The Red Painting


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4 min
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Image of Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

A portrait of a young lady, waiting in the garden next to her house. A frozen memory of her face as she sits on a swing behind a tree. I first noticed the painting during one of my school trips to the museum of art. Every week we came and learned about artists from the past to then try and imitate their techniques. Yet, from all the art around the room, this painting was special. It belonged to no one. It came without a signature, and no one ever met the artist who painted it. It arrived one morning as a donation from one of the museum’s sponsors—a very rich man. The painting took hold of my soul from the very first moment I saw it. I could not let my eyes off of it, for how beautiful it was. It seemed like I was the only one who cared about the painting, because my group went on to the next room without paying any more attention, and I stayed. I stayed there until the day ended and the guards had to walk me out of the museum. Every day since that moment I have come back to the museum just to look at that magnificent work of art, and here I am today, quietly staring at the painting: no author, nothing but red.

Everything was red. The painting, it had a big, deep sky, but it was not blue. The clouds were round scarlet stains of paint, but they were not white. The leaves of the trees fell like drops of blood, but none was green. The shadows of the painting went from the brightest shade of red to the darkest, creating a contrast between all the elements, but still, everything was red. Even the face of the young lady, whose hair will blush on flames of crimson fire. Her lips, oh her lips were soft brush-strokes that created a ginger smile. But her eyes, her hypnotic eyes, were always the most captivating part of them all. They would stare straight at you, shining like two perfect rubies, taking the light away from the room and leaving you in darkness. A darkness like the one of the pupils in her eyes. Such deep marks of paint, fiercely standing one in front of the other, creating a color as dark as a forest in the night. Still, if you looked carefully, you could tell it was not black at all, it was all red.

All my friends and colleagues from art school underappreciated such a masterpiece, saying it looks more like the remnant of a fight to the death between two clawed beasts, but I only notice the elegance of it. They insulted the artist’s technique and lack of creativity, labeling it as a grotesque massacre and a horrendous bloodbath of love. Some even considered it scary. Some others avoided the presence of the painting entirely, barely looking at it. They perhaps feared its majestic splendor, and they perhaps think I am insane for loving such monstrosity, but I do not consider it insanity. I just could not stop thinking about The Red Painting. There was something about it that drew me to the piece of art for hours and hours in silence, looking for answers, for meaning. It haunted my mind during the day, and at night I dreamed of myself walking through the lonely halls of the museum, looking for the crimson portrait.

My friends constantly told me that whatever I wanted to find in the painting was being stolen away by my obsession. I tried to convince my friends that there was nothing wrong with me or with the painting, but it did not help all the rumors about the author. No one knew who it was, but some said it belonged to a woman that lives on the farthest side of the forest. She would only paint during the nights, and alone. Those who dared to interrupt her never went out of the woods. Still, no one could explain how this painting got to the museum. A very rich man donated it, but he said nothing else about the painting. Some say it arrived at his door one morning, without a note. He found it so hideous he just wanted to get rid of it. These were all rumors of course. The artist of such magnificent artwork must have been a genius, and I, I needed more, I needed answers.

I needed to meet the author.

So here I am today, in a gala of the museum, looking at the painting as usual. I came, dragged by the rumors that the author had found out that the painting was here. Now the author was going to show up to finish the painting. For it was almost complete, but there was one spot at the neck of the young lady that looked like the ghost of a necklace, but it was hard to say, for the painting was not finished. I waited all night for the author to appear, but no one ever came. I was about to leave in disappointment when I remembered that she only painted at night. So I hid in the basement of the museum and waited for everyone to leave. Just when the clock marked midnight I decided to sneak out and meet the author of the painting that haunted my dreams.

Afraid of making noises, I took off my shoes, and my bare feet trembled on the cold floor as I walked through the halls I knew so well. I almost stopped breathing when I saw her, sitting in front of the red painting like I always used to do. I sat next to her, her dark hair contrasted with her big, shining eyes.

“It is a beautiful painting,” I said to her, so nervous I stammered.

She turned her head to me and smiled.

“Thank you,” she said. “I made it with the paint they keep in the storehouse of the museum, they let me use it all the time, they are such kind people. They have all the colors, except red.”

“Sorry?” I asked. Perhaps I heard wrong, but she just looked at me with that big smile. Suddenly I could not move. I felt as paralyzed as all those days I spent staring at the red painting, so full of life, but there was a reason she only painted at night.

I looked at my beautiful red painting one last time, and before I could do anything else, she repeated to me those dreadful words.

“They have all the colors except red.”
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Ruth Arce · ago
That ending, though.