Tortured Souls

Every artist I’ve ever read – or heard – about has always been eccentric in some way or another. Some were introverts, some burdened with diseases, others broken hearts. They were all tortured or abnormal. But it all was ok, because they were artists. Being bizarre and peculiar was expected of them. I thought it might be nice to be an artist. That way, whenever someone inquired about one of my strange habits, I could just state, “Well, I’m an artist,” and they would nod their heads in a knowing way, and that would be it. No questions asked. I told Eric all this one day on the porch, while resting on the porch swing, bare feet grazing the decrepit wooden floor.

He turned away from his canvas to face me, and I noticed a smear of red paint across his chin. Somehow, he always seemed to have paint on him. Sometimes, when he would come pick me up to drive him to school, I would get in the car and his hair would still be wet from the shower and smelling of evergreen, but a flake of green paint would be stuck among his shampooed locks. My theory was that his room had so much paint in it, that some paint particles floating around in the air would just condense every now and then, and come down like snow to rest on him. That’s not scientifically possible, he would tell me, kissing my forehead in that way that I hated.

“You don’t want to be an artist,” he said dismissively, turning back to what looked like a bloody smear across the canvas.

“Why not?” I said, pulling my long legs up underneath me. I let go of the chain on the swing, taking notice of the rust stains on my hand.

“We’re tortured souls. Doomed to the fate of having the world appreciate us instead of understand us.” He stepped back from his painting, then set his paints down and plopped down onto the seat next to me, jostling the swing into motion. Sweat glistened on his forehead – from the hard work of painting, I supposed. The weather outside was nice and cool, perfect for sneaking away to the lake on the other side of the woods, like Eric and I did when he first kissed me. He had discovered the lake while searching for inspiring things to paint, and I had discovered him while looking for people to write about.

He led the way to the lake, and I awkwardly followed, my long legs getting caught in everything, leaves collecting in my tangled brown hair. The moon was reflecting off the black, smooth surface of the lake. I could feel Eric’s presence behind me and on a sudden whim, I jumped into the lake, arms and legs wildly waving about. When Eric pulled me out, he looked at me as if he were trying to read a Calculus textbook.

“I don’t understand you.” He stated simply, as if it were a fact.

“Well, I’m a writer,” I joked awkwardly, showing off my sense of humor I didn’t possess, “We’re tortured souls, doomed to the fate of having the world appreciate us instead of understand us.” For a few seconds he just looked at me. That was the first time I’d ever felt pretty.

“What are you painting?” I asked Eric, tracing rusty circles in my palm. He paused, then grinned.

“It’s a secret,” he smiled at my frown, standing up and walking over to his canvas.

“Wait, no,” I said, untangling my legs from beneath me and following him, “Now you have to tell me!” I grabbed his hand, so he couldn’t get his paintbrush. He just smiled and pressed my hand against the white backdrop, leaving a faded orange handprint.

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