It was a blur of red, black, and gray paint that swirled around what appeared to be a head that had yet to be painted. Audrey sat on the floor staring at the beginnings of what was to be a portrait, but a portrait of who?
The canvas sat on a paint splattered easel in the center of a large artists loft. A paint stand beside it cluttered with colorful tubes of paint and a well used pallet. The rest of the large expanse of room was littered with abstract paintings stacked aimlessly against the walls and a pile of fresh canvases.
A small kitchenette was in the far left corner with dirty dishes randomly stacked in the sink. The bathroom was to the right tucked under a landing where her bed perched unmade. A pile of clothes overflowed a wicker basket at the end of the bed. An open flight of stairs led from the landing to the floor of her new home. A simple faded pink lounge chair with a floor lamp for reading were the only other furnishings in the loft. A stack of books sat beside the chair, untouched.
She stared at the canvas. The colors were ugly and undulating. Audrey had never painted a portrait before, but she did not consider herself the artist of this particular work of art. It seemed to have painted itself. Her hands moved with the brush, but her mind was elsewhere.
Audrey just shook her head, got up and gingerly took the canvas from the easel and placed it against the wall. She would start over.
She nervously paced the room, deep in thought, as she waited for inspiration.
A series of knocks broke her concentration. She crossed to the large wooden door and slowly cracked it open to see another artist with a flier to his art show. Audrey's long mop of red hair and her deep penetrating green eyes unnerved the young man. He quickly handed her the flier and began to speak, but she cut him off saying, “Good Luck,” in a terse voice and quickly closed the door. She crumpled up the flier and tossed it angrily across the room.
Audrey was a lithe woman in her forties. She had rented the loft only a month before to get away from everything and everyone. She left most of her belongings in the house that was her mother's. She had been a caregiver for ten long years until her mother drew her last breath. Her sisters always criticized her for not taking good enough care of her mom, but they were unwilling to help. Their constant bickering made Audrey retreat into herself. She felt bitter and resentful.
She was to inherit her mother's house, but she wanted nothing to do with it... let her sisters sort it out.
Audrey turned to her easel and there it was. The painting she had only moments before removed from the easel was back. How? She retraced her steps and was certain she had placed it against the wall, but then convinced herlself she had imagined it.
After another look, the colors seemed to blend into one another in a rather strange but intriguing way. She crossed to the paint stand, picked up the brush, and began to paint.
She looked up. Time had passed and she hadn't realized what she had done. She stepped back and examined what was now a painting of a woman with a mop of long red hair and deep penetrating green eyes. The flesh was ashen and wrinkled, and tears streaked from the eyes. The rest of the face had not been filled in.
She recognized the eyes as her own. Is this what I think of myself?
She slumped down on the floor and started to cry. Years of caring for her mother caught up with her. Bathing her... administering medicines... spoon feeding her. She loved her mother. Her passing was long, difficult and painful. Audrey was the only one there when her mother died. It was the first time in her life she saw death, as her mother struggled to breathe and then just stopped.
Audrey often wondered if anyone would be there for her when she died. She had isolated herself having taken care of her mother for so long. She had no life... no friends... no children. All she had were her paintings. She tried to let those thoughts pass from her mind.
She felt a sharp pain in her chest and a sudden feeling of vertigo. She stretched herself out on the floor to catch her breath.
She needed air.
Audrey wiped away the tears and pulled herself up... crossed to the stairs and climbed to the landing where she grabbed a long shawl from the wicker basket. Carelessly, she draped it on over her paint splattered blouse and jeans.
Audrey found herself on the bustling street. Eyes down as to avoid the crowds, she quickly turned the corner to a deserted alleyway. The air was crisp and clear. Just what she needed to clear her mind, but she was awash in memories... what seemed to be a lifetime of bad memories. Memories she wanted to forget.
Unable to account for how long she had walked, she realized the day had faded fast. She turned a corner and headed back home. Audrey liked the sound of that. Home. Her home, not her mother's. Her refuge from everyone.
The next thing she knew, she stood in the open doorway to her loft. The painting glared at her. It now had a nose. Slender and sharp. Her nose. Pale full lips spread out in a anguished horrified gaping mouth. Tears streaked from the eyes. She was confused, bewildered, and terrified. Did I paint that before I left?
She approached the painting. The paint was still fresh. She was afraid to touch it. It was ghastly. Audrey couldn't believe she would paint such a horrific self portrait.
The painting filled her with dread. Am I losing my sanity? She crossed to the kitchenette, pulled a glass from the sink, rinsed it out and filled it with water. She took large gulps emptying it quickly, then filled it again and again. She couldn't satisfy her thirst. She was unaware of how long she lingered there.
When she turned, the same young artist with a flier in his hand stood in the middle of the room.
Audrey glared at the man ready to confront him for entering her loft, when she noticed his eyes. They looked down with a mixture of grief and shock. She followed his eyes down. There she finally noticed a body sprawled on the floor.
Slowly and with an unusual feeling of calm, as if all her worldly worries suddenly lifted from her, she crossed to the body. It had a mop of long red hair, deep penetrating green eyes, a slender sharp nose and a horrified gaping mouth. A tear streaked face with flesh ashen and wrinkled. A body frozen in death. A blur of red, black and gray paint on the floor around it.
Beside the body, on the easel, stood a blank canvas.