~A Play of Smoke and Ink~
It was winter. The air was cold and biting, and there was a thin coating of snow on the ground. It was night, and the moon was a faraway sliver of silver, barely lighting the world below it.
The house was dark. I sat in the studio, on the worn sofa facing the eastern window. The window was a single pane of glass, a whole wall transformed into a view of the outside. With the lights off, I could look out into the world beyond my small house.
Beyond my window, I could see the lake. My house sat not seven feet from a lake that, at this time of year, was icy cold but not yet frozen. There was snow on the ground, untouched. I never went out back there.
So, I sat in the dark, looking out my window. It was late, I could tell. I didn't look at the clock, but I was guessing midnight or later. I should be asleep. No, really, I should be asleep. I never stay up past eleven. Not even when I go out. Not even when I paint.
I can barely make out my canvas in a corner of the room. The moon's light gently caresses the white of the empty paper. I haven't painted for months. Most of my friends have stopped asking about it; sometimes, I think, I'm no longer ‘the artist' to them. But no matter. I've never thought of myself as anything else.
So it's late, and I'm awake even though I shouldn't be. I can barely see anything. Save the view beyond my window. And I've got a nearly empty pack of cigarettes beside me.
Now, I don't smoke. They were my last lover's, left here by mistake, and I haven't had the heart to throw them out. I think I loved him. But tonight, here I am, chain-smoking a pack of cigarettes. They taste like burned things, like smoke and ashes, like charred canvas. It took me a whole three before I figured out how to smoke them. I still haven't gotten used to the taste.
An hour passes. A minute. A day. I'm not sure, sitting here like this. At first, I didn't even realize why I was here, why I was in such a mood. I don't know how to describe it. I feel...defiant. Ethereal. In love. I didn't think it was possible to feel all of that. At least not at once.
The smoke from the second-to-last cigarette winds toward the ceiling; is caught by the moonlight. Gray and silver meet; mix; make love. The blackness of the room seems liquid. Like a sea at night. Like ink, poured out onto a page. (My last lover was a poet, did you know that? He was like this, too: smoke and ink and fey moods.)
That's the word: fey. Like everything beautiful and profound and inspired and transcendent is inside me, filling me, taking the place of water and blood and bone and tissue. I feel like I'm made of light, of air; like a dream-thing. And then it hits me. I know why I'm here.
For inspiration. For my muse.
(The one I thought had deserted me; the one that took the form of a dark-haired, smoke-and-ink poet. The one I lost months ago.)
By now, it must be past two. It's so late, I should not be able to think. I'm on my last cigarette, and though I know my muse is coming, I can't keep waiting. I turn my gaze upward, to the slim line of sky visible in my window, to the smoke from my cigarette. Then down, at the dark water. Water like ink.
And then I see it.
A person, rising from the water. Her white dress is wet, the last foot of it still immersed in the water. She is bare-shouldered. No coat, not hat. Her skin matches the silver in the moon. Her hair is dark as the shadows in my room. Her eyes are as gray as the ashes of my cigarettes. She walks the last six feet out of the water, and I see she is barefoot. She does not look cold.
I watch, the fey mood inside me rising to a crescendo, all woods and brasses and strings and a single soprano telling me in a voice that is not my own: she is here. She has come.
She walks up to my house, stopping a foot from my window. As if sleepwalking, I walk towards her, and press my slim hands against the glass. Hesitantly, she reaches up one of her hands, and presses it opposite one of mine. She smiles, quick and slight, like clouds over the reflection of a moon in water. Like ripples in water. Like inspiration.
She doesn't say a word, and yet, I feel such things wash over me that I haven't felt in a long time. I feel a space in my soul open up again. I feel a rush of lightning through my bones. I feel music in my arms. I feel life inside me: all of life, truth and emotion and reflection and peace and love, love, love inside me, filling me to my core, and singing out through me to touch every corner of the room.
Suddenly my palette is in my hand, and a paintbrush in the other. I work, and work, and barely know what I am doing. Just the feel of it; feel of life, feel of faerie, feel of madness and art and love.
And then the dawn is breaking, and I am spent, and there she is against, my smoke-and-ink muse, come back to me again in new form. Like a phoenix. Bursting, singing, from the ashes. She smiles again, and presses a cheek to the glass. I turn my head and imitate her. Then she steps away, and as the first ray of light bursts over the lake, she is gone.
The room smells of smoke. I feel exhausted, like I could fall where I stood, and yet filled with energy, like I could run for miles. There is a smile on my lips, and black paint on my fingers.
In the corner, on the easel, is a portrait of a dark haired man with a cigarette in one hand, and a pen in the other.