Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Prompt: The blind painter

“Are you done yet? I’m tired,” she whined in a petulant tone. I didn’t have to see her to know she was a child of privilege, used to getting her own way in all things.

“I know it’s tiring to pose for so long. I appreciate your patience. Just a little bit longer,” I tried not to use the tone I reserved for small children, though they were often more polite and better behaved than she had been throughout the sitting.

I rolled my shoulders and ignored the ache in my arms from holding palette and brushes. I lifted the brush back to the canvas and hesitated. I had lost my place. I closed my eyes, then opened them wide, allowing the light to wash across them. It made no difference to my physical sight—I was true-blind, without even the sense of light and dark. But the inner sight faded into view, and I continued the delicate brush strokes that completed her portrait.

“There—it’s done!”

She squealed and fabric rustled as she leaped out of the chair. “Oh! I want to see!”

I stood and held out a hand. “Forgive me, madam. I must remind you to wait until the painting is brought into the privacy of your own home. That is the final condition of our agreement, if you recall.”

I could hear the pout on her lips. “After I pay you, you mean. What if I don’t like it?”

“I assure you, madam, you may return the painting and I will refund your money in full if you wish. No client has ever done so.”

She sniffed and more fabric rustled as she dressed. “Very well, when will it be delivered?”

“On the morrow, madam. You should pay me before you leave, please,” I said patiently. Again.

After she left, I turned the painting toward the window to absorb the afternoon light and any starlight visible through the city smog. 

Friends were waiting for me at the corner café for dinner, and afterwards we walked down to the jazz club to listen to a new singer of astonishing vocal range. She came to our table and shook all of our hands. She held on to mine last as we chatted. The candlelight glowed all around her as the inner vision came into focus, and I blurted out, “May I paint you?”

She laughed and squeezed my hand. “But of course. When shall I come to your studio?”

One of my friends, Henri, laughed and said, “Careful, dear. You might not like it. Borchìn here doesn’t see things like we do. If he paints you, it will be your true self.”

I could hear the skepticism in her voice. “My true self? Darling, what you see if what you get!” She laughed again and promised to come to my studio the next day.

Dreams tormented me all through the night. The singer’s voice laughing, the petulant client crying. I couldn’t help what I painted, I never even saw it myself. From the beginning, when I realized the inner vision was related to the people around me, I started drawing, then painting. But I had no idea how closely what I put on paper or canvas matched my mind’s eye. I started selling portraits in the artists’ alley, then bought this studio. My best friend, Robert, watched my early efforts and advised me to insist that clients take them home before looking at them. He’s the one who said I should offer a refund—I was insulted by the very idea—at the same time he assured me no one would ever request it. He was right.

My fingers twitched with restless impatience in the morning. When the doorbell rang, I ran down the stairs to welcome her. It was only the grocery delivery, and I had to search for a few bills to hand him a tip. As I finished putting everything away, the bell rang again. I knew it was her this time. I felt it, somehow, saw a lightening to my darkness.

She came up into the studio and walked around in silence, looking at my paintings. I think I held my breath, waiting for her to speak.

Quietly, she asked, “Why do you paint all these fantastical monsters? Where are your portraits?”

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Brindle

Canadian Brass, Baroque Brass

Time writing:
25 minutes

March word count:


  1. Prompt: The blind painter

    I remembered how the sunlight used to look, streaming through the gauze curtains. It was a warm white-yellow, flickering as the curtains billowed in a spring breeze.

    I felt the breeze on my cheek and turned my unseeing eyes to face where the curtains would be. Were they the same white, filmy things of my memory? The curtains had been changed twice in the decade since I lost my sight; once to replace the (Molly said) tattered originals, and once after a violent summer storm had sent a branch crashing through the window and shredding the curtains. Had Molly replaced this second pair with a sturdier fabric? But the softness of the breeze suggested it was hindered only by the light touch in my memory.

    "Sir Gerald?" Molly called, her voice light and accompanying two pairs of footsteps. The second sounded tinier than even Molly's dainty feet. "I have the child."

    "Come here, little one," I said, reaching out my arms.
    The tiny footsteps approached. A slight, warm hand touched my own.

    "Guide his hand to your face," Molly said.

    The small hand pulled mine, and I let it, finally resting my palm on a soft cheek. "Like this?" said a young voice, ambiguously sexless.

    "Yes," I answered for Molly, bringing my other hand in and feeling the contours of the child's face. I recognised this face, though could not recall which of my paintings had held an adult version. I racked my brain, spinning through noblemen draped in fripperies, aboard horses, lounging on stools; ladies prim on a chaise, standing at a window, cuddling a pup. But none matched.

    I could hear that Molly had stopped breathing. She would say nothing to pressure me, though, even though we all knew I was the last who remembered the late Queen and her court, the last who might place this foundling. The last, too, who knew just how well I had known the Queen. My heart sank as I realised I, too had failed. And yet...yet the high forehead, the sloping cheekbones: it was as familiar as my own face.

    My hands froze.

    I fought to move them again, finish their motion. "I'm sorry," I said, dropping my arms. "I don't know."

    1. Oh, I really got a chill at the end of this! I loved how much he described his memory of light and the curtains. Good one, Anne!

    2. Thanks! I had no idea where it was going at the start, but once I knew it was like it could not have gone anywhere else (if that makes sense?)

  2. I really got into yours! It felt so abrupt when it ended; I wanted to read more...

    1. Thanks, Anne. You bring up a good point - I don't indicate whether I consider a piece "finished". I didn't think of this one as complete, for instance. You're giving me great feedback and ideas for improvement on the blog itself, as well as my writing! I appreciate you, Anne!

    2. Oh, thanks! And I appreciate you doing this. Having to post something really makes me keep going when I might have otherwise not.