Sad Eyes

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

A young girl stares out of the canvas, her eyes big, brown, and sadder than anything I have ever seen. Her face makes a peculiar anger bubble inside me and I want to scream so badly.

“Such outstanding talent.”

“Every detail is so life-like!”

Every day I hear the same things, the same comments about the boring faces in the paintings that hang on every wall. People come and go all day. It isn’t always the same people, but I do recognize a lot of them. It makes me tired, so I sleep. Though it isn’t just the people who tire me; it’s staring at the same, unblinking faces day in and day out. It’s the cooing over sad expressions and oddly posed statues. It’s the clack-clack-clack of high heels on the swirly-patterned floor, the drone of the air conditioner, the hush. The entire darn thing tires me because nothing ever changes.

I think I’ll go to sleep early today.

A soft shuffle, like cloth on wood, wakes me. Or perhaps the sound is more like the whisper of long dresses sliding over the floor—a sound I only hear on the quietest days. It’s a sound that doesn’t belong, and it makes me curious. I must see what’s going on! I strain my eyes, peering into the darkness. In the next room, across the hall, I see him: an old man. Like many old men, he’s hunched and wispy, wearing a tan coat and black slacks. I wonder if he’s lost; maybe he got stuck inside? He must be confused because I can see him pulling a painting from the wall.

Nothing new ever went on here, especially at night! So, I watch the old man; silent, curious, and wary.

The man is breathing hard with exertion after taking down the heavy picture, and I can hear him. I can hear the shaky, wheezing breaths, the rattling of his lungs, the thick, sticky smacks of his chapped lips as he tries to restore moisture to his mouth.

I shiver, but I’m not sure why.

After long, labored minutes he finally catches his breath and drapes a sheet over the painting before shuffling out of sight. I strain to see what he’s doing. I don’t think he’s a confused old man anymore; there’s something calculated about his arthritic movements.

Waiting for him to return, I slip into a light doze. He’s gone for what feels like forever, but when he does totter back into my line of sight, he’s carrying something big and square. A new painting? A new face to stare at, day in and day out? Maybe this one won’t have the same sad expression…

With considerable effort, lots of grunting and wheezing breaths, the man hefts the new painting into the place of the old. He stands still a moment before pulling off the cover with shaking, fat-knuckled fingers.

A young girl stares out of the canvas, her eyes big, brown, and sadder than anything I have ever seen. Her face makes a peculiar anger bubble inside me and I want to scream so badly.

The sound I make is like a harpy’s shriek; a skull-splitting, eardrum-shattering squeal. A noise to make people cower in fear, run and hide, bleed from their ears…but the old man hears nothing.

With a sigh, I close my eyes, resigned. I’m ready to go back to sleep, but I hear the man gasp. I crack an eye open to see him staring at the old painting on the floor. The sheet has fallen off, startling him.

Even though nothing has really changed, I go to sleep with a smirk on my lips for the first time in…well, ever, really.

 

***

 

I dream of the little girl in the painting all night, her sad, sad eyes haunting me. It feels like I know her, but I can’t pinpoint the memory. The anger from the dream stays with me. Awake now, I can still see her across the hall, partially obscured by gawking visitors. She stares back with her sad, dead eyes, and it makes me angrier than ever.

I try ignoring her, try settling into my usual routine of watching and listening. All I hear is people praising the new piece.

“She’s gorgeous!”

“Her eyes are wonderfully expressive, like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

“It’s kinda freaky, like it’s watching me.”

“Oh my God, I know, right?”

I don’t understand what they see in her; she’s the same as all the others. Another face on the wall, another thing for people to stare at and pretend they’re smart and sophisticated. But…if she’s no different, no better, why does the sight of her make me so angry?

It isn’t important. None of the things that happened last night are important. I’m still hearing the same comments about the faces I look at every single day. They all talk about the detail and how life-like everything is like it’s their religion. Though maybe if I didn’t have to see them every day, I might say the same. I’d say Jason has beautiful, soulful eyes. I’d say Ariel has an adorable pout. I’d say Gray has a wonderful physique. That’s what they all say, after all.

“Oh! This painting is grotesque! She didn’t look like this last week, did she?” asks a woman with an immaculate perm and pearls the size of eggs.

“Heavens, no! What on Earth happened?” replies her companion.

I can’t see the painting they’re talking about, so I continue to listen.

“This one has changed as well,” adds a third voice. A man.

“Did the artist switch them as a joke? It’s disgusting!” Ms. Perm shouts.

“Relax, dear,” soothes Ms. Companion.

“Perhaps this is part of a new exhibit? The pieces have been growing stagnant of late,” Mr. Man suggests.

“Well, I don’t like it one bit.”

I wish I could see what change they’re talking about. I want to see a new expression on the old faces, even if it is grotesque. At least it wouldn’t be sad.

“Mommy, this statue is leaking!”

My eyes find the little boy in the crowd and the statue he’s jabbing his finger toward. People crowd around the piece, the one I know as Clarus, and whisper to each other. Even above the hiss of voices, I can hear the trickle of water, and the plop plop plop of drops falling into the puddle forming at its base. The crowd parts abruptly, giving the statue a wide berth. I strain to see what has everyone so concerned, but the wall of people still blocks my vision.

“Is that urine?” gasps a disgusted Ms. Perm.

The room immediately begins to buzz with whispers, like white noise with a rare discernible word rising above the din. Some of the crowd move and I can finally see what they are all rambling about. On the floor at Clarus’ base is a yellowish puddle, and I admit my curiosity is piqued.

The whispering pulls more people in, and the crowd grows as everyone stops to see the statue. Two rarely seen security guards come to disperse the crowd while simultaneously questioning guests to see if they can figure out who vandalized the piece. They have no idea, no one was near the stature when the problem started.

With an odd sense of anticipation, I watch the guards clear the room and turn befuddled expressions on Clarus.

“No way it was a kid,” comments one guard. “The statue is too tall.”

“Right…and it’s kinda gathering in the grooves of stone. Guess we’ll have to check the security feed. Ugh, it stinks,” grumbles the second guard.

The two men shake their heads and walk away, leaving the room empty and silent. Just like that, it was over. I’m alone with a statue that wet itself while the new girl stares at me from across the hall. Well, I did want things to change…I just never expected things to get so strange.

Maybe I’m still dreaming. No…this is nothing like my dreams. My dreams are darker, scarier than the monotony of the day, even if it did have a sprinkling of weird events thrown in. No, I don’t think I’d ever dream about a janitor mopping up a puddle.

Bored and alone, I watch the janitor clean up and block Clarus off from the public. People walk by, mumbling to each other. Poor Clarus almost seems to radiate mortification with his hunched posture and hands covering his face. Did he always look like that? I can’t seem to recall, but something feels off, like I’ve forgotten something important.

It’s her fault. It has to be! I glare across the hall, over the heads of milling visitors to find she was no longer looking back at me. Her eyes are closed, tears tracking down her cheeks. The same sad expression remains on her face, but now she isn’t staring at me. Was I imagining it this whole time? I swear I heard people talking about her eyes. This can’t be real.

I close my own eyes, praying everything will be back to normal when I open them again.

The quiet calm I’m used to returns long before I dare crack an eyelid open, and when I do, I’m looking directly at her. Her eyes are open again, but something still doesn’t sit right with me. She isn’t as sad as she once was. Perhaps I am merely used to seeing her now, and her expression always matched the others. Everything was going back to normal now, right?

With great difficulty, I tear my gaze away from her to find everyone gone. It’s nighttime, and the building is empty. In my panic, I must have slept the day away. Oh! But the building isn’t as empty as it seems, as I can hear the whisper of cloth across the floor again. Is the old man back? Did he bring another piece?

Attentive, I wait, watching and listening for any sign of him. He’s the only one I’ve ever seen after dark. I’ve heard employees whisper about the building being haunted, but it’s such a silly notion. I’ve never seen any ghosts, and I’m always here.

Long minutes pass and all I hear is cloth. I can’t quite tell where he is—the building echoes terribly—but I’m sure he’s nearby. Near enough that when he mumbles something, I can hear his raspy voice. I’m not sure of the words, but I can make out the sounds and the gnarled grate of vocal cords ruined by too many years of smoking. A familiar, unpleasant, sickening sound.

I shiver, and still, I am unsure why.

Soon, the tottering old man shuffles his way into my line of sight. He’s pulling something with him…a hand truck? What on Earth does he expect to move when he can barely keep himself upright? He wanders his way into my room, to Clarus, and just…stares. Disappointment fills his rheumy eyes and deepens the creases on his face. He sighs in his rattling breath and adjusts his thick cable-knit sweater before turning away. Positioning the hand truck, he moves around behind Clarus to wiggle him onto the flat part on the bottom.

You’ll never do it, I think with a nasty smirk. Watching this poor old man struggle fills me with a perverse sense of amusement.

Pausing in his efforts, the man scowls and looks directly at me. He can barely see me through his clouded vision, but he stares and his lip curls into a snarl. Licking his cracked lips, he analyzes what he can see like he’s searching for something deep in the recesses of his mind. A cruel, horrible, twisted grin exposes yellowed teeth, and his gaze bores into me. He mumbles something under his breath that I don’t understand before returning his attention to Clarus.

Shaken, I continue to watch his movements. There’s nothing else I can do but watch. I can’t find my voice to yell, though I wish I could.

The old man spends arduous, agonizing minutes wiggling Clarus back and forth, maneuvering his considerable weight onto the hand truck. Sweat runs in rivulets down his face, collecting in the creases, and soaking into his wispy white hair. Once he’s satisfied with his work, he pulls a handkerchief from the pocket of his slacks to dab away the sweat while observing the statue. Unhealthy wheezing breaths wrack his chest as he tries to catch his breath.

When he is ready, he moves back around the hand truck, grabs the handles, and puts his foot on the leverage bar. He hefts the thing with a grunt. Clarus wobbles. He freezes. Clarus topples, falling to the floor with a crash, pieces breaking off and shattering. The old man’s eyes widen in horror. A thick, black liquid spreads from the broken statue.

My eyes flick back and forth, taking in everything I’m seeing. Part of Clarus’ head chipped off when it hit the tile floor, but instead of seeing more white stone, I see what looks like matted hair. The black ooze spreads further.

“You’ve given me trouble for the last time, Clarus,” growls the old man. His deep, rumbling voice pierces me, leaves me cold and full of shame.

I can’t remember why, but yet I know I’ll never truly forget.

I’m shaking, terrified and confused. I only see death in my dreams. I only see art when I’m awake. The two are never to cross paths. That thick black ooze is blood, old and coagulated. I’ve seen it before, but where? Why? Oh, poor Clarus. What happened to you?

The old man bends down to pick up pink-stained pieces of plaster, and I scream. Get away from him! Leave him alone! But he doesn’t hear me. Again, he doesn’t hear me. I’m a failure, just as I’ve always been. I can’t help anyone, not even myself.

An aching cold settles inside me as I close my eyes once again. I’m useless. I ignore the scrape of plaster on the tile floor. The wet crunch of old meat and bone. The grunts. The wheezing. I ignore it all, just like I used to.

 

***

 

There is no Clarus. There is no new statue to replace him. There is no stain on the floor or pieces of plaster forgotten in the cleanup. I feel I’m the only one who knew he even existed.

I’m still cold. Scared. Angry, even. At the old man, at the people wandering around, oblivious, at myself. All I can do is scream, but no one listens to the cries of the unwanted.

I dreamed of her again. She sits across from me in her pretty pink dress, her eyes bright with excitement. She was chosen over me; everyone always is. I’ve been here longest, and I will never leave. She’s leaving today though, to be happy while I sit and rot. I’m alone and forgotten. That’s how it’s always been, and that’s how it will always be. But then he comes. He picks me! I’ve never had a Daddy before…

Shattering glass and splintering wood shake me from my thoughts. I look up to find the girl across the hall fell from her mount. Her portrait hit the hard floor, breaking. The canvas slips from the remnants of the frame, laying limp on the floor. An employee scurries over to pick the piece off the floor before its ruined by shards of glass or trampling feet. She carefully lifts the canvas and pauses, cocking her head. Leaning in, she studies the brush strokes for a few seconds. Letting out a sharp gasp, she recoils, nearly throwing the canvas back to the floor. Catching herself, she summons another employee and whispers to them in hurried, frantic tones before they both rush off.

I don’t like their panic; I wish I could follow and see what has them so worked up. Surely it wasn’t as bad as what I saw last night? I wish I could tell them of Clarus. I wish I could tell Daddy…he’d tell me everything was okay. He’d pat my head and make me happy.

How long ago was I happy? When did I last feel Daddy’s hand on my head? Too long ago to recall more than a faint, passing emotion. I wish I knew what took him away from me…I can’t remember anything but this place; this room, the hallway, the room across the hall are all I know. The more I try to struggle with the memories, the farther they slip from my grasp.

The frustration makes me want to cry. Makes me want to thrash about, throw things, rip paintings from the walls! Though what good would it do me? Only bad children make a fuss. Only bad children bring attention to themselves. I’m not bad. I’m not! So…I stay quiet. I watch, and I listen, and I behave. I’ll be good. Good and ignored. Good and forgotten.

No one else comes by, no one shares anything about the painting of the little girl, no one bats an eye at the ill-hung frame. The quiet calms me and I feel the anger and frustration melt away. Strange coincidences, that’s all these occurrences are. Nothing to get worked up over. I’m just tired and my imagination is getting the better of me, that’s all. Sleep has been hard to come by the last two nights, and I’m just overwhelmed. That’s all.

Though, if that was all, how come I can’t sleep now? How come I can’t close my eyes and wish the night gone? I don’t want to stare at the dark corners, imagining monsters crawling out of the shadows. There are already monsters in the shadows of my dreams. Monsters that manipulate, monsters that leer, monsters that scream, monsters that touch…I only hope they are monsters and not memories.

It’s funny how long the night is when all there is to do is count the seconds as they tick by, but as they do, my eyelids begin to droop. I’m not sure when I nod off, but I wake to the shrill scream of a woman.

My eyes snap open, instantly drawn to the source, and I see chaos. Glass everywhere, a wounded man, destroyed drywall where frames had been ripped from their mounts, people whispering in sharp, panicked tones…The man holds his face as blood streams through his fingers, his visible eye wide and terrified, confused, his lips muttering silent questions. People crowd around him, tend him as others try and clear away debris.

Employees I don’t recognize swoop in to calm the crowd. They spirit away the injured man and disperse the group with practiced ease. Silence returns just as quickly as it was torn away.

I’m left baffled and shaken. I never should have wished for change. I never wanted anyone else to get hurt. Those three, the tattered, torn canvases on the floor, have been here longer than me, but I don’t know their names. I only know that, like me, they were here long enough for people to stop caring and forget. It won’t matter they’re gone now. No one will miss them.

It's too much. It hurts too much. I want to go back, I want to hide in the dark where no one can find me, where no one can torment me, no one can scare me…I don’t want anything to change anymore. I’ve had enough! I’m sorry I wanted anything. I’m sorry! I’m sorry!

I squeeze my eyes shut again, chanting a mantra of apologies to whoever may be listening. My vision is red behind my eyelids and all I hear is the hiss of rushing blood. Cold pain and exhaustion wash over me and I’m shaking. Falling. Breaking. Bleeding.

Fear forces my eyes open and all I see is him. His face, wrinkled like a shirt in need of ironing. Wet eyes, half-blind and full of malice. Sticky, chapped lips sighing out foul breaths.

I shiver, but now…now I know why.

Blinded by the delusion of being wanted, I never saw it before…I thought he needed me.

“Stop crying. You’ll ruin my hard work,” Daddy scolds gently, the soft affection in his voice never reaching his eyes.

I can’t answer, fear gripping my very essence.

“So, it seems the stupid rumors were true. I should have known I’d never really be rid of you. You were destined for the furnace after all the trouble you caused me, all the work you ruined, but someone saw you and said you were too pretty to burn,” he tells me, tilting his head and looking upon me in disdain. “So, I kept you, put you here with all the other failures.”

Tears openly stream down my face and I peer at him through the blur. He doesn’t look like the man I knew; he’s older, scary, cold-hearted. This isn’t my Daddy.

All the fake affection disappears as he slams his hand against the wall next to me. “Enough!” he barks. “I told you to stop that crying! Always crying! I gave you everything you wanted and all you ever did was cry about it!”

I never wanted any of this!

“You cry and destroy my work. That’s all you were ever good for,” he whispers, shaking his head.

This man’s hate-filled voice instills a bone-deep fear in me that is somehow familiar, somehow disgusting and dirty. Another shiver runs through me and my whole world shakes.

“You want to destroy this, too? Go ahead; you still won’t find anyone to miss you.”

I’m shaking now, and the sound of rattling glass fills my ears. Everything is vibrating; my vision is hued red and pulsing with emotion. My eyes narrow and I glare uselessly at the old man through my watery eyes.

“Stop!” he howls now, reaching out to grab me.

But…I feel nothing. Why? I should feel his gnarled fingers biting into my arms, yet I don’t. I feel nothing at all. Eyes wide, I look down at him and see my own fear reflecting in his face. He pulls and I’m thrown forward, crashing face-first into the tile floor. I scream, but I don’t make a sound. I don’t hurt. I don’t feel broken or shattered. I don’t feel anything.

Because I felt too much.

I felt useless my whole life. I felt unwanted and unloved. Ignored. Overlooked. Left out, dismissed, invisible…I felt joy when you smiled at me. I felt love, acceptance, and belonging. I felt shame when you used me, disgust at myself for letting you. I felt so sick with the need to be wanted, I let you do whatever you wanted to me. To them. “But not anymore.”

I push myself to my feet, glass biting into my palms and splinters digging into my feet, but there is no pain. My expression is set in stone as I turn, moving toward the old man and watching him quake. He must feel as they all did when they cowered at his feet. Each step I take sends him backward until he stumbles into one of his priceless statues and it wobbles precariously before toppling to the floor with a deafening crash. The plaster shatters and black blood seeps out.

“Stay away!” he screams at me.

“You won’t manipulate me anymore,” I hiss, moving ever closer. My foot sinks into the sticky puddle leaking from the broken cast.

“Manipulate you? I gave you a home. I gave you a family! Just like you wanted!” he wheezes back, panic constricting his lungs.

Finally free from my paralysis, I spread my arms wide. “You gave me a graveyard!” All around me the room erupts in a cacophonous explosion of wood, plaster, and glass.

Cowering, the old man throws his arms over his head. “I brought you the friends you never had!” he tells me.

I pause, eyeing the man I once adored. He’s small, trembling under my gaze. “You call them friends; I call them victims.” Taking in the destruction around me, the closed-off doors of my mind continue to unlock. Things only available to me in faded dreams scratch their way to the forefront of my mind. “Every brush stroke you forced from my hand, every pigment you made me mix, bone you made me grind…I remember all of it, Daddy.”

“You wanted to help me make my art. Don’t act all high and mighty now.”

The anger I first felt at the old man’s presence settles thickly in my chest. It flows out of me, surrounds me, radiates from me, stronger than anything I’ve ever felt. Screaming won’t fix this, won’t even bandage it…I need to end it.

“All I wanted was love. We all wanted love!” Steadily approaching the man, I back him from the room of his so-called failures. I look around, recognizing every face I see, every pair of sad eyes, every statue. Why was I so blind I never noticed before? What had that hold on me? So long spent in a dreamy haze of boredom and sad eyes, believing all was right in the world. Denial. Fear.

“I’m not scared of you anymore. I’m going to do what I never could before; I’m going to help them,” I say, taking in all the famous artworks. My stomach churns. Memories of blood and flesh float to the surface.

“You can’t help the dead,” he growls at me, making a feeble attempt to stand up straight.

The throb in my chest is sickeningly close to sympathy as I watch this trembling, barely functional man try and stand his ground. I lower my head, watching him from beneath my brows. “Watch me.”

Closing my eyes, I stretch out my back and arms, feeling…whole. I imagine walls covered in blood, paintings revealing their dark secrets; the bone white and human hair and pulpy mashed flesh texturing skin. I know what scared those women so much. I know why all these paintings and statues receive praises of realism. I know the man before me is no artist; he’s a butcher.

“What are you doing? I demand you stop!” the man shouts, voice wavering.

My brow twitches as I open my eyes again. All around us my imaginings, my dreams, stain the walls. Any art still clinging to their mounts begin to melt, exposing the organic lies beneath the varnish. Red leaks from frames, running down white walls and pooling on the tile.

“No more demands. I’m done standing in the shadows. In the morning, people will see who you really are,” I tell him, my eyes welling with tears as pain grips my heart. I should have put an end to this long ago when it mattered. When these portraits weren’t just forgotten photos of missing children, missing teenagers, vagrants, homeless, unwanted, unloved…

The man is trembling, eyes searching as he clutches his chest. “People know who I am! The painter of lost souls, world-renowned.” He bares his teeth, a heavy crease settling in his brow blending into the mass of wrinkles already there.

An ugly laugh bubbles from my throat. “You’re nothing but a thief and a murderer.”

“You were no better,” he wheezes at me, his knees refusing to hold his weight. He hisses out a breath as he collapses into the shattered glass.

You took them! You killed them! You stripped and boiled the bones for me to grind. This is on your head, and your head only!” I scream back, my voice echoing through the room.

Daddy’s skin pales to an ashen hue and his gnarled, arthritic fingers clutch more desperately at his chest. I watch for a moment as pain flows through him and he tries to form weak protests. I sigh softly and kneel before him, spreading out the hem of my dress and watching blood soak into the fabric. Reaching out, I put a tender hand on the old man’s head, mimicking something he used to do to me when I was a good girl. When I didn’t complain, didn’t get sick, didn’t cry…

“Do you remember what you told me in the end? As you pulled the knife across my throat and spilled my blood?” I ask him, putting my fingers under his chin and tilting his head back. His wet eyes search mine, hazy and scared.

He swallows hard, shaking his head.

“At least God wants you.”

Tears roll down his cheeks as he looks up at me, no longer seeing me. Releasing him, I stand and turn my back to him. He can stay here among the remnants of his life, on display for the world to see.

Each step I take feels light and weightless. My dreams were never dreams, and though my conscience is heavy, the shackles will be gone soon enough. When the art becomes evidence, the last key will turn, the last lock will drop, and no longer will I have to stare at sad eyes.

I hear a whimper and a plea for help behind me as I enter my room once again. I ignore him as he ignored me. Instead, my eyes lock on the ruined portrait on the ground. Crouching, I reach for the twisted frame and turn it over. Tears wet the paint, streaking the color of a face I know well, yet barely recognize. Sad eyes, full of pain, stare out of the canvas, begging for help, begging for someone to listen to her heartache. How long did I silently beg before I forgot why I was begging? The last time I saw this face was in a mirror, and now here I am, staring at the portrait of a girl long dead. So much emotion in one painting, a macabre mockery of my life. My death.

“Not even God will want you now!”

I whisper a shaky apology, though I’m not sure who it’s for. The old man? The victims adorning the walls? Or…myself?

The last physical remnants of me stir on the canvas, the portrait shifting into a smile. I’m not surprised I ended up like this, too. But…it doesn’t matter anymore; it’s over. I smile as well, running my thumb over the nameplate still attached to the ruined frame.

This Angel is finally going to have a Father who loves her.


Submitted: October 20, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Kristin Kuffner. All rights reserved.

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