If he were to paint this story, he’d use the room as a frame: sturdy whitewashed wood, like driftwood, washed up by the tide and bleached by the wind, grooves and grains carrying a million years of salt and water. His canvas would be the light, shining burnt umber in the late afternoon. The window and the view beyond – blue skies, scrubby cliffs, the dancing yellow of the mimosa trees – would not be visible. He still believes that some things are best left to the imagination.
If he were to paint this story, he would project the outline of a man and an easel onto the light, and gradually fill them in until they became dull and opaque against the shimmering background. The man would wear a paint-splashed shirt, an apron, a beret, the full cliché. In his hand would be a palette of muted colours, colours like the landscape on a cloudy day. The easel in front of him would hold a canvas, and on the canvas the shape of a woman would be recognisable but not yet formed. A half-being, caught forever at the moment of becoming. Terracotta and ochre would colour her dress in a swirl of silk and laughter as she dances, alone, in a driftwood room against burnished light.
If he were to paint this story, he would add a stack of paintings into the scene: on the floor, propped up against the wall. If the viewer could look through them – carefully, one by one, so as not to upset the stack – they would find them all the same. A woman, alone, dancing in a driftwood room in burnished light, her terracotta dress flaring in the sunshine.
But he won’t paint this story, not again. He’s found that there are some things that colour and shape and brush technique can’t capture. The sound of the laughter that he refuses to forget. The music that only she could hear, and the distant waves and gull cries that accompanied it. The sweet scent of the mimosa and the sickly fragrance of morphine; it was supposed to be odourless but he could smell it, tangy and pervasive. The soft beat of her heels on the floor. After all, she’d said, what else is there to do before dying other than dance? Dance with me.
On the wall, both in this driftwood room and in the painting – for there is no difference between them – a clock ticks, time trapped behind the glass face, waiting to be set free.
About the Author
Elodie Barnes is a writer and editor. Her work has been recently published / is forthcoming in Gone Lawn, Wild Roof Journal, and Past Ten, and she is Books & Creative Writing Editor at Lucy Writers Platform. When not travelling, she lives on the edge of a wood in northern England and complains incessantly about the weather.