...and then

Monday, 1 December 2014

Lyra's Painting

This piece of fiction walked out of this picture on instagram and stayed with me.


Lyra’s Painting

After Lyra left him, he didn’t get out of bed for three days. Work calls came, friends texted him, his phone buzzed with the determination of a cheery firefly who wanted him to chase it. No one had ever known him not to respond, even if he owed them money or had to meet a deadline.  The morning of the third day, a couple of friends decided to come round with beers to see if he had lost his phone or if he had suddenly been inspired by impulse, and spirited himself and Lyra away for a few romantic days somewhere. He hadn't let them in. 

Saturday morning stood stoutly in his living room, a room that was neat as a pin, as sunlight and order bounced off the walls. All morning, this room harvested the benevolent sun, past heavy curtains that were drawn aside to let warmth and light in. The shock-white rays fell on a perfect rectangle patch of carpet, rough-hewn and tribal in motif, from his travel to a distant village in the Turkish mountains.   If you were to stand with your back to the window, the sun warming your yearning, then to the left of you would be a book case, one that stood till your waist if you were a tall person. The books, curiously, were arranged with abandon. The short ones stood guard over the taller ones, the thin ones had a wanton time between two thick ones. Nothing in alphabetical order either: the Ns followed the As, the Ss slacked off after the Hs. Genre? No. Biography sat in all its lofty seriousness with a shy, leather-bound volume of short stories; and science deigned to hobnob with plastic-encased issues of comic books.

Directly opposite the bookcase, on the other side of the room stood a bicycle; one bicycle and a hook where Lyra’s hung till a few days ago. His bicycle, red, sleek and perfectly steady against its hook on the wall looked like it had never been touched, when, in fact, all he ever used was that to get around the city. Just above his bike, was the ghost of Lyra’s.

In the space between the bikes and the bookshelf, two feet away from the carpet stood an undisturbed green sofa. No one had sat on it for some time. The cushions looked startled into being equidistant from each other, and there was no trace of a depression or crinkle on the seats.  No one, indeed, had sat on it for some time.  On the carpet was a minimalistic table that he had made himself -- from picking the wood to curing it and bringing it to still life.  The top of the table was covered with a carefully careless collage of coasters, the kind you place your drink on. If you looked a little more thoughtfully, you could see the coasters were placed, to a crazy scale, in the vague positions of where various countries were placed on a world map. To a far corner sat a coffee-table book on style and fashion in the 1920s, neatly angled, elegantly placed.

Everything was in its place and the house was just right, as it had always been. Nothing was missing, everything was as it always was; everything, except Lyra.  As he lay in the two feet of space between the sofa and carpet, blindly watching maniacal dust fairies in the streaming sunlight, he idly wondered what she had been wearing when she left. Maybe the green dress she had sewn herself, but that dress had come apart a long time ago and he didn’t remember her having mended it but he was pretty sure he saw her wearing it recently or was that another dress of a similar shade and he hadn’t noticed because he was largely colour-blind as most men are Lyra used to say but then she said a lot of things about men like they couldn’t find the things they were looking for even if they were right under their nose just like he couldn’t find Lyra all this time when she was right under his nose as he taught her month after month how to become a better artist than he was and he couldn’t see her limpid eyes, crooked smile and razor-sharp chin because what she created on her canvas was far more than he ever could have imagined doing himself or teaching his students. Teaching had never been what he wanted to do as he had always been told those who can’t teach, do but these aphorisms, what were they in the real world but methods of pigeonholing other people and circumstances and sometimes just making yourself feel better at the cost of others and that is exactly what he had been doing with Lyra for a long while though she hadn’t complained and he didn’t know if she actually believed that or if it was just his imagination that she had been a dissatisfied because he constantly made himself feel better by being associated with her because oh the places she would go with her art! Even in the year that she had lived away from him after her lessons her work had been marvelous and talked about and that is how he had found her again; all he thought he wanted was to be with the things she created, the things he couldn’t read in her eyes (not for the want of writing but because he was so unread) he could see in her art and soon her heart came pouring out of her eyes and heart and mouth and everything she made, she said, was inspired by him and how she loved him and she had loved him the day he taught her how to look at yellow truck and see an entire city in it. Or so she had told him and he had trusted her, he had chosen to trust because he couldn’t believe someone like Lyra, with the beauty of the sky and the heart of lark could be his, that all the art she created stemmed from her love; he knew not if it was love for him or love in general because that is all she was and now there was no warmth in the house but that of the morning sun which was oh so cold –

The bell rang and he came right back to the dust fairies, cold from his thoughts and the morning sun. It was day four, he realized since Lyra had gone and if he spent any more time away from the world, he wouldn’t be the one Lyra fell in love with. He got up off the floor, straightened his light sweater, ran his hand through neat hair and rubbed his shaven face.Yes, he was okay to open the door. At the door, stood a boy with headphones and mouth chewing in askew circles, presumably according the beat that filled his head. He held forward his hand which had what looked like a handwritten note. Not letting go of the door jamb, the bereaved man took the note from the boy. Before he could offer him a tip or say thank you, the boy walked away, completely immersed in the music that his red headphones piped into his ears.

Coming back to sit on the sofa for the first time in days, he took a deep steadying breath, opened the note and read its contents. Cold fire iced his veins and his hands shivered, making the letter paper seem afraid of being held. He put it down gently on the table he had made, sat for a moment with his palms on the sofa by his side. He heaved himself up steadily, went into the bathroom, washed his face and picked up his razor; methodically yet swiftly, he changed his clothes – a pair of red pants, a beige shirt, a sweater and a white hat. He went to the door, got his keys, bag, umbrella and a book and left his apartment.

Outside, the world looked like it had stepped out of one of Lyra’s paintings. There were umbrellas on the lampposts and the sky was a parallelogram that hadn’t died, the trees were lashing wildly, rejecting being strangled by each other, even though there wasn’t a wind, the men and women were 10 feet tall and everyone wore benevolent smiles, the sea stood like a large rock, at least a foot taller than the men and women, vertical and immobile for a good five minutes before it receded gracefully, gradually instead of being tropical and messy by crashing into waves; stray cats had spindly legs and they trod drunkenly, children walked in dizzying circles, revolving and rotating, like little earths around their parents, the flowers were singing and the sidewalks rose and fell in gentle waves of sighs. A seamstress, a guy on his phone, a tuba player and a motorcyclist all played cards and talked loudly till the 10-feet-tall passersby had to tell them it wasn’t allowed to talk in public if they didn’t want to end up without a sewing machine, a phone, a tuba and motorcycle respectively. They talked some more, loudly, and continued to laugh.

He walked across the square and looked at the ground to see if it would steady him and tell him if he was in his city or in Lyra’s painting. His head spun when he looked at ground, so he looked up again and looked back. Up in a sunlit window, he saw a man in a spring sweater watching him, watching a man walk across a square that was filled with geometric, intersecting lines, neat lines that were fast filling precisely with the red of his blood, or was it the red of his jeans.