"Night, Day, and Night Again."
A dull orange bulb is surrounded by the darkness of the night.
The street glimmers with diamonds that sparkle in the approaching headlights.
It has rained the night before.
When the car leaves, silence falls.
The clock ticks in rhythm to my heartbeat.
I am awake.
“Gail, what do you love most about your life?”
It is summer. My classmate Diana and I are painting scenery at a park. Most people who pass us slow down, some of them stopping entirely to see us work. I’ve only just started and yet my work already looks better than Diana’s. She is focusing on details that have no significance. I watch her hand hesitate before each stroke. I understand why she asked me to tutor her. I do not remember why I agreed. I paint, casting away these thoughts.
“Do I need to love anything about my life?” I ask her. It is not the answer she wants to hear. My answer is not one that anyone wants to hear.
“Of course you do, otherwise what is the point in living?” Diana laughs, but I stay silent. I am not close to her and never intended to be. She has been very kind to me but I am not a good friend.
Diana stops painting. She turns to me curiously. “What do you mean by that?”
“I love painting the most.”
I blend several colors together in order to create the proper tone for shadowing. I combine blue, white, and black together, mixing them only twice, to keep the color from having a single tone. I proceed to the canvas, expecting nothing and yet knowing the result beforehand.
“That’s beautiful, Gail!” says Diana. She stopped again and I see the paint dripping off her brush onto the grass.
In the dark, one’s eyes can no longer deceive.
What they claimed to see so clearly is now a mystery,
A monster dwells in every dark corner, ready to disappear once the light returns
And to come back when it’s gone again.
One sits beside me, I know it well.
It has always been there.
Why do I remember that moment? It is of no significance to me. I look at the painting I made that day. It is beautiful. I trace it with my finger, and feel the paint’s layers brushing against me. It does not chip off, fortunately. I’ll to send it to my parents so they can take a look at my work. I want them to see what I can do. I want them to know what I love most about my life. I want them to know it, because they don’t think there’s a point in me living. I want to convince them, if only in order to convince myself
Why do I even love painting? It is hard, unrewarding, and sometimes cruel. It is bliss. I watch my hand move across a blank canvas and I can already see the stroke I would have made. Painting is creating. In the realm of my canvas, I am God. Everything I love about the world, everything I hate about the world, I can create it here, better. Anything is in my power. My brush is my wand, and the paint is magic. There is no magic in the world I live in, but there is always magic in the world I can create.
I paint to escape to a perfect world. To escape from what haunts me. To find a place where I could have a life worth living.
You are beautiful, it says to me.
You are revolting, it says to me.
In the dark, we are equal.
I, too, am a monster.
A letter came in the mail today. I don’t have to read it to know what it will say. It is from my father. My mother never responds; she hates me. I do not blame her. I rip the letter in half, again and again, wishing to rip it out of existence. In the trash can, I see fragments of sentences, handwritten. One of them says my name. I spit on it, and watch the letters distort. I don’t want to know my name. Let me be someone else for now.
It is a cold night. The windows in every room are open and the breeze caresses my skin with its frigid hands. I don’t want to think of it. I fall into my bed and hide under the sheets. It is just like then. I don’t want to remember. I think of the painting I sent to my parents. It was happiness. I want to see it again now. They don’t deserve it. I want it back.
Why did he do it? I ask myself. I thought he was my father. I thought this was my family, that I was his child. I feel him in the bed next to me, as he was that night. I feel his hands on me, his hot breath on the back of my neck. I can hear his voice whisper, as it did then. You are not my daughter.
The room is a silent witness.
I am caged in with the beast,
I look outside.
It is there, too.
Do you want to escape? It asks,
What will you escape from?
I am painting again. I am alone, yet I feel eyes all over me. My hand wavers, but I continue. I am not finished yet. The brush tears through the canvas and I leave it there. I grab another one and continue. This one is even sharper. My hand follows the lines that were burned into my mind. I apply too much pressure and the brush snaps in my hand. The paint splashes on me like blood. I stare at the broken pieces on the floor. My wand is broken, and the paint over it makes me look like a murder victim. I killed it.
What have you done? I ask of the canvas. It does not reply. The face in the unfinished painting glares at me, demanding me to continue. I throw my palette against it as hard as I can. The paint splatters against both of us. I rip out the brush sticking out of the canvas and stab through it again. It feels nothing. I envy it.
I feel accusing eyes everywhere. They look at me from every dark corner of the room. There are many. What have you done? Why? Wasn’t this what you loved? I have no answer.
The moon fades away in silence,
The street is changing colors.
I rise along with the sun,
Feeling strength gather within me.
The monster sneers and withers away,
Its grimace burns into my mind.
It has rained the night before. On my way to class, I watch the puddles as I approach them. They are all a disappointment; from a distance they reflect the beautiful sky, but the closer you get, the sooner you realize they are just a pale imitation. They want to be the sky, but they are here, bound to the Earth. They have already fallen.
One particular puddle reflects the tree above it as well as the sky. In its stillness, every single branch and leaf bud is perfectly duplicated. I feel as if I am looking at a portal to a different world. Is it the same on that other side? Perhaps someone else is looking at a puddle as well and seeing a portal to our own world?
I approach it slowly, in fear that it would stop reflecting and I will see through its fragile illusion. To my pleasure, the reflection stays the same. I lean over the puddle to see who will look back. I see someone there, someone who is just like me. There are the same eyes that look at me every morning, the same hair that I always brush away from my eyes. There is only one thing that I did not recognize. There is a smile there, perhaps nothing more than shadows playing a trick on me, but it is there. I raise my fingers to my lips and realized that I am smiling as well.
Have you ever played with mirrors?
You take two of them, and you pull them closer together.
At first there’s two reflections, then four, then eight,
It gets to that you can no longer pull the mirrors closer.
It’s just you now, an endless amount of you.
So many you can forget which one you are.
“You look happier than usual,” my professor remarks when I arrive at class. I realize that I am still smiling.
“Thank you, professor.”
“No, thank you, Gail. It is a rare pleasure.”
The professor has never been so kind to me. She is often stern and barely spoke more than two words to me other than greetings. My classmates call her Ms. Heartless. Until this moment, I thought of her in the same terms.
I approach the canvas slowly now, as if a worthy opponent. I see the tight fabric woven together to make a sheet, the smallest imperfections, the angle that is cast upon it from the classroom window, the stray strands that stick out on the sides. I know what I am going to paint already, but I want to say goodbye to what is about to fade before my eyes. I trace a finger against the canvas, feeling its rough texture. I could feel it with my brush just as well, but today I want to know the feeling even better. I press harder, remembering the painting I destroyed last night. The canvas bends slightly, but does not give in. I pull my hand away, having asserted that this canvas is not the same. I am not the same.
I do not sketch beforehand as I am supposed to, nor do I make a base layer. I mix the colors already, knowing exactly where everything will go. I remember the shapes, I remember the shading; there is no detail that could stump me. I remember the smile. The colors are perfect, I am ready. I dip my brush into the paint and begin. My professor has never seen me start a painting in such frenzy. She stands behind me, not knowing whether to stop me or to tell me to continue. I smile, knowing she couldn’t even if she dared to try. I am painting. I am alive.
Is there another world?
A world inside a mirror?
I would escape reality if I could,
I’d be happy to be my own reflection.
But what if I already am?
What if I can make my own dreamscape?
The professor stays with me long after the class has ended in order to not disturb me. Since the first brush stroke, I was out of anyone’s reach, and she understood that. Class went on as usual, with everyone trying not to pay attention to me. I was painting in ways I have never done before, ways I haven’t been taught. It was neither an emotion nor a feeling that being expressed on the canvas; it was a single thought. My wand was no longer broken and I could create again. I finish and sign my name at the bottom. It would feel incomplete without it. I take a step back to admire the painting as a whole. It is finished. It is like looking back in time; a single moment captured perfectly as it were. I see the slight smile on my face. It is slight, just as it really was, perhaps even a small trick caused by the reflection. But perhaps not.
The professor claps slowly when I turn to her. There is a kind smile on her stern face, a smile I have not seen before. It is not unlike the smile on my own face.
“You’ve improved yet again,” she says, emphasizing every word. Her voice sounds harsh in comparison to their meanings.
“Thank you. I apologize for taking so much time-“, I start to say, but she raises a hand to stop me.
“Do not apologize. Today I got to experience something I wished for when I first began to teach painting. I wanted to see someone I taught painting in such a way. I wanted to see stunning beauty created by an able mind. It was my wish, and because of you, it was granted. Apologizing for it would be an insult to both of us.”
We both admire the painting for a while. In that moment, there was nothing but the canvas in existence. Then the teacher put her hand on my shoulder.
”Leave it here to dry overnight. You can take it home after that.”
Before I leave, the professor calls out to me.
“Gail, does this painting have a name?”
I stop at the door because I have not thought about it at all. Does one need to name something as simple as this? I wonder. I look at the painting and its name comes to me immediately, as if it was carved into the canvas.
“My Dreamscape, and My World.”
Today I had a prophecy,
Tonight I won’t be frightened.
The darkness is mine, the light is mine.
This is my world, this is my life.
My fears, my hate, my happiness, my love.
They all belong to me.
Something is in my eyes. I open them and see the moon shining outside. It is white as always, but its edges glow a pale blue. I smile, thinking how the moon is just a reflection of the sun. And yet they both exist, don’t they? As I look up, I start to realize I can see other stars in the sky. It is late, and there are few lights to block them out. I sit up in my bed, admiring a sight I have missed for so long.
It has been two years since I visited my parents in the country. It was not a pleasant experience; my mother had known of what my father was doing to me, but blamed me for it. I only came to beg for money from them and they knew it. My mother refused to talk to me. I wanted to hear nothing from my father. The silence in the house on that day was not unlike tonight. I knew that I would have to stop depending on them. I knew on that day that I would have to live on for my own sake. I was terrified.
I drove back to the city on that evening. I did not want to think of what might have happened if I stayed there for the night. The sun slowly burned out on the horizon behind me, and the sky turned black. The road was empty and I never felt so alone in my entire life. I approached a streetlight after streetlight and counted them so that I wouldn’t sleep. Then I noticed the stars. Immediately I stopped my car to get a better look at them. I didn’t know for how long I stood there or why. I know it now.
All those stars belong to other worlds, worlds that I will never be able to reach or experience. I will never know what the sky looks like there, if there is ever day or night, if it ever rains or snows, if there are men and women there, just like here. I can only know what is here, in my world. This is where I live. And whether my life is good or bad, it is my life. I cherish it.
The monster appears beside me in silence,
We look into each other’s eyes.
“You are me, too,” I say.
I reach out my hand to touch it and it does the same,
Our hands touch, and it disappears, a smile on its face.
I am asleep.