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The Last Painting of Odessa

Short story By: Joanna Strafford
Historical fiction

Odessa is heart broken after her former love betrayed her and married another instead. However, she decides it is best to use her "life lesson," in the form of a painting. She realizes that most people who come into your life don’t purposely want to hurt you or let you down, it just happens. In the end they wouldn't feel honored for “teaching a lesson.” Only those who pretend to care would expect an award for teaching you how to let go.” But Odessa has her own lesson for Charles that she plans to teach - she paints much better when the truth is no longer sugarcoated with lies.

Submitted:Oct 2, 2013    Reads: 66    Comments: 2    Likes: 0   

She smiled despite of her feelings earlier, as she tucked his note inside the bosom of her gown. She took the lantern out to the shed after she had supper with the hired help. She had shared some custard too with Mary. It was her favorite desert. She said goodnight to her brothers and sisters and explained that she had an idea for a painting and she wanted to start on it before sunrise. Her eyes felt dry and seemed a bit red for the most part. Janet had asked if she had been crying and she hinted no, only some packing dust had gotten into them. Janet and the other servant Diana were busy cleaning up in the dinning area. Odessa sat at the table and seemed a bit out of sorts. Her eyes seemed fixated on something that wasn't really even there. Perhaps she was thinking of something or someone, but it didn't seem to make her happy much at all.

"I hope you are not thinking of what's his name." Diana said finally after watching her for most of the night. Odessa looked up and asked "Who?"

Diana seemed pleased over the response nodded happily."It's time to put the past behind us. You have to keep your head out of the clouds. You're flakey. Sometimes I wonder how you lasted so long here after all. I could have handled it better on my own. But I have you to look after you, mostly. And I have to stand up to the rest of them who don't feel you are good enough. Oh what about Odessa? They ask. DO you think she can do it? Of course I have to say yes. If I didn't than I would look like an idiot for keeping you on? I only do it for your mother. Rest her soul. Who would have thought you would have become such an airhead?"

"Oh come on Di. Let off a bit. Odessa has been enough this year." Janet told her.

"Only because she allowed it! Don't you see I am only trying to help her in the end? If it wasn't for me setting her straight, she'd be going on about it for another year and a half. It has to end. He had the choice and he's chosen it. He is where he always wanted to be. Who did she think she was pretending to be someone that she is not? Prancing around like some noble woman to impress the prince or get his attention where it wasn't needed! Making us look like fools!" Diana explained.

Odessa stood up for herself before many times, but not this time. She nodded and agreed. "It was foolish of me to pretend."

"Well I am glad you finally realize that!" Diana said.

"I still think he's the fool." Janet said. "An ass in varying degrees. That scarf you should find some good use of it, mail it back and tell him to hang himself." Janet wiped the dinning table free of crumbs.

"Yes Mam."

In the shed where she kept her painting, she read over the note she wrote earlier in her room. She thought it would help her to get her thoughts out, even though she was never going to mail it to him.

Dear Charles,

"I have your scarf. It is mine now.... It is mine to wear. To smell. To hold. To dream. Alright, alright...I'm pretending it is mine. In my heart, dear Charles it belonged to you and still does. It was my present I gave you for your 17th birthday, before they shipped me away to live with that man I hate in town, who rapes me in my room at night, and why I chose to sleep in the barn with the pigs. He won't go in the barn. I know this for sure. It is beneath him. He won't sleep with pigs, even though he is a pig. I pretend a lot you know, Charles. My dreams come alive through my paintings. You said once, "Careful Odessa you could pretend your life away." I know you are boarding that ship soon. And I bid you farewell. You see I know you are married now to Elizabeth. Long ago you told me it wasn't by choice. It was what they wanted for you. And I just got in the way. They'd say how could you love the girl that sleeps with pigs in the barn? "You cannot marry the hired help," Your king tried to explain to you. "It is against all traditions. It is a mockery. You are born to privilege and that comes with specific obligations. You will be a king. And you will marry a princess."

I did not go to the wedding, even though you asked me. I said it would have been too hard. But then I watched from the castle gate, through those iron gates. The same gates I held onto at eleven when they said I could no longer live with you in that castle. And they took me against my will.

"I won't let her go!" You screamed out running after me and throwing stones at the knights shipping me away. "You cannot take her from me! Bring her back! Bring her back!"

Even then you promised that you would always be there for me and visit me anytime I wanted, just like you do now or did. As a friend you loved me more than I could ever know. I hated you for marrying her, because I loved you and it was easy to push you away when you came to see me. But you still came back, even after I said those hateful things. You still came back to watch me paint. To hold me close. To love me. And I believed every word you said. Every word. I still do, well up to now.

I know you have been truthful. So it's hard to read that note and believe it so maybe I am sugarcoating the truth of it. But I hold the scarf now. The scarf I gave to you, to keep you warm. And you always kept it and wore it, but now it's around my own neck. I hoped you gave it back to keep me warm until you came back for me in a few years like you promised. But that's just me sugarcoating it of course."

She took out the note he wrote to her and read it over again. She read it so many times already; she started to read a few of the sentences over and over, hoping that it would change by the end of the night. But she knew it wouldn't.

"Dear Odessa,

I am leaving now. I cannot take you with me and I am sure you can understand why. The truth is that I am born to specific obligations. Maybe I haven't always been so honest with you about a lot of things, especially when it concerns your heart and mine. But I am being completely honest now. I have grown to love Elizabeth in more ways than I can comprehend. It happened and I cannot change it. But I thought of us. I thought of what we could have had, if things were different and our future. But those are pipe dreams. I know you would hate me for this, but I have to bear the burden of that on my head. You live in a world that is littered with nonsense and fairy tales and dreams. But maybe that's all you can afford. I should have communicated with you better instead of promising you a world that holds no truth and all lies. It became all twisted in my head. I cannot promise a future for us. It would never exist and my family would not allow it.

I give you the scarf back, not to keep warm but as a reminder of what you can't have and a reminder of what I could of had if I really wanted it. But I guess your heart was in it more than mine ever could be which is why you still are dreaming of fairy tales while I am actually living the real thing.

I can't tell you what to do with the scarf, Odessa. Wear it. Throw it out. Give to someone else who is more deserving of it. Be creative. I know you are capable of this. You have a collection of paintings that might be famous some day.

This is all I can offer you as a friend, if you still want to call me that. Sincerely, Charles the Fourth"

Odessa went back to her own letter to him and read where she left off.

"Oh it's true I cried when I first read it; I cried knowing that you could not bear to bring it to me yourself and had your cousin hand it to me early in the morning. And I had ALL morning to digest it. But now it's enveloped me completely. I cry now because I realize how unfair this world is and how completely frustrated I am with the way it is run and how it continues to harm: innocents. Where the working man and woman are dragged to the end of the earth and pushed of the edge - and the rich sit back and live a fairy tale life.

I need a different type of love, the type that you never could give me. What I have to do now it is very important - it's just not important to you.

The promise and the lie: You were going to take me away to live with you and Elizabeth and I could be the hired help. You could not have me live with that man anymore, knowing what I told you and what he did to me. Once you were king, you could do what you wanted and that would have been the plan. "Am I worth it?" That's what that man said; the one that once burned my face with a steel rod, the same rod he used to poke our fires with and I looked him in the eye and said "I believe so." He said I was insecure and dumb. Maybe the truth is that YOU are not (worth it) as I have been asked so many times of myself. Maybe the truth is that you are insecure about yourself. Maybe the truth is that you know you are a pile of horse manure, but you have to make yourself believe it isn't true like I sugarcoat the idea of being a princess when I am just a servant. But maybe that man that I have grown to despise so much, really told me the truth, "That you would eventually forget about me."

The truth was all I ever wanted, and I had it but I chose to ignore it like everyone else. We sugarcoat things so it doesn't hurt anymore. I understand that much.

I didn't want to believe it was over. It hurt me much to see you marry Elizabeth. In my dreams I always wanted to be the one under the veil. Pretending was always my way. But I even questioned the authenticity of our friendship even then and more so now.

"Charles, sometimes I think it's so weird that we're friends." "Yeah I know what you mean, but that's what's so great about it, Odessa. It's unpredictable. And it's amazing. No one could ever understand it, except the two of us. And we will always have that bond that no one will ever break."

I am painting my final and last painting, Charles. You inspired me to make it my last and complete my collection. I'll make sure to let them know to ship them to you, when it's completed. If not all - this last one so you can hang it up in my memory. And pay close attention to its details."

She looked up at the pale moon and looked at the stars. She felt dizzy for a moment as she balanced herself on the beam. Where am I now? The barn or the shed? She thought a moment to herself as she closed her eyes.

She sometimes felt like a kid who tipped her crayon box over into the sky, a crayon box that had been left out in the sun so it was just melted wax-she'd spread the melted wax with her fingers in all different directions, whenever she was ready to create something. On her drawing stars burst from clouds and their golden sparks rained down through the atmosphere until it turned into a mild rain shower that brushed her face before falling to the ground. It almost felt like she was watching the creation of something that she didn't even have anything to do with.

She often felt the same way with her writing as if someone was just telling her the words to write, whispering in her ear because he or she lost the ability to put pen to paper or had their hands torn off and could not write. The project had nothing to do with her - the magic of it all was contemplated by someone else and she felt guilty for taking all or most of the credit.

In the shed, it was dark but she knew she was creating something. She drew herself; her long soft black hair was flipped away from her pale skin, wisping through the wind. A thin, white, lace dress hung from her ivory shoulders. Her ankles were crossed and hung over one of the edges, balancing her as she leaned into the sky, painting silver and gold stars. She was articulate, and graceful, and well as much as she hated to say it, perfect. She wasn't worried about who was watching her or the lengths of her strokes. It was like she was illustrating something that had already been created and she was just filling in the truth-where the lies desecrated in the milestone of her mind.

Around her neck she painted the scarf, the beige long frilly velvet scarf. But as she continued to paint, the end of the scarf become longer and longer and longer and it was growing, like a snake coiling in and out of the soil, and then it grew longer, like the one in the barn, resembling a rope. It was tangled though inside a net and a nail - but something large was growing under it, like a body of a woman - with arms and legs and long black hair and large almond shaped eyes.

There was a tear coming down her cheek, a single tear. But once you trailed her face and the outline of it, you saw that she wasn't just crying. There was a hint of a smirk at the corner of her mouth and you became confused at her emotions. Was she sad or happy? Was she disappointed or grateful?

Back to her letter, she ended it with this thought. "Charles, if only you could see me painting now, this last one - just for you. I could imagine what you would say.

"That is gorgeous, Odessa. Where did you learn to use paints like that?"

"Ever since I knew I was capable of painting something true and not sugarcoated with lies that everyone is used to."

"And what is everyone used to?"

"Fairytales having happy endings," She smiled at him. "Just so you know, I finally found good use of that scarf. You may have it back when you see me again. But that time I'll be forever enclosed in sleeps embrace, and the warmth of the sun will be all that I need."

Sincerely, Odessa


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