Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Afternoon Tea (pt. 1)

Helen prepared the table, bustling about the dining room busily, discarding the flowers that had wilted and nipping out to the garden to pick new ones - a sweet-pea here, a carnation there. She dusted the shelves and the curios on them almost obsessively. She knew well enough that the doctor would not care, but the actions were comforting, a reminder of happier times. She severely missed entertaining friends. While her friends tried not to reveal their discomfort, and they corresponded with her constantly, it was not the same. Some tried to console her with the legend that her sickness enhanced artistic powers, which she did not truly believe. (Or had not - now that these strange visions haunted her nights, she was forced to consider that it might not be purely myth.) Others urged her to seek consolation in faith; she had done so, and was as pious as anyone, but still she feared. (Some people had even questioned her faith; not her friends of course, but acquaintances she had previously thought highly of, and respected, if distantly. But one could never tell about such people. Some seemed quite well meaning, suggesting it was a test from Above. They meant it honestly, and kindly enough, but it was no comfort -- even if they were right.) The only exception to the general coolness that had fallen over her friendships was Marguerite, whom before she had never been very close to; she was too cheerful, too wonderful, too kind; everyone looked shabby and selfish next to Margie. She wouldn't think of breaking off a friendship (even one that had before not been very strong) due to a little thing like a deadly disease. Marguerite was a poet, though not a very good one - her verse was lively, but trite.

Perhaps had she married she would have had help in this dire time. But she had never found anyone, and now there was no longer any chance to do so. Unless the doctors could work some miracle, she would pass away with no legacy but her artwork. She was fortunate in that at least - most in her situation would be forgotten utterly, leaving nothing.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Hue, As of a Heaven Turned Hell"

After yet another troubled night, Helen climbed out of her four-poster bed and, as had now become her custom, reassured herself that the sky was still blue and the sun still bright. Thus calmed, she sat down at her desk and began to work, painting her next picture -- a spring scene of flowers.

When she paused, she saw a disquieting image rather than the pastoral image she had planned. The colors of the flowers were all wrong; bitter greens too fierce and acrid to be natural for the leaves, corpse-white rather than snow-white for the snowdrop blossoms, blood-color for the red roses. Everything was slightly off; the sky was not cloudy but livid, like a raw bruise; the sun shining through the clouds was too reddened. The whole scene, cast in a too-weak light, was discolored.

She paged through her previous attempts, finding once more nightmare ice-locked lands beneath a wan burned-out sun, shadow-girdled forests cast in too-yellow greens under a sky white rather than blue, oceans freezing over; the dreadful landscapes of her visionary dreams.

The Earth of her age seemed almost too lush by contrast to her future visions; the Sun intense nearly beyond bearing, the beauty of the singing streams too sweet, the forests' vivid green lovely past grasping. And yet all this wonder could not quite still her fears and despairs; ever a shadow-seed, a whisper of "You know to what end all this shall come", was awake in her heart. She strove to convince herself that what should occur in the measureless future - some hundreds of times the brief days that had passed between Christ's time and hers, after Britain that stood now glorious among all the nations had passed with all its colonies beyond even memory, to become things utterly lost to time - was of no importance; not her nor her descendants to the thousandth generation would see the doom. It was all in vain; too clear were the terrible images of that dead world and of how the end would ineluctably come, however long-delayed it might be.

The darkness had seeped into all her works; and though they were everywhere praised when her earlier works had been ignored, though she was beginning to be acclaimed as the preeminent artist of the age, still she hated the shadow that had fallen upon her art. She longed for the clean, bright dreams she had previously had and painted; though no other recognized their worth she loved them no less.