The painting was exquisite. As Hella applied the final strokes with her brush, she knew this wasn’t precisely what she had imagined when she began, but she simply hadn’t known this was what the painting was meant to be.
Hella took a few steps back. The painting was as strange as the others she had produced this week, nothing like her usual style. Rendered in thick oil paints, a wild eyed woman with a knife, standing over a slain beast. Who was this woman? was she some echo of Hella, a projection of frustration, or fear?
To Hella’s right, the others leaned against the exposed brick wall. A water colour of a pale, fair haired man floating, as if in space, surrounded by darkness. A charcoal sketch of a bridge, three tiny human figures atop it. Ink on paper showing a view from a round window, a bright star blossoming in its centre. Each time she stood before a new canvas, allowing her mind to go blank, her hands to move on their own. She imagined she could close her eyes and the colours would flow on their own, shaping themselves along invisible lines of creative force.
In contrast, on Hella’s left, were a myriad of uninspired pieces. Pallid still lifes, bland landscapes, a self-portrait that looked more like a frog that a person. But those had been from before.
Olga slammed the door behind her, and everything in Hella’s studio rattled. Siblings always fought, she was told. She couldn’t remember, now, what had started it. Some innocuous comment. It always was. Then Olga got defensive, as she always did. This time she threw her purse at Hella, its contents spilling everywhere. Some of it had rolled under the couch, but Olga didn’t seem to care. She scooped up everything she could see and stormed out.
Hella turned the deadbolt and leaned her back against the door. Slowly she sunk to the floor, exhausted as only her sister could make her. She tried to collect herself, to clear her mind and think of nothing. Concentrate on her breathing. She tried to look at nothing, but something glinted under the couch.
Standing and walking over to her makeshift living room, really just a corner of her studio, Hella bumped the couch arm with her hip. It shifted enough to expose the object she had seen. It was a plastic pill bottle, a printed label peeling away from its surface. Scooping it up, Hella read the label. A name brand anxiety drug. Typical prescription information on the label. There were only two pills left.
Hella contemplated the white, rectangular pills. They didn’t have anything stamped on them. She felt like they always had a brand name stamped on them in movies. Hella unscrewed the safety top and shook out one of the pills. She felt terrible. One of these should calm her down, she could go to sleep and not worry, at least for a little while. If Olga came back and asked, Hella would call it a bullshit tax.
She went to the the kitchen area, and filled a glass with water. Fuck it, she thought and pour it into the sink. From the fridge she pulled a bottle of red wine and poured herself a glass. She wasn’t worried about dying from one pill, she’d taken a lot more of a lot harder meds than this all while floating up to her eyeballs in liquor. She popped the pill and downed the wine. Putting the glass in the sink, she went to the couch and pulled it back to its usual place. She’d just lie down for a little while, take a nap. Her eyes closed.
The dream was vivid and intense. The universe was white and empty. Suddenly, towering black letters roared across her field of view. They slammed into her and she jerked awake. She was covered in sweat, sheets tangled around her. This wasn’t the kind of nightmare she usually had. They were highly visual, where this had been… something else. More like someone describing an image, than seeing it herself.
She was still groggy, but hadn’t she fallen asleep on the couch? Maybe she had walked to her bed in her sleep. Maybe the combination of alcohol and medication meant she just didn’t remember. It didn’t matter. Despite the nightmare, she felt rested, and she could feel that familiar itch that would only be scratched when she put brush to canvas. There was no way today was going to as bad as yesterday.
Still in the clothes she had worn the day before, Hella walked to the other end of her home into the corner she painted in. Grabbed an unused canvas from a unruly pile. Collecting her brushes and paints, she began haphazardly outlining shapes.
In what felt like moments, it was complete. When Hella glanced at her phone, though, she saw she had been mesmerized by her work for hours. She stepped back, taking in what she had created. While there was little fine detail, everything was clear and defined. She had rendered an image of a young woman standing in a studio, before an easel, applying the final brush strokes to a painting. The painting within a painting was exquisite…