Stranger

Stranger, you taught me

That some people care

No condition

Or strings attached

 

You gave me hope

Newly discovered

I could be myself

Without fear

 

Stranger, you showed me

Some people do dare

To look gently

Beneath the mask

 

You gave me faith

Absent awhile

That from this facade

I could peer

 

Stranger, you led me

Out from my dark lair

A newborn soul

Free from the past

 

You gave me a dream

A purpose unfurled

Revealing to me

Life was dear

 

You or me

I see you there, lost and alone

Or perhaps not, perhaps

You are fine and this is my mind,

Playing tricks, seeing in your face

A reflection of my pain,

This place of empty hurt

 

I see you there, and I want

To take your hand, to reassure you

That life will treat you kinder,

But perhaps what I truly want

Is just for you to reach out and

Give me that courage I lack

 

I want to hold you, pull your

Weary body close, give you

Warmth and radiance and hope;

Or is it me who needs that touch?

A gentleness, to ease my fears,

To sate that lonely longing

 

Is it you, or is it me?

I wonder, as on my own I sit,

Pining for your face, hoping

I can one day squeeze your hand,

Thoughts racing as I think of a touch

That I know will never be

 

For you are you, and I am me

On your face, those troubled lines

Are nothing but my bitter shadow,

An unfaithful echo, and

I’ll leave you now so that I may

Not scar your features further

Fallen

You tried your very best, but

Somehow it was not enough

In those minutes, those hours

When you had your chance to shine,

It falls apart, it comes to pieces

And dreams now hang, on the line.

 

All that time spent chasing stars,

Eyes set on the future you

Abandoned the present and

Now, battles fought for nothing,

You’re left wondering –

Can you still reach, what you sought?

 

Fallen, your greatest struggle now

Is not to catch the moon, but

Just to stay sane and hope

That tomorrow’s sun will rise,

Bright and glorious, guiding you

Away from further demise.

 

Yet perhaps this was meant to be,

A failure designed to show you

The frailty of an outcome, and

Teach those hungry eyes to see

That perhaps it is in other places

You’ll find joy resides.

Anxiety

In this anxious place

This hopeless space

The mind spirals away

Trapped in thought

 

Bars caging her heart

She’s unable to start

Inner voices pursuing

Until she’s caught

 

The shadows whirl

Too strong for a girl

To resist the touch

Of her mocking plight

 

And in silence she sits

Her eyes desperate slits

Pleading for a release

Escape from this night

The Dancer

As dew drops sparkle

On grass so green

And sunlight filters

Through youthful trees

 

You’ll spot her whirling

An ethereal mist

Her presence splintered into

A thousand golden rays

 

Music is playing

But it’s not to be heard

A silent song rising

From slender lithe limbs

 

And her heart lies open

Exposed to those judging

But she has not a care

For what the world thinks

 

If you wish you can join her

In this joyous trance

Share with her the rhythm

She will teach you its grace

 

So dance and be free

Let your spirit scatter

Like a thousand spinning leaves

Caught in the wild wind

 

As the current pulls

And the ripples gather

Don’t resist the soul’s song

Taking over your mind

The Poet

Words, rippling forth,

from unknown edges

of the innermost,

mysterious mind.

 

Rushing onward, as

they grow in strength,

they whisper and

sigh, tantalisingly.

 

Murmuring, they seek

attention like

a lover’s demand,

gentle yet compelling.

 

And stronger still,

they take shape, take

a beautiful form

in this tangible world.

 

Words, holding her

there, a vessel, a scribe

for dreams unfurling

from heart’s desire.

 

That voice inside,

a fearsome caress

like a spring breeze,

turning to a tempest.

 

So she submits,

to her eerie wisdom

and the comforting calm

of a soul released.

Capturing Perfection, Chapter 4

The fourth and final instalment of the short story.

* * *

Never have I worked so hard on a painting. Never. This had to be perfect because Lorenzo was perfect, and to picture him anything but was a travesty and a sin.

 

I ordered new brushes, tiny ones made from a few threads of delicate horsehair. I needed them tiny, in order to depict every curl upon his head, every shadow of every shade, when the light fell upon his features.

 

The picture was my obsession. It was a mission to capture perfection. It became the only thing I cared about and the only thing I wanted to do. The thing that kept my heart beating, sustaining me, giving me purpose.

 

So long as the painting remained unfinished, imperfect, I knew I had to live.

 

* * *

 

My husband found me working. I couldn’t conceal it. He knew I was up to something else because I was late with the other piece he’d been commissioned for. The cards; I hadn’t completed them. There were four to go, the Devil, the Tower, the Three of Swords and the Knight of Coins. The deck needed to be finished, for a celebration of Sforza and his wife Bianca Maria Visconti, daughter of the deceased duke.

 

At first my husband seemed angry. He struck me. He demanded I finish the cards and he asked me who this man was. Of course I didn’t speak the truth, I merely shrugged and said it was all from my imagination. Not one person but a collection of assorted beautiful attributes from different people I’d seen.

 

My husband was angry I hadn’t painted him.

 

But then he let me continue. He must have realised it was the most wondrous picture I was ever painting, and his greed had taken hold. Of course he wanted me to finish, because he wanted to sell it for a fortune.

 

I didn’t even let that bother me. I couldn’t even think of the future. Placing every brushstroke with certain, exact precision was the only thing that mattered. The only thing I could possibly think of, because it consumed every fibre of my being.

 

Still the beauty of Lorenzo eluded my hands. And I would crumple into bed, body aching from its hunched position over my canvas, tears leaking from my eyes that had spent too long squinting at the tiniest detail.

 

I could not rush this project. Could take no shortcut, could be satisfied with no flaw. He had no flaws, and the painting could have none either.

 

* * *

 

I could not pause, could not give the portrait a rest. It demanded my entire attention. Commanded me to work, and never to stop, until I had achieved a masterpiece.

 

It even haunted my sleep; for I would paint Lorenzo in my mind, recalling pictures stored in my heart, a gallery of memories from our secret meetings in the starlight of crisp autumn nights.

 

At first the thought of him would warm me, when the breeze blew cold outside, and stiff joints ached and groaned.

 

But then the feeling became too hot. An obsessive, fearsome burning propelled me forward, emanating from my heart and scalding my fingers whenever I touched a brush.

 

I should have stopped. I should have ripped myself away, then and there, whilst I could. Whilst I still had a footing in reality, had Lorenzo’s arms wrapped around me, I should have broken free.

 

I could have broken free. I could have run away; he would have cared for me and we would have found a way. Yet it was I who trapped myself. In this endless journey, to strive to capture upon the canvas my feelings and what I saw.

 

This image of beauty, it was more important to me now than any tangible love, any physical connection with him and the real world. I wanted to realise my ambition more than anything else, this was my existence now and it was the painting and the painting alone that mattered.

 

At first, Lorenzo had been my freedom. My escape. A sanctuary and a sparkling light even though we could only ever meet in darkness.

 

Yet too soon, the greatest flaw of my being awakened, this accursed fault that try as I might I couldn’t suppress.

 

I blamed my husband for it, for making my entire existence revolve around my art. Depriving me of anything beyond it, so that I could not appreciate love. Could not even cherish my own memories, because everything was about the paint. My life was the canvas and each stroke upon it was a stain, tarnishing me further, binding me closer. To complete the painting was to secure the curse.

 

And because Lorenzo had been too perfect, too good for me, he would be the one to suffer when I morphed into this monster.

 

There was no other way. There could be no other way. In a scary moment, amidst the turmoil, time seemed to freeze and I saw clearly once again. I teetered on the brink of an abyss, on the edge of chaos, realising everything. Knowing my future, understanding my fate, and conscious that I could not avoid it.

 

* * *

 

The painting was gone. The painting had been taken. It must have been my husband, for to another’s eyes, it was finished.

 

But I had failed to complete Lorenzo, to preserve the fabled history of our love.

 

In a fury, I ripped out my brushes and I grabbed the final four blank cards that needed an image. They would be the last reminder of this world I would have, the last visible tokens. For Lorenzo was gone: and I started to lose my sight.

 

Perhaps it had been coming all along. A culmination of the long nights, working away by the feeble candle glow.

 

But though I blamed it on that and on my husband, I knew it was simply my will to see. Nothing could ever compare to such beauty, and now Lorenzo’s beauty was fading into the night whilst my rage swept me up into a fiery vortex. I didn’t have his portrait. I couldn’t see his face. I had nothing to hold on to and my memory was twisted by the tingling rage of betrayal and insanity.

 

It could have been perfect, with Lorenzo. If I’d nurtured that feeling, truest of true, bringing happiness always and forever.

 

But life isn’t like that, life isn’t smooth, life stabs at you and cuts you and lets you down time and time again.

 

Sometimes you manage to hide it, and shut out your troubles. Concealing them beneath a smiling mask, you hide the flaws even from yourself. Ignore them. The cracks, the tiny fissures that with time will only grow into a vicious rupture that splits you apart.

 

And in those times when you really need strength, when you really need to show courage and hold yourself together just for a minute, that is always when your mind fails you. Giving way to heartache. Pain.

 

A burning hot bubble of fiery shame and frustration seizes hold inside your chest. Tears burst from the corners of your eyes and scar your cheeks as though they were acid.

 

You tried. You thought you’d conquered the world. That you were invincible and finally all those complicated pieces of life had just fallen into place. The puzzle solved, problems resolved. Everything just fine, or more than fine – perfect.

 

But perfection itself is flawed. The mission to capture it reveals your incompetence. The closer you look the more you realise your inadequacy.

 

There had been no problem, but I’d created one. I’d fabricated a problem within myself. Because he’d been too perfect, and I’d wanted to capture him.

 

Tears stormed from my eyes and I pressed something to my face to try and muffle my grief. I realised it was a card: The Tower, struck by lightning. Some oil paint that had not quite dried yet smeared upon my face.

 

I struggled to my feet, but my legs wouldn’t hold me and I tumbled back down to the floor. My arms had swung around in an attempt to stay balanced, but it only served to bring a box of tools crashing along with me.

 

I gripped a palette knife. I looked towards the window. Glimpsed a figure, a shadow slightly darker than the night outside.

 

* * *

 

Before my marriage, I’d been free as an autumn leaf, whipped up by the breeze and roaming wherever the wind took me. My talent flourished, I was happy, I was fertile. At ease with the world, unconstrained by expectation, calm and content to float where fate would take me.

 

And then, then my spirit froze within a cage of loneliness. I shut out emotion, for it hurt too much, and feeling nothing was better than pain. But when I don’t feel, I can’t paint. Not truly, not in the way I was born. I know I can’t paint because I can’t picture things in my mind. Images are sterile, colours stark and refusing to blend together. I was ceasing to exist, as the emotion that defined me disappeared.

 

Then my lover, he had warmed me. Nurtured my bleeding soul and melted the icy shackles of bitterness and abandonment. Gave a kiss of life to a barren womb, awakened feeling in a numbed heart and eased those lips once more into a smile, out of their expressionless line.

 

But the damage was already done. My life had already been defined for me, fixed by those long winter months, alone and afraid. Defined by my brushstrokes, by the blended paints on my palette. I was and could be nothing more.

 

The eyes that once saw beauty, holding me together and fuelling my soul, are blinded. Furious desire and raging ambition burns my sockets, so I will never see again.

 

* * *

 

Lorenzo held the girl’s frail body in his arms. He whispered her name, ever so gently.

 

Cecilia.

 

She cried up to him, said she couldn’t see, that her vision was fading and plunging her into a world, darker and darker.

 

He rocked her back and forth, like a child. He told her she was just tired. Her response was a feeble sob of acknowledgement. That she was in fact exhausted with life.

 

He stayed there, afraid to let go. And when they finally did part, in the mournful predawn light, he took four cards with him. Four cards, soaked with tears and blood.

 

* * *

 

She couldn’t describe things for herself. She preferred to show them, actions louder than words and images so much more powerful.

 

And so I tell her story. I tell it for her as the life seeps out from the cuts she carved into her wrists with the too blunt palette knife.

 

She told me things, as she lay dying, while I sat helplessly there. Frozen in time. Unable to move, unable to leave her, there was no going back and we both knew it.

 

Somehow she conjured visions in my mind. I saw her face in intricate ways, new ways. Every fibre of her being sang its unique song, spinning a miraculous web of multi-coloured light before my eyes.

 

I kept on blinking, wondering what it was.

 

She said she died so I would be free. She didn’t want to imprison me.

 

And I’m still struggling to understand.

 

Privacy

Can you please just go away

It’s clear I’m in a mood

I don’t want you here right now

Just leave, and let me brood

 

When storm clouds roll in

You don’t stand there in the rain

As you leave then, for dryer turf

Please go: it’s not your pain

 

Leave and let me be

Stop staring, judging me

This is my space, let me be free

I want some privacy

 

Don’t ask me any questions

I don’t want to answer you

Don’t try to solve this puzzle

Of why it is, that I’m blue

 

And when you go, that’s the time

That this all starts to clear

As the pressure goes, to be her

I’ll relax, let go of fear

 

So leave and let me be

Away from stares judging me

Give me the space, to be free

And heal in privacy

Winter Roses

Then came violent winds, tearing away

the delicate petals of innocent roses,

precious limbs torn from their body.

 

You stare speechless at the sight that remains,

at the thorny echo of beauty,

hollow shell of ravished time.

 

Nothing but a prickly stem is left to tell,

a forgotten story of hopeless love,

abandoned in the dark.

 

You ask how, you beg to know why,

but the answer isn’t that they changed –

the question is what changed you?

Capturing Perfection, Chapter 3

The third instalment of the short story.

* * *

I wake up, aching all over. I am naked in bed, the covers pulled up around my thinning body.

 

I see that he is at the window, and when he realises I am conscious, he strides over and strikes me again on my face.

 

We are alone. So I don’t have to pretend anything to the outside world. I should strike back. I would have struck back, a week or even a day ago. I would have bit his fingers and barred my teeth, snarling at him in a desperate struggle for my freedom.

 

I don’t now. I just lie there. My anger is tempered, cooled by some other feeling I am not sure what, that is rippling over me like water.

 

“You embarrassment.”

 

His accusation doesn’t even sting. I don’t care. He can beat me, he can hurt me, but he can’t break me.

 

Whatever happens, I will find a way to let that feeling from last night sweep me up and soothe my pain. It will show me a new world, a world where the edges are blurry.

 

Everything looks better when it’s blurred now. When I see, I see too clearly, and the clarity stings.

* * *

 

I have a new project now. I like this one.

 

Because I’m not confined to depict a false reality, distorting the truth of what I see. Instead, I can paint anything on the cards. I can paint anything I imagine, as long as I follow the basic structure of the tarocchi deck.

 

There are to be seventy-eight playing cards in total, with twenty-two trump cards and fifty-six minor cards in four suits: cups, coins, swords and batons.

 

Sforza himself commissioned my husband to paint the set. Which of course means work for me. But at least this work offers some freedom. I can reach above and beyond reality, into the ethereal dimensions of my mind and the layered levels of existence.

 

I burn with the throbbing hunger of inspiration, from nowhere and everywhere at once. Questions rise up from the world outside me and the feelings within, and the maddening corners of my soul.

 

Now, I have an answer to find.

 

* * *

 

Sometimes my husband let me wander outside, though only with a chaperone of course. I had to be guarded, more closely than a valuable artwork.

 

One of my favourite places, aside from summer days in the gardens, was the San Marco church. It is not as grand as the magnificent soaring spires of the Duomo di Milano, but to me it evokes tremendous sentiment.

 

Its splendour lies in its relative simplicity, humility, and the tender frescoes that feel like family. I would sit within the church, and look up at the impossibly high domes, and the way the stone curved and folded in the most elegant of lines. I would wonder how humans had ever succeeded. In conquering the stone, in the mastery and dominance that sent a structure such as this reeling toward the heavens.

 

It would make my head hurt, thinking about it. Just how humans have achieved so much, and yet how vain we are becoming. Once we placed all belief in a divine being, and now we worship ourselves. Both faiths laced with folly, lacking compromise, deficient in balance. There must be another way, a key that is neither black nor white, but somewhere in between.

 

Yet even this church, humble compared to the Duomo, speaks otherwise.

 

These structures are not in honour of the Lord. They are a stark reminder of our greatest shortcoming.

 

Wars will keep raging, as ambition to conquer reigns untamed.

 

* * *

 

Sometimes I would pause from my work, to play with the unfinished deck of cards. I couldn’t help it. They fascinated me.

 

Is that strange, that something I create fascinates me?

 

Perhaps myself fascinate me. I confess, sometimes I look at a painting of mine, and I smile. It makes me feel good. I make myself feel good.

 

Then other times, I scare myself. I think I am mad. It frightens me where some images come from, when I have not observed them myself in the real world. It’s out of thin air, out of my head, drawn from the depths of some god-forsaken corner of my mind.

 

I don’t know where it started, where my thoughts began to come from. I cannot place the source of this invisible whip, lashing me in a vicious chase to unearth an abyss of unknown realms.

 

I knew I had to break away. I had to stop looking at the cards and believing in the images, and thinking about whom I was and why I was here, where I came from and where I would go. Fate taunted me, like a jealous sister.

 

And if I didn’t cut her loose, I would truly turn insane.

 

* * *

 

I found myself a lover. His name was Lorenzo. He told me that his name meant from the place of laurel trees. And in Roman symbolism, the laurel means victory.

 

We met at some dinner, some function, while my husband chatted and relished in his fame. I had slipped away for some fresh air in the courtyard, away from the heat and the bodies that were making me feel nauseous. I was always tired and fragile, from my late nights working and days focussing and trying to remember the tiniest details of what I would later have to paint. Mindless socialising and hanging off my husband’s arm, so that he could show me off as his lovely and dutiful wife, bore down upon me.

 

Then Lorenzo was there, outside at the fountain. He had sleek chestnut hair that gathered in youthful waves around his ears, with a few strands covering soft brown eyes. They had reflected the moonlight that night, shining bright.

 

He asked me who I was. I hadn’t replied, just stared at him, captivated by this mirage of beauty. He was beautiful as an angel, a true angel, like the ones only in my dreams. His soul radiated with light and I wanted then and there to paint him.

 

He was balm to my sore eyes, eyes that had strained for too long in a dark room, forced to produce only what I was told. Conforming to every request, whether commanded by my husband or my own tormented spirit.

 

“Take me away,” I uttered. My voice sounded foreign. I was used to it being laced with bitterness, resentment and anger, from retorting to one of my husband’s comments. This time the sound was a gentle purr, as if I was a stray cat, meowing a mournful call for the loving stroke of a stranger.

 

He raised a brow, a brow of thick and unruly hair that made him seem wild and free from the harsh constraints of reality.

 

He took my hand, he kissed it, and he told me I was a maiden in distress who he would save. He would be victorious, in conquering my heart and saving me from my troubles.

 

Lorenzo, from where the laurel trees are.

 

Where victory is.

 

* * *

 

I started eating more. I grew hungry again. Before, abstaining from food had been my rebellion. It was my one way of proving to myself I still had control.

 

Food had always been a love, a passion. I remember cooking with Mamma, preparing meals for our family. All of us together, back when Papa was still around. Crispy bread doused in rich, golden olive oil, and served alongside fresh tomatoes with bursting skins they were so ripe. Silky, bright saffron risotto melting upon my tongue and gliding fluidly down my throat…

 

Resisting the delicious food cooked in the kitchens of my husband’s manor had been difficult. That was the point. Resistance strengthened my mind, whilst my body weakened.

 

Yet suddenly I was hungry again. I couldn’t resist. My self-control crumbled and I couldn’t be bothered fighting in that way.

 

I realised I didn’t want to whither and die from starvation. I just wanted to escape into another world with Lorenzo. This would be different to the loneliness, where my only company was the crazed thoughts in my head.

 

* * *

 

We talked in secret. I left him letters, letters that I slipped out of the small window in the room where I painted, where he would collect them. We shared our secrets. I told him the truth. He didn’t seem to mind, he didn’t care that I was married to another.

 

I wanted him, ached for him, burned to spend precious time in his company. And one night when my husband was away on a visit to Florence, he came to me.

 

Never for a moment was I guilty for being unfaithful. Not after what my husband did to me. Lorenzo was a chance I had, a way out, a spark of happiness in a world where slowly my life drained out onto the canvas.

 

Over and again, I would relive those moments with him.

 

* * *

 

“Lorenzo,” I murmured.

 

“Come here.”

 

When I heard him say those words, saw him reaching out to me, my breath caught in my lungs. Left me trembling with some emotion I knew must be love.

 

His arms closed around me, protecting me in that moment from the world and all it’s harshness. Away from my husband, finally my body melted with tenderness and relaxed against his.

 

I could hear the beat of his heart. Feel the pulse in his veins. Pulling back ever so slightly, I could tell that sincerity shone in his eyes. It was true. This was real. This was beauty and I would remember every tiny detail. From the curve of his nose, to the smooth lines of his lips, to the slight indent in his left cheek that suggested an injury from a childhood brawl.

 

I would remember.

 

* * *

 

My affair with Lorenzo was different. I wasn’t like the other ladies, other wives I had met.

 

Many of us had lovers; I knew because we would confess to one another after several glasses of wine, giggling about secret escapades down the canals in the light of the moon.

 

They did it for excitement, to add flavour to their boring lives. But I was not with Lorenzo for the thrill. Not for the danger, of riding on the edge and running the risk of being caught. Not for an amusement to fill my time with.

 

It was something different that drew me to him. This beauty of his heart and soul, as well as his body, called to be captured.

 

He restored my passion to paint reality. He revived my hunger to immortalise the world and it’s wonders, the love and the joy and the sparkling golden droplets of sunlight, spangling the canal waters and reflecting off the ripples left by little boats.

 

I wanted to do this, and more. Finally I could be true to my sight, I could depict what was before me in its raw magnificence.

 

I had to paint. I was driven to paint.