A Work of Art, Part 2
8.27.2002 by , every Tuesday.
This story's still mucky in places but I like it more and more each time I read it. I hope you enjoy the second part. For the first part, go here.
The spotlight on the desk was too bright. Chris went to it. Wincing from the glare of the white papers, he leaned over and flicked it off. The atmosphere in the room changed instantly; it was softer, mellower. Chris thought a little, then went to the other lights in his room and switched them off, one by one.
Frustration gripped him suddenly. He hadn’t started his work of art, and he had no ideas. He commanded his mind to action, but the harder he hunted down an inspiration, the less it showed itself.
He returned to the bed and decided to will himself to relax. The enveloping darkness made it easy. He started with his toes, clenching and then relaxing them. Slowly he moved the wave of relaxation across his body. Soon he slid off his bed and onto the floor.
He lay there for a while, staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars on his ceiling, and letting his eyes draw forms slowly from the darkness. Soon he could make out his bed, and the desk, like a shadowy hunched beast.
The silence was tangible. Chris began to imagine creatures hiding under his bed. They would be coiled and waiting, hoping for treats from above. He stuck a hand out under his bed and surprised himself by jerking it back in fear. He began to imagine that, in the instant in which he’d switched off the last light, all of his bedroom furniture had been snatched away by strange look alike monsters, who had then assumed their place. They were sitting, silent, their breathing imperceptible. Perhaps if he jumped up very quickly and switched on a light, he’d see a hump backed, leathery thing with many blinking eyes, in place of his chair.
The monsters were all around him; they were keeping very still. What were they waiting for?
Chris smiled sheepishly. There was no such thing as monsters. Then his smile dropped, as he reflected further and realized that only his dim sense of reality was keeping him from fleeing. He thought he knew there were no monsters. Maybe his entire life had been carefully orchestrated to propagate this lie; then, one night-- such a night as this, perhaps-- as he stood helpless, the monsters would switch his furniture and move in for the kill.
There was a tapping at the window.
Chris felt like someone had touched his spine with jumper cables. He froze, his heart pounding, wanting yet not wanting to turn his head. Finally he took control of his fears and stood up to face the window.
The window had become a source of dull light, as the sky was completely obscured by clouds. Heavy amorphous snowflakes were striking his window, making tiny ticking sounds. Chris’ eyes grew wide in amazement.
The streetlights were surrounded by nimbuses of falling flakes. The air was full of them. They swirled and danced in the wind.
* * *
Chris pounded down the stairs, turned the latch and opened the door. The wind blasted his body, and snowflakes stuck to his hair and face.
In a daze, he stumbled outside. The night was alive with snow. There was already a thin white layer on the sidewalk, and the stark bare trees, glittering now, had become benign and whimsical spirits.
As Chris walked down the road, he became aware of an icy wetness at his feet. He looked down and noticed that he wasn’t wearing any shoes. He pulled off his socks and tossed them away.
It was now very, very late in the night. There were no cars on the street, and no lights in the windows of the little houses. The snow played all around him. Chris imagined that, in a dim, animal sense, it could feel his presence. There were faces in the sheets of snow; they laughed and spoke, and he was lost in their world.
As he stumbled along, dazed, Chris began to think. He wondered why he was outside. He wondered why he was barefoot. He wondered why he was so tired.
There was something he was supposed to do. He looked back at the wet dark trail of his footprints snaking down the street. He walked a little faster, and then he began to run.
He ran on and on, with no purpose or direction. He was only dimly aware of his scratched and sore feet. As he raced past an apartment building, it came to him. The art. He was supposed to be making a work of art. Time was running out. He had to turn back.
Chris wheeled around and careened back the way he’d come. The snow wasn’t so friendly now. It was cold and painful where it struck his face. His entire body felt damp.
After a long time, panting and heaving, cut and sore, Chris stumbled through the door of his house. He dragged himself up the stairs and went to his room. Everything felt very still.
The paint brushes hadn’t moved. The pencil crayons, the 2B pencil, the papers, they were still perfectly arranged. He switched on the standing light and tried to smooth back his tangled wet hair.
He was hungry, he realized. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast that morning. Lunch and dinner had slipped his mind. But there was no food in his room. He picked up the red paint, and thought about painting an apple, but he quickly decided that it would be torture. He put it down in the same spot.
Suddenly Chris felt spiteful of the perfect way in which he’d arranged his supplies. They were almost mocking him. It was long through the dark realm past midnight and he hadn’t started his work of art. He didn’t understand why; when he was younger it had come so easily. In frustration, he swept his hand across the pencils and brushes and scattered them across the desk.
Then he shoved away the coloured papers. They flew about his room. He picked one up, tore it into halves, and crumpled them. He knocked over the stool. He picked up the pile of thin papers and the pile of thick papers and threw them against the wall. Finally, he tipped over the desk. Then he threw himself on the floor, in the wreckage, and began to cry.
He didn’t know why he was crying. His head was on a piece of orange paper, and his tears painted dark splotches on its surface. He cried until exhaustion took him. Then he lay there, eyes open but unseeing; shaking, bleeding, wet.
Slowly the force of his actions sunk in.
Chris turned off the lights again, so he wouldn’t see what he’d done. Surrounded by the silent furniture monsters, he sat motionless, and gave way to exhaustion and depression.
He sat for hours. He rose only once, to clear the debris into a corner.
The snow stopped. The clouds dissipated. Dawn pooled its resources at the horizon and began to spread across the sky.
Chris was so drained that he could hardly see. But just as the sun began to rise, he saw something on his floor that made him blink.
There. Glowing in the dawn light. It wasn’t the debris of his supplies; he’d shoved that out of sight. It wasn't the floor itself, because the floor was a blur. No, there was something else. It was beautiful. It was perfect. It was: a work of art.
Just as his eyes began to close, and he felt himself sinking into unconsciousness, Chris pushed his energy into a smile, suffused with wonder.
He could see it.
There, on his floor.
A work of art.
He closed his eyes.