Prison of Perfection

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

This shows what happens when we are obsessed with perfection and being hyper critical.

Submitted: August 27, 2018

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Submitted: August 27, 2018



Prison of Perfection 

By Kent Osborn

Avel painted meticulously. The fine-tipped brush was his closest ally. He labored more than ten hours on his paintings without taking a break. To an outsider, he appeared just as devout as any monk in a monastery. His paintings towered over him, and he raised his eyes, his chin, his whole posture up to them, as to heaven. The scale of his paintings made him feel like a child. Yet these walls did not make him feel confined in any way. In truth, his painted walls filled him with a sense of liberty and inspiration. He was aware of the potent powers that his paints had. To him, his bottles of colors were potions. He was aware of how powerful these potions were, and he made sure never to waste a drop. He never let the paint dry in clumps, always smoothing each layer with care. When asked what kind of paintings he made, Avel replied, “All of my paintings are windows…especially my murals. I cannot take credit for the scenes in my murals; the creatures, plants, and worlds have lived in the walls all along. For this reason, I say I don’t paint murals, I paint windows.” 

He never used water to dilute his colors; rather he used his own saliva. People who saw him spit on his paintings were shocked, thinking that he was degrading his own work. On the contrary, mixing his spit, an element of his being, with the colors, was a symbol of affection. While painting, he would pause and light copal incense, which he made from pine sap. He carried amber colored crystals of copal in his leather belt pouch at all times, and at certain key parts of the mural he would burn the stuff, concentrating the plumes of smoke on complex parts of the painting. When asked about this, he said “It might not seem like it, but the copal smoke paints as much as I do”. He muttered things under his breath as he painted. Some people said he was talking to his painting, others claimed that he was uttering incantations, and many said he was mad. 

More people would have shared this latter opinion, except for the fact that he took such exquisite care of his paint brushes, caring for and cleaning them with as much scrupulousness and professionalism as a paleontologist. He put all of his brushes in a small black zipper pouch. He let no one touch this bag. He let no one borrow his paintbrushes, though he was generous in sharing anything else. When he finished a tube or bottle off paint, down to the last drop, he would give the empty bottle several moments of reverent silence. He would hold the empty bottle and stare at it as though it were a candle burning. invested into an area no larger than his palm. As time passed, he devoted more and more time to smaller and smaller areas. He kept bringing his face closer and closer to his work, until he had to employ magnifying glasses, and even microscopes to view his subjects. One day, as he was painting an elaborate procession of amoebas, he met tragedy. A burning sensation alit in his left eye, then it quivered and tears welled in the socket. His eyesight fizzled in and out of focus, dimming and flashing like a flashlight with low batteries. Then the other eye started to follow suit, and Avel cried, “Bring me water, Ingrid!” His servant not only brought him water, but a tray of ice cubes as well, as this had happened more than once before . “Your eyes are about to melt in your head,” she said. “If you don’t give them a break, they are going to quit working one of these days.” 

Avel placed the ice cubes on his eye lids, and water ran down his cheeks as the cubes melted, and Ingrid could not tell that he was also crying. This scene had happened before, but never had Avel been so immobilized, never had he been so face to face with his own limitations. He glanced at his unfinished amoeba parade painting, and he dropped the ice cubes and they cracked on the ground. After much urging from his servant, his aunt, and his neighbor, Avel took a trip out to the forest to rest and recuperate. Hiking deep in the forest, he camped near a river. He stared at the river water, noting details. He say the river, its rippling skin lapping at the moss-skirted rocks, sometimes forcefully and other times lazily. He noted bubbles rising from the water, floating sticks and bark, small fishl he saw these details, and many others, too many others! He wanted to capture these details in paint; yet this was the one thing he could not do. He had intentionally left his art supplies at home. 

He needed a break. He needed to appreciate without imitating. Yet the beauty around him encroached. This was a siege of inspiration, everything in nature waved at him, taunting him, goading him on. This was difficult, yet he knew this was good for him, to be severed from his brushes, his wands…his colors, his potions. As he stared at the inspirational scene before him, he noticed his toes curling and uncurling, dragging in the sand. He saw that they were making marks, and they were attempting to draw flowing lines, like that of a river. After this betrayal, this descent into forbidden creativity, his camping venture didn’t last very long. He soon was running back to his art studio. He knew his will was flimsy and that he was giving up without a fight. But he comforted himself by thinking, "things will be different this time. “I will paint in large, sweeping, flowing, free motions. I won’t get trapped in details. I won’t lock myself in a prison of perfection. Instead of wrist paining, eye-straining paintings in the confines of my art studio, I will do a public mural downtown. This painting will be a fluent dance, involving my whole body, not just my hand and wrist. I will not use a chair, a magnifying glass, and I will not suffer eye problems again. 

My painting, and my body will flow free like the river. That is what I will paint! He exclaimed. “The river.” The day started out perfectly. All environmental factors played in his favor. The weather was cool, with only a slight breeze every now and then, the sky was clear, and the streets were mostly vacated owing to the fact that it was Sunday. Using a bouquet of large-headed brushes, Avel began painting the river. He started with a white basecoat, and while it was still wet he added grays, blues and greens, blending the colors quickly before they dried. The colors were blending just as he wanted them to, doing their tricks obediently and effortlessly like show dogs. This new way of painting was liberating and exhilarating, yet the temptation to hone in on a small part of the painting was always with him. The temptation was in the corner of his mind, taunting him like a mosquito bite that wants scratching. Every now and then, he would look at the painting and grimace. “This painting lacks depth,” he said. “Yet…with a few clear coats of polyurethane, mixed with some watered down grays…yes, that would add dimension.” 

And without second-guessing himself, he left to a near hardware store, where he purchased a small container of polyurethane. As he was painting, he noticed a box of small brushes in the corner. Without permitting himself time to think, he swiped one of the brushes from the box and said, “How much is it? 79 cents? Very well. No I don’t need a bag or a receipt.” He ran back to his mural, tearing the plastic bag from his new brush, and discarding it on the ground. This was untypical for Avel, an ardent environmentalist. As soon as he reached his paints, the small brush dove into them, the head of the brush and the paint co-mingling like forbidden lovers. He plunged into the escape of fine details, painstakingly working, one square centimeter at a time. Avel was thrilled by his own skills, his fine-tuned dexterity, his cunning ability to mix and contrast colors. The sense of time left him. His thoughts, which usually buzzed like an angry nest of hornets, were now as smooth as butter, and just as delicious. This state of tranquility persisted, yet as soon as it came, it left. The transition, from satiation to longing, from fulfillment to yearning, was so quick, it was hard to tell if it was a memory or a fantasy. He almost disbelieved that he had ever been satisfied at all. His eyesight flickered on and off, as it had before, and his hand clasped them. His eyes felt cold as ice against his palms. 

The coldness burned his hands and he pulled them away so that he was staring at the river through teary eyes. The river swayed. It burbled. He could hear the song of the current, it nourished his thirsty ears. He saw the moss pulling in the water. He saw the pebbles jiggling at the river bottom. He saw bits of leaves and debris floating on the surface. The mural had come to life. Instinctively, his hand lifted up, his fingers touching the wall that was no longer a wall. One by one, his fingertips felt cold, felt the wetness of water, and then each finger entered the painting. His hand jerked back and he saw a drop of water at the end of each finger, glittering like a jewel. One by one, the water drops fell to the cement, splashing by his feet. His face was consumed by a smile, like a child trying candy for the first time. His emotional roller coaster was derailed, and he stood looking in shock at his glistening fingers. The river continued flowing before him and the river sounds grew louder in his ears. With renewed vigor, he lifted up his hand and let his hand enter the river, and he went deeper, up to his forearm, elbow, bicep and then he leapt inside the painting, swimming deep within. Bliss had returned. He laughed, bubbles blasting out of his mouth and nose, for he was underwater. “I’m underwater and inside of a wall. He thought. Seamlessly, his laughter turned into screaming, and he saw the water around him freezing. “I’m underwater, inside of a wall!” his logic insisted. Avel found it suddenly difficult to move. Yet his screaming continued inside of him, echoing as in a canyon. It echoed for ages. The people who passed by the mural could not ignore the mural, though many tried. “That painting looks so real, Daddy,” one girl said. “Yes, those artists are very focused, aren’t they?” A couple walked by. The woman paused and pointed at the mural with a disbelieving expression. “That mural is too real,” the man said in an annoyed voice. He tried not to look at it, but his peripheral glances betrayed him. “Yes, it’s too much.” The woman said. People continued walking by for weeks, months, years, and decades. The screams never stopped echoing within Avel. Eventually the weather wore away the mural, and the paint began to chip and crack. With time, the old mural became popular among the neighborhood children. They would dare each other to touch it. They said it was cold and sometimes wet to the touch. They challenged each other to listen to it. They said they could hear the water splashing and muffled screaming. Some of the more destructive children would peel the paint from the man’s form on the wall. It looked more like skin than paint chips.

The End.

© Copyright 2018 Kentucky. All rights reserved.

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