In a sense, the symphony I conducted bringing her to life was much less complete. with the colors drained out of the final product, the lines misaligned, and the strokes disorganized. Her image was still gallant in my mind, but in some way, projecting it onto the void has become a chokehold. My place in the void was swiftly dissipating, like the ephemeral solace of the spring breeze. Everything was going to change, and all I could do was move on.
Then, The bed faded.
the sketchpad faded.
the memory faded into nothingness.
I remember a room.
The room wasn't anything special- just a standard room, about enough to fit a bed, a telly, and some nightstands in.
I remember that the monochrome buzz of the fan reverberated across the room like an unrelenting pest, irritating me more and more into exasperation with each passing minute. I was laying down in a stiff makeshift bed, With only the incessant buzzing and the stench of urine in the bedsheets to keep me company. Sometimes caregivers would barge in to give me half-heartedly made soup that tastes like an awkward concatenation of paper and stale vegetables; I hated every last drop of whatever condiment they used.
Surrounding me was a sea of bleak, desolate white. The empty canvas surrounds me from all sides, ensnaring me in an entrapment of constant nothingness. I stared at the void, and the void always stared back at me. I didn't have my sketchpad anymore.
The lone telly in the corner turned back on after a day-long hiatus and was immediately tuned to a nonexistent channel. Great that the static was also there to keep me entertained.
Still, resting on a bed with legs akimbo was hardly entertaining, so I decided to stare at the walls. I then stared at it more. And then some more. If I could fill the void with my hands, who was there to tell me that I can't fill the void with my mind? combing my memory to find the perfect scene, I searched for the right makeup, the right atmosphere, and the right composition. Some popped into my mind, yet what's left of many of them are simply vague constructs strewn across my consciousness, vivacity squeezed out from them like water from a towel. The longer I looked, the more emptiness I found; in the end, Only one remained intact.
Slowly, methodically, I began to reconstruct it. I went from the amber-burnished dancefloor to the ambient light of the late august sun, to the asynchronous capering of the partygoers beside me. In the distance, a faint tune in Moderato started to play, which swelled incrementally louder. I found myself hand-in-hand with a tantalizingly beautiful woman in formal attire to my right. Even as a civilian in a pool of veterans, I knew what to do: dance. We twirled, swayed, and pranced to the music- she was visceral, euphoric beauty. I flowed with the dancers in an endless symphony of movements, tugged along currents and cascading waters.
Someone opened the door of my room.
As quickly as it started, the memory started to cave in and crumple, as the music faded into static. The dancehall vanished like a fleeting dream, taking the woman along with it, as it imploded into the empty void.
I didn't bother to look at who came through the door. I assumed it was another worker.
"Can you…" I tried to tell them to turn off the fan, but the rest of the sentence left my mouth as meaningless gargling, as my vocal cords wrestled with themselves. I know that they couldn't understand it.
Strangely, the person visiting me has a rather strange voice, one that was older than any worker that I've met. She told me something along the lines of "Honey, is everything going well here?" She was wearing a weathered tan winter coat, a dress emblazoned with cerulean blue, red high-heels, coupled with a sepia tote bag. Simply looking at her feasts your eyes on a spectrum of colors.
I asked: "Who are you?"
She stared in horror.
Then, the memory faded along with her into nothingness.
I remember a woman.
Throughout the past day, months, or years, the same woman with the antiquated voice and the tote bag has been visiting my room over and over again. At first, she came every single day, but over time, the visits became more and more diluted. Her clothing changes with stunning variety each time as if to appease me somehow. Despite us most likely never having met before, I do appreciate her unrelenting effort to get closer to me.
I remember that this time, she came into the room with a smile on her face, just like any other day. She wore french orbital fatigues this time. Inspecting her, I could sense that deep down, she was hiding some type of pain away from me, covering it all under the facade. I wish I could console her if she was extensively suffering like that, but alas, she could never interpret my speech even if I talked. My aches and pains were getting worse; it would be almost impossible to divert attention from them anyways.
She sat down in a folding chair beside me and gazed into my eyes for several minutes solemnly. As if I was some type of elixir for emotion, her eyes welled up after crinkling whenever she saw me staring vacantly into the distance.
She pulled out something from her bag and held it in front of me. It seems like a maple frame of some sort. The picture it held portrayed a man standing with a woman on a beach, each laughing in casual attire. Must be a pretty happy couple, I'd say. Maybe the man was her husband or friend. She said something about the image, which I tried to interpret, but comprehending it was already enough of a challenge on its own. She then repeated the process for several other pictures, which I promptly ignored. There is no point in trying to understand her futile attempts to paint an empty canvas. Eventually, she stood up and left my room fighting to hold back her tears, barely. If anything, I wanted her to know it was all going to be okay.
That night while resting on my bed, I couldn't stop thinking about her. Maybe it was because of her suffering, maybe it was because of her clothes, her pictures, or something else. Was she unhappy because of a loved one? Was it because of me?
My train of thought was disrupted by a sharp pain in my heart, followed by a barrage of dull aching. I have never known a single shred of light or comfort outside of this eternal wasteland; there is no need to struggle anymore.
I let go of myself, allowing my body to weaken and be consumed by the void.
I see a light.
It is at the end of a tunnel, blinding me whenever I gaze into it. I look around, somehow perfectly complacent about how I got here. I see nothing but an empty canvas.
A touch of color splashes into my world. I look to my right, and I see the woman-the love of my life. We look at each other. We smile.
Gradually, in unison, we start taking steps toward the light, holding each other's hands firmly. With each step, The blinding light nears us, enveloping us in brilliant rays of light. I walk and walk and walk.
I have finally found my answer.