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Daniela Verdeș, Prose, Group IV

Daniela Verdeș participates in the “Short prose” section of the International Literary Creation Competition, 4th edition, from Bucharest, Romania. Daniela is 37 years old. We thank her for her participation and wish her success.

An artist’s soul-scape

Some things can never be susceptible of impossibility. So are the events that brought forthwith the trance-like state that empowers me to write down these words.

It wasn't long after contemplating the absurdity of memory and experience that I finally found myself devoid of any such content that might append a most unnecessary and unpleasant weight to my soul. The emptiness was appeased by the infinitude of sensations that brushed slight shades on my conscience, only to be forever gone in a moment, leaving me serene like a mirrored deep abyss. Nothing seemed to disturb me, nothing could attempt at controlling me. Hours and days went by me, finding me in a relentless self-acknowledgement.

I was carelessly happy. For what could I dread if there was nothing to remember? Every day I would take my brushes, canvas and colors and head towards the park, which always managed to thrill me, unfolding itself in front of me with surprising ingenuity. I would walk around, then forget the passing of time lying on a bench, till I found myself covered with spring blossoms or dry leaves. I invariably attracted curious stares as I started to array my creative instruments around me, forming a sort of a magic enclosure where nothing could peer deep within my mind.

"The artist seems quite absent-minded today", a young girl greeted me with a smile one day. "One could swear you are painting from your dreams! It looks different from what we see here..." Indeed, seen through the sieve of her perception, the scenery appeared plain for a second. "I've noticed you before, you know. You probably must wonder what stopped me from talking to you until now."

“Well, I am most definitely wondering why that thing didn't stop you from talking to me today as well", I replied, annoyed at her audacity in interrupting my thoughts.

"There's no need to be rude. I thought you could use a piece of advice with your painting. Some of us are endowed with talent, which is obviously your case, but most important some others are endowed with what we may call a critical eye..."

"Don't tell me", I interrupted her with an ironic grin, "you must be part of the second category. Just say what you have to say and..."

"All I meant was, have you ever tried painting something else like, you know, portraits?!" she added, with a flutter of excitement. "I'm offering to be your first model." As she said these words, she sat down beside me, arranged a few rebel locks of her hair and she took one of those dreamy-contemplative poses you can only see in 19th century photographs.

"Stop... I didn't say I agreed. If you want to immortalize your 'precious' face there's a guy with a camera just a few benches away. I'm sure he wouldn't have a problem if..."

"Please, could you give it a try... the light is perfect, I'm not rushing anywhere, and, besides, your landscape seems to be stuck... no offense!"

What bothered me most is that she was actually right. With a deep sigh, I put the landscape aside and soon the empty face of a white canvas was staring back at me, as if eager for my intervention. I looked at her, then at the deep blue sky behind her, till I felt I couldn't distinguish between them. Taking a deep breath, I shyly drew the first contours of her round face. Suddenly I felt an electric shock paralyzing me. Just as if I was looking at a photo album, I felt images from another life, another mind, invading my own. The distant scent of fading memories was dissolving in the air. Forgotten, all almost dead, gasping beneath a curtain of darkness, they started crawling from unconsciousness into reality. I realized I knew her. Torn pieces of her mind were lying in twisted fragments before my eyes. But no, I was wrong, I didn't know her. I WAS her.

I took a considerable effort to compose myself. I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to realize what had happened. When I was finally able to look around me, the portrait was complete: I had managed to capture her very soul. The resemblance was striking and she was pleased.

"It surely took you some time but, what can I say, the result is amazing! It was definitely worth waiting for three hours." I couldn't believe it. It was like time had stopped for me and invited me to fly with him, making those three hours seem like seconds. The fading light shed its timid silken threads on my model, so that she seemed wrapped in golden lace. I shook her hand and thanked her for her time. I stopped her just in time for avoiding an embarrassing moment.

"Don't even think of rewarding me with money. That's not art's purpose any more than it is mine. It was a most enriching experience."

"There, you may keep it.", she said, handing me back the portrait. I guess I've proved my point. If you consider I was wrong, you can always return to your landscapes. It's been a pleasure." she concluded. I watched her disappearing among the trees, wondering if she had been a mere illusion.

That day the dusk found me almost freezing, motionless, still pondering and almost not daring to think if that was a singular experience or what had caused it. It was late when I decided to go home. I gathered my stuff and started walking, staring blankly at my own shadow, when I realized I didn't know the way back. Silence was rising around me, accompanied by a thick white fog, suffocating my thoughts, and numbing me unconscious.

When I opened my eyes, everything seemed to have been a distant dream. I was safe and warm in my bed and my cat was cuddling at my feet. I got out of bed with a determination worth of envy. It was a brand new day. As I entered the park, an unusual tremble got hold of my limbs, but I didn't give it much attention. I nonchalantly placed a carefully written cardboard right beside me: Executing portraits for free, on the spot. When I laid the first brush on the canvas, it all came back to me.

With each portrait I was becoming someone else. One by one, their identities became mine. Every day, getting lost in the labyrinth of their minds, never being able to find the way back towards my own. I was feeding on their memories, waiting, like a vampire, in the darkness of my own emptied soul. My mind became a haunted palace, echoing to the footfalls of myriads of ghosts. I felt I was losing substance, fading. I was no longer mine, no longer real.

Some would say that there is no use fighting your own fears when you know that in the end you'll only succumb to them. Yet, entwined with fear, curiosity sprung from deep within me. Once more, my trembling hand took the brush and tore the cobwebs off a long-forgotten canvas - my self –portrait - seeming to be lying broken, like pieces of a puzzle that just don't want to fit, as if fearing what their entwining might reveal.

"I have no choice... I must..." I found myself talking to my unfinished image. And then, half knowing, half forgetting, remembering, rearranging, I found myself again. With a sense of relief, I stared back at myself, at the world around me. The clean white walls don't seem that empty now. And I feel like I can finally escape through the heavy iron bars leaning against my window. Why am I here anyway?

I take a step towards the mirror. A little more and I touch the frozen glass, a little more and I'm on the other side. Yes, it's no use sitting here all alone, in a forsaken corner. Maybe there I'll finally find out who I am.