Fiction Friday: “The Painting” by Jeff Hill
Short Story by Jeff Hill
I didn’t kill my wife.
The darkness that surrounds it echoes the loss we all felt when she began her masterpiece. Doctors say that the traumatic events of her last year in the real world pushed her over the edge, but I believe it was the painting itself that finally killed my wife. Being fired from the firm, the death of her best friend, and the miscarriage had very little to do with her suicide.
It was the darkness within the painting.
She was troubled, but who wasn’t in this day and age? The art began as a hobby, and then progressed into becoming therapy after her father died. Sunsets and backyard picnics were no longer her settings. No, she traded cute puppies and playing children in for the dramatic war-stricken countryside and post-apocalyptic historical landmarks. No more blues and greens and yellows; only grays and faded oranges and the ever-present darkness of black.
I believe that the painting swallowed her entirely and I believe that with every bone in my body. My wife used to be happy. We used to be in love. Sundays were here days for creativity and relaxation; those were the days she restored old paintings in her studio. Occasionally, she would even paint her own pieces. Nothing too great, but she seemed at peace when she was working. But that damn painting took on a life of its own. She was nothing more than a slave towards the end, and I was too blind.
What critics were calling smudges, I saw as souls. What artists were calling clouds, I saw the absence of hope. What my friends were calling an autumn forest, I could only see fire. When everyone asked me what I thought the inspiration for restoring that particular picture was, I didn’t dare tell them that our marriage was on the rocks, her schizophrenic outbursts were out of control, and that we were more concerned with how we looked to others than what we left behind.
No. I simply told them that there was no metaphor. There was no deeper meaning. My wife was sick. She killed herself. I couldn’t have stopped her, even if I had wanted to. Besides, it’s not like I killed her. It was the painting.
But they won’t listen to me. They think I’m crazy. Just like her. They locked me up and put me in here. I’ll never see the outside of this nursing home again. Oh, well. It’s not like there’ll be anything to see anyway. Not if the painting was sold to who I think it was. The world is screwed if they actually put that thing in the White House.
Nations will fall, cities will crumble, and children will grow up way too fast. The world as we know it will be forever changed. And when the streets run red with the blood of the innocent, no one will care anymore about how it all started. No one will care about me and my troubles. Or my warnings. And sadly, there will be millions haunted by the painting and its darkness. Millions of men, kindred spirits. They’ll all say the same thing.
“I didn’t kill my wife.”
Originally published in Static Movement in 2011.
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