It was a wonder, really, that the house did not collapse under the impact of so loud music. Is that the new generation music? Maybe it was not all that bad to be trapped inside a painting if this was the kind of things going on in the real world.
She was sitting on the bed and frowning at the him. Scarlett Williams talked a lot to herself. She nodded her head a lot. She did not like delay in decisions. Her hands were always in motion – pointing somewhere or clasped together, or flaying in the air when she was exasperated, or just twisting her fingers. She did not like confusions. She was frank and a woman of action. She asked questions. She wanted answers. If she did not get one, she provided her own conclusions. She had great intuitions too. She knew this was not a normal painting. That was a first for him and she got it pretty fast too. In the past years he had seen a couple of homes, a shop and an attic. His previous owners had not sensed anything abnormal. If she could sense the life in the still life, why hadn’t the other people felt it too?
Oooopssss.. She was standing too close. Yet, he could not see her. Not fully. But he sensed her confusion. Why was she staring at him like this? Her eyes intent on finding answers. “I am sure you have one… ” He thought, “Ohhh yes…. A name for me…!” If he could, he would have given a smile that was equal parts encouraging and challenging and annoying. There was no way on this bloody earth that Scarlett would guess his name right. It was a tough one. Its been so so long that somebody had called out his name, he himself seldom remembered his name. If he could, he would have…. He thought that a lot, didn’t he? How much is ‘a lot?’ He must have thought – could would should – even more than how much ever ‘a lot’ is.
Scarlett came back to room and announced that she was going to cook. Food.. Still life paintings do not get hungry. He did not feel hungry either. Instead he thought of all the banquets and feasts he had had all those years ago.. He remembered firing his cook for not getting the garnishing of the dish correct.. Why did he do that? Really, what was he thinking? He couldn’t believe how shallow and how trivial he had been. From inside the painting, he has apologized to every human, bird, animal, insect and plant for his insensitivity, insolence and arrogance and for hurting them. If only he got a second chance, he would prove it that he was actually sorry. If only he could…. There he went again…
“Theodore? Really! Who names anyone like that nowadays. And Scarlett, please no Timothy and no Robert either. Robert was my great great grandfather. But I don’t want his name.” Huh…she danced in between that! Of course he was trapped, that too for too long. But this was beyond him. He couldn’t even turn and watch her. He could only see a hint of her most of the times and it was killing him. Now, he felt ten times worse than trapped. It was torture. He was a man after all with a fully able mind and imagination. If only he could…
He brought the best out in her? Did he, now? He felt ridiculously happy. At least he was of some use to her. Jesus Holy Christ! Thank you. Thank you so much for this moment. If he could, he would have cried. After years of being utterly hopeless and useless, he felt a relief. Felt a little less burdened. “Ohh Scarlett, you too bring the best out in me. I wish… So many wishes Scarlett… So many…”
Suddenly Scarlett walked to the painting, looked straight at him and asked, “Why am I talking to you like you are a real person? Why do I want to give you name and why do I want you to like it? Why do I wonder what you look like? What is the colour of your eyes? Why don’t I feel lonely anymore and why do I feel it in my heart? Why do I feel that you are listening? Have I finally, I mean, actually gone mad? As in MAD???”
He was stunned. She was leaning over the painting, with one hand on the wall.He knew her breath was falling on the canvas, on his back. If it was a different life, the things he would have done, the things he would have said… “Ahhh Scarlett, you could call me Rudolfus blasted Franklin whatever Ebenezer Edgar, and I would still love it. And I mean it. My eyes. My face. I wish I could show you. I wish you could see me.”
“I wish I could be with you, stay with you. You feel it in your heart? I feel you in all my being. That is not much. But it is all I have. And I wish with all that being I possess, that you never feel lonely again. With me or without me. All those years I spent in the attic, without sun and sound, I have seen hell Scarlett . May you never see it. Never.”
“Of course, I am listening to you. And I will. As long as you let me. You can always count on me. You are not mad Scarlett . But, you might go mad, if you will ever listen to my story. You would hate me. You will kick me out of your house. You are not mad. I wish I could tell you…”
Silence. Nothing. He thought she went away. Then she exhaled a long and confused breath. Was she holding her breath? “I am sure I have gone mad. There is no other explanation to this,” she said and walked away. He wanted to shout. He wanted to stop her. He wanted to explain it her. “Ohh my God. Please… Dont do this to me. Dont…please.. Please…” There were so many things he wanted. What if she was confused and scared? Would she think the painting was possessed? Will she throw him out? “Lord, please let me stay. Give her strength. Give her patience. Dont let her throw me out please. Please give me a chance.”
As a prayer answered, the music changed. She must have changed it. This was better. He didn’t know any songs now. He did not remember the older songs either. Did he ever pay much attention to music? What kind of person he must have been if couldn’t even remember music? Different sounds were now coming from the kitchen. Has she started to cook? What was she making? Was she a good cook? What will be her favourite dish? Did she enjoy cooking? What…”
She walked into the room with a knife in hand and asked, “Are you Jullian?” She stared at him for two seconds. “No you are not Jullian. You cannot be.” She went back. For a second, he was terrified. He thought she came to tear up the painting. Ready for the kill, and end her suspicions. It took him a moment to calm down and think clearly. “Jullian? That sounds so young. Teenager type. No. I am not Jullian.” She came back again after few minutes, still with the knife. “You cannot be Alex either. Everybody knows an Alex. Far too common. And it doesn’t suit your hair colour. No. Not Alex. Is that okay?”
“No Alex either Scarlett. I once had an accountant by that name. And Scarlett, can you please leave the knife in the kitchen. It’s really not necessary. I’d be perfectly happy with name you give,”he replied. Or he thought, he replied.
“Ok. I am glad you agree with me,” she said and walked away again. Wait. Did she hear my answer? Did she feel it? Did she just wait for his response? This time he was prepared. “I just came to confirm that you are not David or Daniel either. Maybe you like those names. But I don’t. So no David. No Daniel. No arguments there. I wont budge.” He was ready but not ready for her abrupt departure. “Well, I can’t imagine myself as David or Daniel. So its ok. But if I wanted to, I will make you agree with me Scarlett. I have many ways of convincing and getting things done my way. No. Not evil ways. Just naughty.” If he could, he would have chuckled now. He was having fun, as close and good as real living and talking.
After some time she came back to room with her lunch and a glass of wine. She sat on that rocking chair and stared at him. For once, he was glad he was a still life painting. Because he was not sure he could be still even for a moment under her penetrating gaze, if he was a real human being. (Real human being? Did he start considering himself as a still life painting??) She had stared at him all afternoon. Then she looked away. Was she hurt? She did have a pained expression on her face. He didn’t know what he could have done that she looked away as if hurt by him.
Scarlett got up and walked to the painting and said, ” I know I am yet to give you a name. It feels as if I do know your name, but like I cannot remember. Can you believe that? I need some more time. Sorry… ”
“Do you think I am stupid? Maybe I have gone mad. Maybe you are evil. Maybe nice. You may or may not be what I think you are or I don’t think you are.” She tilted her head a little and asked, “Did I get that right? But, whatever it is, I am not going to give you away. I think I can’t. I have become too comfortable with you. I have been alone for too long. I need somebody. It feels like you are not really hanging out there on the wall, but inside my heart. I don’t see you as a mere painting anymore. That, I think, has been well established. I dont understand any of this. But I am done trying. I am always thinking too much, you know… Always reasonable, practical, sensible, realist… Maybe its time for me to be a little eccentric.”
She stood up, went to the wall, turned her back and leaned on it, just near to the frame. She was standing next to him. If he could just reach out, he could touch her. “People always leave. They break your heart. The don’t understand your dreams. They judge. They prey. They hurt without hurting. They kill without really killing. Not all are like this, I know. I have seen a fair share of both good and bad people. But, I have always been wary. I am tired. I have decided to give you life and accept you as a real man. I have decided to trust you and make you my partner, my home. I am not always a bad person, though occasionally I am worse. Will you see me through it? Wont you stay by me? Wont you just, hang-in there, with me? For me? Or after so much of melodrama, do you want to run and drown in that sea of yours?”
Scarlett Williams once again took his breath away. In that moment, he knew that she was his hope. He realized he was waiting for her. He understood that she was the reason that he was still alive. She could be the one to set him free. He would never leave her. Ever. Even if it meant ‘just hanging-in there.’ Forever.