Authors: Stephie Walls
© 2016 by Stephie Walls
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
ISBN 13: 978-1530838691
] (n) – a thing that is hoped or wished for but in fact is illusory or impossible to achieve
hen Sylvie died
, it left a hole in my being that seemed prodigious. I adorn my face with the plastic appearance people anticipate from me, but internally, I weep. Continuing through the monotonous motion of my daily life, I increasingly find myself lost in what my friends—well, those who remain—refer to as a fictional world: novels, authors, artists, musicians, and the illusion of relationships on social media. The more time I spend on Facebook, the more entrenched I become in the fiction that exists on the screen. I believe these “friends” are truly concerned for me; they’re what relationships are in reality. Sadly, these seem to be the only things keeping me hanging on, but the thread threatens to break daily, frayed from top to bottom. The tightly woven fabric that was once my life has deteriorated beyond recognition.
That’s the crux of my juxtaposition. My life had value, it had meaning. It was everything I had ever imagined it could be. But without Sylvie, black clouds roll through my mind, hindering my ability to think, eliminating productivity, and stifling my creativity. My art is as dead as I am. But online…online I can be anything I want to be, whatever version of myself I decide to show to the world. I don’t have to be the pathetic artist who lost his muse. I don’t have to be the sweet, sensitive man Sylvie loved. I don’t know whom I want to reinvent myself as, but the idea of being whatever still exists in my soul doesn’t appeal to me. My craft has become recreating my persona, anything to escape the pain, the desolation, and the solitude. Surely there’s art in recreating an identity.
Most days, I find it difficult to even get out of bed. The colder it gets outside, the shorter the days are, the deeper I sink—sometimes only escaping the protection of my covers to take a piss or get something to eat or drink. Although frequently, I let those things go in favor of marinating in my misery. My laptop calls to me from my nightstand when the loneliness becomes too much to bear, the darkness too black to see through.
That recognizable blue-and-white screen brings me comfort, the newsfeed seemingly a link to real conversation, touching base with the people I’ve known for years—but it always introduces the possibility of newcomers. The “friend recommendation” is the online equivalent to a friend introducing you to someone new; at least it is in my mind. I always check out the recommendations. They’re often other painters or singers that might have known Sylvie—or people I barely recognize from high school or college. But every once in a while, some totally random person surfaces with no tie to my past.
Those are the connections I find most interesting, most appealing.
They also seem to be the safest, having no knowledge of the person I once was, or how all that remains of me is a fragmented shell. I have made several “friends” this way, people I would say I’m close to—even though we’ve never met and likely never will. Herein lies my
, the one my
friends don’t understand and believe to be emotionally damaging to me. I’m not processing my grief…blah, blah, blah. If I hear that shit one more time, I may scream.
As soon as I log in, the familiar recommendations bombard me as if the universe is playing some cruel joke. There she is, my Sylvie…only her name is Sera Martin. She’s a perfect duplicate with the same striking green eyes, long chestnut-colored hair, high cheekbones, and luscious, pouty lips.
I realize I haven’t inhaled or exhaled.
I gasp and hold my breath until my lungs burn. I haven’t seen her in years. The day she died, I came home and stripped our house of any reminder—every picture, every video, every stitch of clothing, anything she loved. It all had to leave. I couldn’t bear the weight of what the world took from me. I imagined if I discarded everything, she wouldn’t haunt me, and maybe, somehow, I would manage to learn to live again if reminders of her didn’t surround me.
Yet, her loss possesses me daily.
This girl. This Sera. Could this be Mother Nature returning my Sylvie to me in a strange twist of fate? The notion there’s a doppelganger roaming the world has always been a thought I believe in. It’s possible after years of suffering, dying inside, barely hanging on, that my savior has come. Without hesitation, I click “add friend.”
Sera responds to my request with a private message.
: Wow! Are you really Bastian Thames?
: Yes. Have we met before?
: Once, but I doubt you’d remember. It was at a gallery down on the West End where your work was being featured a couple years ago. Is this the real Bastian? Not some lurker claiming to be the famous artist?
: Far cry from famous, but yes, one and the same. Are you certain we met that night? I remember the opening and can assure you I would have remembered you.
: Yes, you were with your wife. She’s quite lovely. I’m not sure which was more beautiful, her or the nudes you had in the collection. That showing was the talk of the art community for months around here.
: That was the last opening I did. Seems like a lifetime ago.
: Are you not painting anymore? I hate to admit that I lost track of your work when I went off to college but for years, I was a huge fan.
: Life happened. I haven’t painted in some time.
: I can’t imagine you quit painting. Surely you just quit putting them out for the public.
: No. I haven’t so much as held a brush in five years.
: That’s a shame. Hey look, Bastian, I have to run out but I accepted your request. I hope maybe we can talk some later. Maybe you’ll let me pick your brain about a project I’m working on?
: Certainly. I hope to hear from you soon.
My mind races with possibilities. I immediately go to her profile to see what information I can garner on her before our next conversation—assuming one comes. Jesus, she’s twenty-five, went to the Rhode Island School of Design, graduated with her Masters in Fine Arts, and holy hell, she’s a sculptor. If these pictures are of her work, then she has phenomenal talent. Scouring her profile provides only surface-level information. There’s almost nothing personal. The pictures all seem to be with other artists or at galleries or in a studio. Moving to her wall, I find tons of posts by other local artists, memes about artwork, jokes…the proverbial Facebook bullshit.
I almost quit scrolling when I see a post that grabs my attention. There’s a picture of two beautiful women, scantily clad, one bent over, the other yielding a paddle, and the words, “Someone’s been a bad girl.” Jesus Christ. There are one hundred forty-seven comments and two hundred fifty-three likes on the thread posted by a Maria Martin.
I click on Maria’s name first, assuming it will be a sister or cousin, not expecting it to be her mother. Holy shit, whose mother posts this kind of profanity on their daughter’s Facebook wall? Making my way back to the thread, I find myself enthralled by the dialogue.
It’s cheeky and playful but talk about insight. This one picture, one conversation, tells me scads about who she is personally, not about her work, but seemingly what she enjoys—intimately. Reading her responses to the comments ignites a fire in an area of my anatomy I thought had died with Sylvie. As my cock starts to twitch, that old, familiar heat seeps through my crotch.
I stop myself, realizing I’m staring at dialogue—about a woman who could be my dead wife’s twin—between people I don’t know. It’s morbid, really. Backing out of the comments and Sera’s profile, then I set the computer aside. I don’t close the laptop for fear of missing a message from her. Lying back, I stare at the all-too-familiar ceiling. I know every blemish on the drywall with aching familiarity. There have been hours of loneliness and isolation. The depth of pain is so fathomless, I often wonder how I made it to the next day without feeling the cold steel in my hand, without pulling the trigger.
open my eyes
, groggily fighting the irresistible pull of drowsiness. Realization dawns on me that I’d dozed off. The final light before sundown peers through my window like the bleak brightness that fights to break through my soul. My room, normally a tomb of darkness, is illuminated in an almost romantic light. The way the shadows dance on the walls generates a creative tickle in my hand. What I wouldn’t give to have the desire to paint, to once again see the world as a continuous canvas where the oils and acrylics bring my imagination to life. Even if I could manage to paint again, I don’t have any brushes here. I have nothing resembling artistic supplies of any kind.
The first hint of laughter escapes my lips as I snicker with the image of creating a masterpiece with my fingers. Jumping out of bed, I scamper across the floor. Halfway through the living room, I stop and turn on the ball of my foot. I race back to my room, grab my laptop, and forge my way toward the kitchen.
Jesus. I work quickly. I’m afraid the inspiration will fade if I don’t harness it. With my computer connected to Bluetooth, music fills the air. A playlist I haven’t heard in so long comes on and I stop mid-step, soaking in the sensation that used to drive my art. As the memories flood my mind, an air of sadness begins to seep in. I shake it off, unwilling to allow negativity to sneak in and take back over. This is just a whim; it’s not serious art—it’s finger painting applied to the wall in the kitchen.
I’m free to create with no criticizing eyes.
No one else will see this.
I don’t even know what
In an effort to find mediums, I start opening cabinets, grabbing peanut butter, jelly, bread, peas, crackers, and canned beans. On to the fridge, I find raspberries, blueberries, cream cheese. Anything with texture and color makes its way to the counter. I don’t bother to close the doors as I grab bowls to mix my pallet, using juice, berries, and cream cheese. Some of the most vibrant colors begin to emerge. The plethora of hues is astounding.
Convinced I have what I need to start, I take note of the surface, deciding which to use. I watch the remaining sunlight—the way it hits the sheetrock, how the shadows dance on the plaster. Deciding on the wall with the most direct light, I push the breakfast table out of the way and move the chairs to the far corner. With my bowls and provisional pallet scattered across the countertop, I traipse over to the makeshift canvas.
I allow the music to take over, as I reach into the dishes and cover my fingers with blues rich in color and flavor. It’s smooth from the cream cheese, bursting with intensity from the berries. With no inclination of where this is going or what I’m
, I lose myself.
The last inkling of light from the windows fades into a shroud of darkness that tries to worm its way in. With no concept of time, no one looking for me, no one to answer to, the hours escape without notice. Then the sun rises, and the forms begin to take shape, the piece growing exponentially with each tick of the clock. I’ve worked through the night and into the next day, stopping only to relieve myself and mix more color, adding crushed crackers for texture or chunks of bread for depth, amazed they’re holding their place. Somehow, even with the warmth of the room, the food clings to the surface.
A knock on my door draws my attention away, startling me.
Fuck. My hands have dried cream cheese and chunky peanut butter caked on them, and I have nothing to clean them with.
I climb out of the mess I’ve created in my makeshift studio and race to the locked front door. The knocks have escalated to pounding. “For fucks sake! I’m coming!” I shout at the intruder. I throw the door open and find Nate standing on the opposite side. His face is the color of the raspberries I’ve been pureeing in the kitchen.
“For God’s sake, Bastian. I’ve been beating on your door for five minutes. I was starting to think you’d finally pulled the fucking trigger. What the hell are you doing, and why is your door locked?” He looks at my hands long enough that I stop to see what he’s staring at. Smears of dried food cover me from head to toe.
“Try calling before you come, Nate. I wasn’t expecting anyone.” It doesn’t really bother me. The fact is, Nate has been coming to my house every afternoon at five-thirty since the day Sylvie died, just to ensure I haven’t ended it all.
“I haven’t called in years, and I’m not starting now. What the fuck are you doing? Are you cooking?” He pushes past me with annoyance.
With my hands in front of me like a surgeon who just scrubbed in, I kick the door closed behind him and turn to watch him make his way into my home. I stand frozen, wondering how this will play out, well aware he’s going to think I’m off my rocker if he steps foot in my kitchen.
“Nothing, man. I’m not doing anything.”
“You’re definitely up to something, and by the looks of you, it’s one of your weird fucking idiosyncrasies. You look like shit. How long have you been up this time?”
Trying to divert his attention from the kitchen, I say, “Look, Nate, I’m fine. Thanks for checking on me, but you can head out. Maybe we can catch up tomorrow.”
“Holy shit. You’re trying to get rid of me. What are you hiding? Why is there food all over your hands?” He smirked, inferring he wasn't fooled, nor leaving. Fuck.
“Can’t you just let this one go? I’m begging you.”
“Not a chance in hell. You wanna tell me what you’re up to, or should I just keep moving until I find it?”
Nate and I have been best friends since conception—at least that’s the story our mothers told us. We’ve always been together because they were always together. There is no part of my life he is unaware of, but not in a sick female henhouse kind of way, just the way brothers would be if, indeed, we were related.
When Sylvie got sick, he knew before I told him, like one of those damn dogs that can sense shit. When she actually died, he was at my doorstep. No one had told him because I hadn’t even called the ambulance at that point. The fucker is just oddly in tune with me. I used to be the same with him, like twins in a way, anticipating the other’s needs, but after Sylvie, I became so engrossed in my own twisted nightmare that I quit listening to the inner voices telling me what he needed. I just succumbed to my own hell.
I love Nate, but I hate his ass at times like this. I can’t deter him, he won’t leave peacefully, and once he walks into the kitchen, the rapid-fire questions won’t stop until I satisfy him.
I sigh, silently admitting defeat. “Kitchen.”
“Did a bomb go off in here?” he questions as he pushes the chairs aside when he goes into my makeshift studio. Suddenly, the sound of his heavy footsteps on the hardwood floors stop. The moment he sees the mess on the wall, I know. I wait with bated breath for the fallout.
“My God! Did you do this?”
I don’t respond.
“Is this food on the wall?” It’s a rhetorical question. Obviously, it’s food on the wall.
I drop my head in shame. I knew it wasn’t a work of art. For Christ’s sake, it’s an edible finger-painting on the wall in my kitchen. Slowly, I walk to the doorway, unable to make eye contact for fear of the condemnation I’m sure to see on his face. As I lift my gaze, I find Nate with his cell phone in hand, snapping pictures of the wall, and I get my first glimpse of the work as a whole, not submerged in its pieces. I expected an elementary mess to catch my eye, but instead, I receive the reward of colors that take my breath away as the light of the afternoon reflects off them.
“Bastian, what the hell happened between last night and today? You swore off art years ago. Have you seen this?” He talks more to himself than to me, his unanswered questions filling the air.
I watch the wonder in his eyes. This is my favorite part of being an artist—someone taking in a piece I’ve slaved over and seeing in it what my heart attempted to put on a canvas.
“Seriously, what happened?” He stops snapping pictures and turns to look at me, waiting for an answer.
I run my hand through my dark hair that needed a cut weeks ago, leaving a creamy mess like gel in the waves. “I don’t have any paint.” That’s my brilliant response. I don’t have any paint. Fuck, I’m so poetic.
“You don’t have any paint?” He looks as confused as I feel dumb.
“No. No brushes or canvases…so I improvised.” I shrug my shoulders, hoping he’ll drop it. This has been a huge step for me. The wrong words from my best friend could send me crashing back down the rabbit hole of depression.
“You improvised…” He lets the words hang in the air as though he didn’t understand their literal meaning. “Have you seen this, Bastian?” he repeats.
“Look, Nate, I know it sucks and I know it’s stupid to paint in food. I just had a moment mixed with a need and—”
“This is brilliant, man. I’ve never seen you do anything other than nudes. This is…fuck. I don’t even have a word for this. I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but seriously, this is amazing. Truly.” When he makes eye contact, I recognize his sincerity. He only holds my stare for a second or two before turning back to the wall. “I don’t know how the hell you’re going to capture this to sell it, but seriously, man, it’s out of this world.”
When I stop focusing on his reaction and turn my attention to the wall, I admit, it’s one of the most intricate pieces I’ve ever done. The colors are astounding, and somehow, it captures an emotion I don’t remember ever feeling. The abstract nature calls to me. The painting still needs more work. It wants more of my time but, so far, I’m in awe of what I see.
“Wash your hands and change your clothes. Hell, better yet, go take a damn shower. I’ll wait for you. Let’s go get a pint and a slice and you can tell me where you found your inspiration again,” he suggests as he plops his six-foot-four-inch frame on my couch. I swear he’s a fucking mammoth. It’s no wonder women won’t keep his ass around. My guess is they’re afraid of what having his child might do to their poor body.
“I’m gonna pass.”
“Nope. You’re not. You never leave this place, and I want to know what got into you. On our way home, we’ll stop at the supply warehouse and buy paints, brushes, and canvases so you can put your hand to use creating art again instead of jacking off. I’m not arguing or leaving, so just go do it.”
I debate silently. The lesser of two evils is to go with him. Two hours tops and I can be back here. But if I leave and Sera messages me, I won’t get it until I get back. For the first time in my life, I regret my decision to not carry a cell phone or even own one. Damn. I could have the messenger app on my phone and never worry about missing her. Fuck. I make a mental note to purchase a cell phone if I hear from Sera again and then I surrender to the shower.