A dark-haired Girl with pale, lifeless eyes, no older than seventeen, but with a countenance hardened beyond her years arrived here around six months ago with no expectations and no purpose. Fate had steered her path in a single direction: one blackened by tragedy; soiled by betrayal; eased only by cynicism and shabby expectations.
“Here” was a massive room; yet, for all its spaciousness, no furnishings filled the void of white walls and stark, faintly marbled floors. The sole breach in the room’s sterility was a striking set of doors, centered to the front wall. Though the room was clearly designed with a sharp, contemporary eye, the doors had an incongruous, traditional style — an elaborate ornamentation of unfurling metal skillfully placed over the seeded, glass windows and an outer arch composed of four, curved panes that added grandeur while directing soft light throughout the room. Copper knobs plated with metal motifs adorned each door, their intricacy undoubtedly attracting the eagle-eyed attention of both architectural connoisseurs and everyday onlookers. Within the room, the elaborate doors were most distinct for the aura they radiated — one of welcome and warmth; the feeling of sunshine on a harsh winter’s day.
A hazy image of an impressive manor materialized in the Girl’s mind. She had once stayed there. With smooth, stucco walls, a tiled roof the color of sunset-lit desert sand, and rich, wooden features highlighted by warm, ambient lighting, the mansion held an immense appeal. Its interior, though a motley of different styles, was just as stunning. Three occupants had shared this manor with her: a dutiful father, a nurturing mother, and a sweet son. The Girl paused her mulling briefly, realizing that it had become a household of two.
It was the mother who had picked the Girl up. She found the Girl abandoned in a musty, cramped storage area filled with various, unwanted things — old mannequins, costumes, bizarre-looking kitchen contraptions. The Girl vividly remembered the man who had shoved her there — she had coined him the nickname “Pattern Man” because he always paired revolting articles of clothing. Once, he wore a hideous flamingo tie, a gray and white checked shirt, a houndstooth double-breasted blazer, and matching houndstooth pants. He was eccentric, yet quick to judge others by appearance: a complete hypocrite. After one look, he had deemed the Girl “weird” and hid her in the storage box. Not that the Girl cared; rather, she was glad to be shielded from his hideous outfits, and amused by his arbitrary judgement of her. Many people were usually startled by the Girl — they felt her jarring gaze penetrated their souls. The mother was a rare exception; upon seeing the Girl, she clapped her hands with delight and immediately brought the Girl to the manor.
The mother was a young, beautiful woman with clear, blue eyes and silky, auburn hair; however, creases had begun lining the corners of her mouth — she was overspending her smiles for her family’s sake. The father loved his wife, the mother, for far more than her looks, but the Girl quickly learned that the mother was his second priority at best.
Their son, still young, was only six years, but quite clever. Upon first sight of the Girl, he was startled, and said, “she’s like an ‘Elf on the Shelf,’ but not happy… always watching, and not necessarily in a good way.” The mother chastised her son, and told him that the Girl must have a story — one that explained her demeanor.
The Girl had grown slightly fond of the mother; she thought that the mother understood her and was ready to listen to her story. However, the Girl lacked the myopia to believe such innocent happiness would persist in her future and the household’s.
Within a few years of the Girl’s arrival, the mother, possessed by some potent force, bolted away from the household, taking an impressive sum of money and her beloved’s inky black Mercedes. She had shamelessly discarded her family to quench an avarice for freedom, and splendor within that freedom.
After the mother left, the father had furiously expunged the manor of everything she cherished, including the Girl. He disposed of it all on the manor lawn.
The Girl had nowhere to go after she was cast out. Occasionally, she would glimpse snapshots of the fragmented household’s affairs: the cruel way in which the father blamed the son for the mother’s madness, the broken way in which the son developed during his most critical years, the destructive way in which abandonment had slashed unhealed scars on both the father and the son. It was an unfortunate, but expected, reaction.
The Girl languished for longer than she could remember, sitting on the browning manor lawn. Each day, despite varying weather conditions, was no different to her — except one gloomy afternoon when violent rustling from the unkempt palms caught the Girl’s ears. It continued until suddenly, out leapt a scraggly man. The man was wearing a grimy newsboy cap and various layers of sack-like clothing, their colors indistinguishable due to filth. He scampered to the pile of discarded things near the Girl and ruffled through, pocketing several fistfuls of jewelry.
“Well, yer an interesting thing, aren’t ye?” the man gleefully grinned to himself after finally noticing the Girl. He grabbed her and darted away from the household. The Girl tried to quell her rising curiosity about the scraggly man and what he wanted with her. He had beady, black eyes, a mousy, chin-length tangle of hair, and large ears. Perhaps he would be a good listener. The Girl’s optimism quickly extinguished as she realized reality could never possess a person trustworthy enough to listen to her tale. Each person she had met had been spoiled by vices; even this man was a criminal, for he had both trespassed the property and stolen items of considerable value from its grounds.
The scraggly man ran for days, resting periodically, until he reached a bustling market mishmash of colorful pop up tents and weathered stalls. The Girl felt a repulsive surge in her throat from the commotion of hawking vendors and the unabashed haggling of crowds. Unperturbed, the man wove through the swarm and halted at his desired stall.
“It’s been long, my friend!” The stallkeeper greeted the scraggly man with a tilt of his black-banded fedora.
“I foun’ some goodies that might interes’ you!” responded the scraggly man, eager to lay out the ransacked items. As he unknotted a fist-sized bundle from which gem-laden jewelry spilled, the Girl glanced at the stallkeeper, expecting to witness a detestable, cunning downplay of his enthusiasm. Instead, she traced the stallkeeper’s line of sight directly to herself.
“I’ll take the lot for five thousand dollars,” the stallkeeper hurriedly proposed.
“Tha’ won’ do. I got ‘sepnces, you know? Throw in an extra fif’een hun’red and you got yourself a deal.”
“Fine,” The stallkeeper was uncharacteristically anxious to settle a price; he employed none of the typical merchant beguilement. He shoved a mass of twine-bound bills at the scraggly man, who, after swiftly squirreling it away under his newsboy cap, disappeared into the mob. Turning towards the Girl, the stallkeeper began surveying her with raking eyes, hoping his boss would consider her a valuable find. His boss was a museum patron who naturally took an affinity to pretty and peculiar things. She’s really got a piercing look about her, the stallkeeper thought. She’d, at the very least, interest my Boss.
The stallkeeper took long strides to his car, and placed the Girl and his briefcase in the backseat. Here I go, yet again, thought the Girl. How tiresome! Fate has cursed me to ceaselessly be circulating, searching for a worthy person to listen to my tale; searching to no avail.
A gentle creaking echoed around the massive room, bringing the Girl back from her memories to the present. Light splayed across the marble floors as the imposing, wooden doors began opening. In all the time the Girl had spent in this room, never had the doors opened. Her curiosity was aroused. A man holding a large key ring emerged first from the doors, followed by a steady stream of people.
Aline was excited for today. Her grand-papa was taking her to a wonderful place — the new museum. Visiting museums, especially art museums, was Aline’s favorite activity. She eagerly got dressed for the day’s outing, testing different outfits before settling on a flowy, white dress and sandals. Grabbing her blue, leather knapsack, she rushed to the apartment’s front door, anticipating the arrival of her grandfather. Disappointed by a bare hallway, she called out to her mother, “When is grand-papa coming? I can’t bear to wait any longer!”
“Any minute now, dear,” her mother patiently replied.
Aline flopped on her bed and sighed, her mind teeming with thoughts. The newscast mentioned the museum’s first exhibit a lot. Perhaps it’s an enormous sculpture? Or a fresco? That would be impressive!
Though the front door knocker was nearly inaudible from Aline’s room, she caught its tapping and ran to greet her grandfather, a slight old man. He embraced her in a firm, loving hug. After kissing her mother goodbye, Aline cheerily clasped her grand-papa’s arm and set off to the museum: a mere fifteen minute walk, but to her, an eon had lapsed before they finally arrived. She skipped up the wide steps, ready to enter the museum.
“Grand-papa, look at those magnificent doors! And those doorknobs! How interesting they are, with all those beautiful patterns in the metal… come on, hurry, Grand-papa!”
The old man chuckled at his granddaughter’s enthusiasm and shuffled up the marble steps to meet her. Together, they entered the museum and into a massive, bleak room.
“How strange. The sign announces that this room holds the first exhibit, but there isn’t anything to be seen! Oh! What’s over there?” Aline bounded to the left wall of the large room, her grandfather struggling to match her pace. On the extensive wall hung a lone painting, no larger than the L’Innocence print that hung near Aline’s bedroom. The plaque beneath read: Exhibit 1- Cecilia.
“Aline, I’ll be waiting for you at the next exhibit. There seems to be some fantastic sculptures there,” her grandfather called.
Aline hardly heard him; she was too intently focused on the piece before her.
“So, I suppose you’re Cecilia.” Aline gestured to the painting. “Cecilia, you look a little disdained and sad. I wonder what happened to you… ”
The Girl recovered from the surprise of the doors opening. By now, several hundreds of people had stared expectantly at her — all of whom seemed either disappointed or puzzled. Now, before her was a dainty girl. She wore an airy, white dress that complimented her soft features.
The Girl had a premonition that this child — Aline, was it? — was one who could listen to her story; she seemed unsullied and attentive. For the first time in ages, the Girl spoke.
Aline’s eyes widened. She heard a voice in her mind, faint at first, but now distinct. Was it — could it be — “Cecilia?” Aline asked out loud, astonished.
“Indeed, child. That is my given name. Now, be silent and listen closely — I have a story to tell you. I am now a painting; however, I once was alive — I grew up with a family and partook in typical activities as you do now. My parents were wealthy bourgeoisie and the subject of jealousy among my father’s siblings.
It was a stormy night. I was of nine years and was having trouble sleeping — thunder scared me. My mama went downstairs to our kitchen to heat honey-milk for me, while my papa read me tales from story books beside my bed. He chose to read Little Red Cap — cruelly befitting — until I fell asleep to the soothing sound. A few hours later, agonized sob-screams awoke me. I cradled my pink, velveteen teddy in my arms, clutching it for comfort as my small frame trembled with fear. The shrieks continued, interspersed with unintelligible words; some I could make out as protests — “NO… STOP!”
The voice was unmistakably that of my mother’s. With my heart pounding, teddy clutched to my chest, I padded over to my parent’s room — peering through the door, which was slightly ajar, I witnessed the most gruesome sight. I was petrified with fear.
In the bedroom glinted a blood-spattered dagger, wielded by my father’s own brother — my uncle. My eye followed the dripping dagger down to the ground, where my papa had been sliced at the throat. Near him — kneeling in his blood — and wracked by sobs was my mama. She was trying to reason with my uncle.
My uncle opened up my papa’s dresser, knowing that he kept a gun there — a gun my papa would never use on family. He slunk over to my mother. Steadily looking into her eyes, he raised the gun to her forehead. My mama had discerned I was near; her last words were addressed to me: “Cecilia, forgive this. Do not hold a grudge against others.” Her advice failed to register.
I ran away from the door, ran away from the house, ran leaving everything I loved, until I reached town. Dawn was just breaking. I sat on the front steps of a dreary looking bakery and wrapped my arms around my legs, trying to keep warm. But the cold still stung me. And so did the tears.
Fortunately, I was able to fall asleep for several hours, awaking to a jangle of keys and the words of “Who do we have here?” from a plump, middle-aged woman. I couldn’t trust her — couldn’t trust anyone, but of no other option, I followed her in. She asked about my parents. I said nothing, only shook my head. She patted my back, went next door, and came back after some time.
“My neighbor has agreed to take you in. He is a phenomenal artist and a man who I trust very much. Follow me next door.” I followed her to the neighbor’s loft-home. It was a single, large room flooded with papers and art supplies and paintings in various stages. There were scant furnishings — not much more than a bed, a work table, and a sofa.
The artist himself was a queer-looking man; he had narrowed eyes and a thin, black moustache. I stayed with him for three years, and over those years I grew increasingly suspicious of him. Something about his paintings seemed odd; as if the subjects were trapped… one that particularly disturbed me was of a frog. It had bulging eyes and four limbs spread so far apart it looked like it was undergoing an invisible quartering.
New paintings always appeared in the mornings; I never saw the artist painting in my presence. One night, after feigning sleep, I attempted to watch the artist. He had prepared his paints, his canvas — this one was about a poster size — but wasn’t painting anything. He suddenly turned on his heel and beckoned for me to come. He knew I had been watching. I walked slowly, terrified.
“Cecilia, it’s your turn to be painted.” He motioned to a stool. “Even though you never trusted me, I know you experienced betrayal. And I know that will forever influence you in shunning any person you deem flawed. Cecilia my dear, you may not understand this now, but every person has their imperfections. I cannot allow you to walk in a world for which you are not ready.” He repositioned me against the canvas. I became a rag-doll from fear, limp to his intent.
“Now, now, I’m not going to hurt you. Sit up straight, dear.” With a wicked grin, he began murmuring some nonsensical chants.
I awoke from a hazy stupor. Was it a nightmare? I tried to leave the artist’s eerie house by running to the front door. I couldn’t move. I tried again, in vain. Nearby, the artist sadistically watched.
“Now Cecilia dearie, I’m sure you’ve realized you cannot move. You may wonder why: O-ho-ho — it’s because you have become my newest masterpiece! You have been turned from a human to a painting! You cannot speak, except by telepathy. You will age and grow in the frame of my masterpiece. I’m doing you a favor; you can now observe the unscrupulousness of humankind without experiencing its hostility,” he chortled.
So, Aline, that is my story. For the past several years, I aged in the frame of this two-dimensional painting and was passed among people — a mother, a vagrant, a stallkeeper, and countless others: and not one of them was virtuous. They all had vices; they were unfit listeners — how could they understand the magnitude of human evils? How could they understand the betrayal I experienced? But, finally, I met you.
You may go now, child. Your innocence was my outlet for my emotion; now that I have exposed your mind to human treachery and worldly horrors, there is little you can do for me.”
Cecilia’s voice faded from Aline’s mind. Aline looked up at her, a newfound melancholy dimming her once-bright face. Pressing her eyes closed, Aline slowly breathed in and exhaled. With renewed fortitude, she met Cecilia’s despondent gaze and vowed never to become like her. Aline would choose to see the light in others; to forgive the darkness they might hold. After all, people are multifaceted: they have their strengths and their shortcomings, but in the end, it all constitutes their dimensionality: making them real and human — in a way a painting could never be.