The stench of oil and white spirits filled the studio of Harold Devereaux. The noxious smell of both odors confirmed that today had not been a good day. Each stroke of the brush seemed to be followed by a swath of spirit on the same spot. Creation and destruction in one fell swoop. Harold couldn't paint anymore. Harold had forgotten how to tell a story with his brush. Harold had everything because of his brush but had lost everything in getting there. He had experienced everything because of his ability to craft oil into a godly masterpiece. He was renowned and had riches beyond belief. But with every success he had achieved, he had become more and more jaded. He had lost interest in those that loved him, including Mara, the muse that he had promised to take care of till the end of his days. Including his brother Hannibal who had been born sideways and walked with a limp that prevented him from gainful employment.
Mara and Hannibal had left him 4 days ago after another of his outbursts throwing every luxury he had provided for them in their faces. He had refused the last dozen commission offers because he felt that he was way above painting anyone’s likeness and felt that no matter what they paid him, the painting would be worth much more than that. And as matters of money went, Harold wasn't about to support anyone else because of the gift the gods had bestowed him. This wasn’t a charity he was running. People needed to understand that the level of genius he offered wasn’t for sale and would have to be bestowed upon the people when he damn well chose.
But here he was. Alone. A dripping bloody canvas with nothing but shadows of ideas he once had. Whenever he lifted his brush and it made contact with the canvas, his wrist seized up as if the only extension of himself he ever knew was having an allergic reaction. As if the last 32 years of incessant narcissistic drive had left him in a hurry. Had he no more left inside him? Impossible. He was Harold Devereaux, the greatest painter of the modern era! His works had hung next to Picasso, Matisse and Monet. They had been praised by heads of state from America to Russia and everywhere in between. And now with the adoring public eagerly awaiting his next work of art he stared at an empty life and canvas. And it stared back. It actually stared back and mocked him. As if 32 years had been wiped clean with a splash of white spirit and cloth.
Well, Harold Devereaux wasn’t about to be foiled by an inanimate object. He had a simple idea. If could just paint something for himself, something simple, a still life of some fruit, then perhaps he could get back into the swing of things. So he set out and began to paint some apples from memory, as he was currently out of fresh fruit. He started by mixing some paint, blood, fire, and all shades of red. He even mixed one that reminded him of the rouge Mara would parade around in when they enjoyed simpler times. He paused for a second admiring the color and how it looked on her, oftentimes when it was all that she was wearing. Stupid little girl, how could she think she could stay on the same level as someone as brilliant as Harold Devereaux.
He had the perfect reds and blacks and greens mixed and prepared his brush. He was nervous, though he would never admit publically. He dipped his brush in Mara’s rouge and approached the canvas. And was so relieved that the wrist didn’t betray him when it touched the canvas. Success. He started painting the image of the fresh fruit in his head, transferring with the ease that a master would have. Every stroke perfectly placed. Every shadow spot on. He even painted the small corner table in his studio as a resting place for the fruit. He painted for 7 hours straight. Afraid to stop for fear of the gift leaving him again, although he would never admit that to anyone. And after a half a day of furious painting, he stepped back. The only stench in the air, besides his sweat was the sweet smell of oil. No spirits whatsoever.
He admired his work, as simple as it may have been. On the studio table were 4 apples, 3 red and one green, glistening as if just hand washed with care and ready to be tasted.
Then he stopped.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the table which he had used for inspiration.
He adjusted his focus. And approached the table. On it, in plain view, lay 4 apples. 3 red and one green. The very same apples he had just painted. This was impossible as he had searched his pantry for fruit earlier and was positive he had none, never mind the same exact ones, in the same position, that he had just painted. This was impossible.
No. this was exactly what Harold Devereaux deserved. After those that he thought loved him had abandoned him, after the commoners who thought they could just offer anything short of a kings ransom for his work. No, Aphrodite be damned, this was an edict from Minerva herself and he knew exactly what he had to do.
With vigor like he hadn’t experienced since the first time he lay eyes on Mara, Harold Devereaux started mixing colors. All of them. He laid out palette among palette of his famous colors. Rosewood sienna for his trees, Royal alabaster, because only pitiful painters would use pure white. Acadium silver for the riches he would make appear before his very eyes. And ebony of the purest form for everything black in his heart and mind. This would be the start of Harold Devereaux’s ascension to the greatest and richest master in the history of the arts.
But when he started painting, something happened.
He set off to paint a pile of two and half dozen pieces of silver when his wrist and hand betrayed him. He looked at his limb as it started to take control over his mind and the rest of his body. And though he was trying to paint money, he furiously and without regard, started painting what appeared to be a woman. A young and beautiful woman, naked, with distinct fiery red lips. It was Mara! He was painting Mara. This was preposterous, but he thought it must be a rule set forth from the gods, make up with your previous loved ones, and all will be right. Sure he thought, he’d paint Mara, she’d appear and then they would make love like they used to, well, like he used to, since Mara had no previous carnal knowledge, it was up to him to teach her how women were supposed to be treated. He owed her that at least.
He finished the painting of Mara, and his arm and wrist ached, his back pounding with pain from the repetitive fruitful strokes of his creation. And lo and behold had he not finished creating it that Mara appeared in front of him. He was amused that the gods would make him make amends with this girl in order to achieve his soon to be fame beyond belief.
But then he noticed Mara’s eyes.
They were empty. As if she didn’t want to be here. She was smiling seductively in the painting but appeared before him as a silhouette of her previous charming and full of life self. He took pity on her. Poor misguided girl, she was probably miserable the last four days and couldn’t wait to come back to Harold Devereaux’s arms. Come to think of it he actually wouldn’t mind that . Come to think of it, Mara had been the inspiration for all his greatest works. What had he done?! The answer was right here, and combined with his newfound heavenly power he could do anything he ever wanted.
With that thought in mind, he looked at Mara and smiled, genuinely happy to have her back.
Then his arm took over again.
Before he knew what was happening he had grabbed the can of white spirit and had begun unscrewed the cap. Why? The painting, like all of his, was perfect. But no sooner had he questioned his unwanted actions had he begun pouring the spirit over the canvas.
Pure horror filled Harold Devereaux’s eyes as Mara’s body began to melt in real life like the painting. Her flesh began to slide off of her along with her bones, melting off like butter on a skillet. Her hair disintegrating and blowing away like a pussywillow in late fall. But her lips were the last to go. Her lips stood there, blood red and as Mara tried to scream the pain of turning into a rust colored puddle on the floor, nothing came out.
And then she was gone. Nothing on the canvas and nothing in front of Harold Devereaux.
A test. That's what this must be. For there must be some kind of sacrifice to be had when presented with such a wonderful power. Harold Devereaux had learned at an early age to be an optimist. A trait that he had forsaken in lieu of money and galas, much like any young artist who sacrifices principles for success. That's all this was. Everything would work itself out he thought.Until his body lunged forward to the Freshly cleaned canvas. What now? His strokes furiously attacking the canvas. He was barely conscious when he put the last touch on his newest creation.
But it wasn't his newest creation. It was in fact his first painting, The Docks of Alizore, a stunning (in his opinion) rendition of the Alizorean docks at dawn, with the perfect balance of light and darkness battling for the right to stay, with light winning for at least the next 12 hours. He had met Mara in Alizore and had originally painted it for her. It had been selected for the louvre's new artist showcase when Harold was just 24 years old and had started his meteoric rise to fame. He couldn't very well give it as a gift after that.
And here it was next to the painting of it. The original in its simple basswood frame with mahogany inlay.
And then Harold Devereaux made it melt away. Even with him supplicating to whichever God was listening. With each splash of spirit it dropped away and seeped through the floorboards much like Mara had.
And this happened again. And again. From his paintings migrant farm workers that were on display at the Uffizi, his depictions of the perils of war and religion proudly shown at the Prado, to his works at the Hermitage, Metropolitan and the National. One by one they were created at a non stop pace and as soon as they appeared in front of Harold Devereaux's eyes, his eyes, numb from the crying and unable to produce anymore years, they were liquified by the white spirits he had grown so accustomed to be his saving grace.
After 3 straight non stop days of painting and destroying, Every one of Harold Devereaux's painting has disappeared from the public's consciousness.
He was nothing. His life's work no longer existed and therefore no one knew who he was or that he had ever existed.
He collapsed to the floor, his hands bloody, His shoulder muscles were ripped to shreds by the constant angry stroking. His eyesight almost gone. He say there, like still life, but lifeless.
And he knew what he had to do.
He gathered the last shred of emotion, dignity, and force that was left in his body and dragged himself to the canvas.
And he painted. This time, of his own volition. And nothing interfered with him. He held himself up with his brothers old cane and began to paint Hannibal. But instead of painting him as the grotesque deformity that he had called him but a few days earlier, he painted him as an Adonis. A perfect physical specimen. And as he collapsed from the physical strain of moving his now deformed and broken body he saw Hannibal. Like no one had ever seen him. A tall, lean Hannibal stood there, silently, and as their fraternal eyes met he nodded his head and helped Harold up, propping him back up on his old cane.
Harold wanted to apologize but he had lost the ability to speak and no matter how hard he tried he couldn't emote. Hannibal understood and sat him in a chair next to the easel that had changed his life for ever. This time however he took the painting of himself and removed it, placing it near the balcony overlooking the Alizorean cliffs. He grabbed a new, clean freshly stretched canvas. One of the hundreds he had stretched for his brother as it used to be the only skill he could manage. And he gave Harold a brush.
He walked away leaving Harold alone.
Harold began to paint. An old decrepit failure of a man sitting in a chair with a cane. With features decades beyond his actual age. It was his greatest work yet. It was in fact the greatest painting ever painted. And when he was done he saw himself in the painting. The pain had left his body. The tears no longer necessary. He stared at his crowning achievement and smiled. He was happy Mara wasn't here to see what he had become. And with one swift moment he emptied the white spirits all over the likeness of himself. Forever disappearing from the thoughts of anyone that had ever heard of the great Harold Devereaux.