Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Image He Loved

In the beginning was nothing. Not even a canvass. He stretched it and formed it on the frame he had fastened with steel nails. With the canvass spread, he placed it in his studio and arranged his tools around him. Before the first stroke, he felt the picture growing within him. An emotion he knew and nurtured blossomed until the colors bled into his mind's eye. As the image formed within him, he lifted the brush and dipped it in paint.

Strong, veined hands guided each tender stroke, bringing richness and depth to what had been empty and void. Order marched in harmony from his heart, his will, his hand, the brush and onto the work before him. Bright light cascaded from the sky, dappling the subjects, illuminating the bowls of fruit and glinting off silver platters. A festive feast awaited his creations, everything to sustain and please them.

Tirelessly, the maker coaxed his world into focus, providing joy to their faces and strength to their frames. Among them, a gentleman smiled, while a lady demurred innocently. Behind them, some laughed brightly and others nodded in fellowship.

He formed a tree, a sprawling, fruit-bearing tree, with various creatures playing beneath its shade. The fruit hung heavy on some branches and a few of the people held it in their hands, admiring it.

Hour upon hour, the maker smeared, blotted, stroked and refined his painting. From top to bottom, corner to corner, he worried over every detail.

While he worked, his young son came in to watch, marveling at his father's skill. Without a sense of time passing, his son would watch him work, drinking in the glorious creation sprawling out before him. It was as if he could hear the laughter, feel the giddiness and enjoy the camaraderie of the friendly throng. 

At times, father and son would sit back and tell stories, sometimes talking to the friends who inhabited the picture.

Then, after carefully applying his brush, the maker was finished. He and his son stood back and gave their approval. It was good. The maker never used a scale for his work. He would never say something was better than bad, but less than good. It was either good, or bad. Either it would hang on the wall or fuel the furnace.

Together, father and son, they carried the picture up to the master dining room and hung it over the grand mantle, above a roaring fire. In the pristine light from the windows and the glow from the fireplace, the image took on greater life. The people in the painting enlivened the room with their infectious companionship.

It was then that the maker decided to have a feast and invite all his friends to join him to celebrate the picture, feasting with them, in a way, around the grand table, warmed by the fire and in the glow of this wonderful image.

The next day, when he entered the grand room, the picture caught his eye, but not in a good way. Something looked odd, like a cold breeze had settled over the people and darkened the sky. Wondering if this was just a trick of the light, he brought his son to the room without telling him why, or what concerned him. He, too, said something looked distant, detached with the people they had, just the night before, been so familiar with.

Each day that passed, both father and son watched the picture darken and twist. They took it down and returned to the studio, looking at it in different light. But there, something more startling happened.

The woman in the foreground, the one who had the gentle blush, glared out defiantly at her maker. The man's smile had turned to a sneer. The merry crowd gathered around were now engaged in riot and vile activities. Clothes were torn off and the people were bent to degrading tasks, painfully, yet with hungry abandon. The fruit that had been so lush and inviting hung withered, dripping with rot.

As the maker and his son watched, their carefully created subjects joined the mob behind them, engaging in thrusting pain and empty amusements that further marred their images.

Then the son said, "What will you do? What you made good has turned bad."

"Yes. It's fit for nothing but the furnace. But it isn't that way because of how I made it. Somehow it chose to stop being what I intended it to be."

The son could see that, though the picture now reviled its maker in every corner of its canvass, the father had not stopped loving it. In fact, he seemed to love it just as much, knowing how painful this path was and what would have to happen to the world he'd created.

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