Paint Me-7

Her face was alive with the sheen of her earlier exertion. The warm glow of the lamps cast a pleasant spell on Sari’s face as her smile slowed Gunnar’s thoughts and drew him into her voice like a soft melody. The clink of forks on Stoneware and the exciting breath of happy expression conducted a rhythm that kept time with excited hearts and mesmerized minds. It had been a good week.

Gaston thought if those two get any more sugary, he was going to hack up a hairball. He abandoned his bowl of food to go take a dump in his cat box. He bet that would break up the googly-eyed BS.

Gunnar appeared animated about the day’s events. He paused and looked longingly at Sari, who no longer cared that her smock was careless in its duty to protect her modesty. She signaled Gunnar that she wanted him to want her, to admire her for more than his vision of her on canvas.

A lively discussion of nature and the beauty of the spirit of late autumn invaded their senses and struck the right chord. Their collective past faded from the forefront of their thoughts. Gunnar sensed Sari’s acceptance of him. He wanted to show her his growing love for her in the one way he connected with his feelings. He stood to escort her to the bench for the last sitting of the day before bed.

When he offered his hand to Sari, she stood close to him, placed her hands on his chest and looked up. Her smock remained open like a door, inviting him to experience her and the beauty of her nature. Neither knew how long that kiss lasted. It signaled the wait for each other was over. Sari eased herself away and took Gunnar’s hands in hers.

“Paint me with your passion, Gunnar.”

Memories flashed in Gunnar’s mind. The metaphor had meaning to him. It connected him in ways he was unable to find otherwise. His thoughts of painting on canvas evaporated like the fine mist of hot breath in the cold night. He wanted to paint Sari with his senses. He wanted to paint her skin with his fingers; the blush of touch was his color of choice.

“Sari, you are the only vision in my mind that I could ever reproduce with these hands and hope for any clarity of the feelings in my heart.”

Sari led him to the tub that offered a warm respite from those memories that bound them in the silence of their past. Gunnar and Sari became each other’s present and future, one kiss and one caress at a time. Steam from the tub condensed on the window and mirror. Diffused light reflected from the window on the light dusting of snow in the branches of the fir trees giving the branches an eerie glow, like outstretched arms seeking the comfort of night.

Soft warmth from the Turkish towel left on the radiator felt luxurious on Sari’s skin as Gunnar wrapped it around her and closed his arms around her waist. She turned to face him and pressed herself against him. Their breath came in shallow waves of emotion as the heat of passion burned off the hinges to the iron gate of their last defense.

Gunnar picked Sari up and carried her to the bed. She kept her arms around his neck and tugged him over on top of her where she wrapped her legs around his waist and held him tight as she attacked his neck. Her entreaty of pleasure ripped the bondage of loss from Gunnar and he responded with a desire to consume every centimeter of Sari’s body as she flung herself into his passion. They burned together like the pine in their iron stove until exhaustion left them in the heap of disheveled sheets and dreams.

***

Sari awoke entangled in Gunnar’s arms and legs under the down comforter. She felt a strange revelry in the warmth of his eager flesh nestled against her and her breasts held tight against his chest. She felt wicked and sensuous. Gunnar was ready for her again, even as he slept. Too energized to sleep and too timid to wake Gunnar with her yearning for more of him, she decided she would treat him to brunch instead.

They were a real couple now. Gunnar was growing more aware and focused. He was happier and always in the present. Even Gaston was taking advantage of Gunnar’s new presence by demanding meals served on schedule and belly rubs to suit his mood. Sari’s gamble had paid off.

For a few short weeks, Sari revelled in their reawakening together, like newlyweds. The chores of maintaining the cabin in the crush of winter snows were now invigorating games of look what we accomplished. 

Poor Gaston was already suffering cabin fever. He feared his cabin mates would soon be insufferable with their constant banging and knocking about. At least Gunnar could chop and stack wood on the porch to keep the fire going in the stove while he wallowed on the bench by the window until sleep eased his distress. The girl was sweet but that damned singing while washing dishes made his hackles rise. Why couldn’t she meow properly?

The bench by the window was abandoned except for a towel and Gaston’s imprint. The scent of fresh paint was long gone. An old paint smeared piece of sheet hung over Sari’s portrait. There was no room in Gunnar’s life for painting obsession and he talked about someday finishing the painting, maybe in mid spring when the light shifted to a less austere color.

The warm cabin glowed with a cleanliness and order only a happy and dedicated woman’s magic can create. Gunnar and Sari had spent the winter cleaning, repairing, and freshening every inch of their home. At dinner, Gunnar shared his newest plans.

“I talked to Johann today at the store. He plans on opening the mill as soon as the lumber supply picks up during logging season. He offered me a job in the yard running the logs into the mill for sawing. I can get all the splits and sides I want free, and we can build a garden house on the back of a studio. I can do all my work out there instead of bringing it in the house. Hey, plus he pays well.”

The brightness and enthusiasm in Gunnar’s eyes filled Sari with so much love, she felt her heart couldn’t take it.

Paint Me-6

Boots crunched dry leaves and twigs like grinding alfalfa in a bovine jaw. Sari walked along the forest path lost in her thoughts as Gunnar surged ahead still talking and waving his arms as if she were still at his side. She worried her plans for Gunnar might not work. Sometimes, she wondered who was more insane for this charade, Gunnar or herself. Maybe they were both whacked for wanting the connection and love they both needed from each other.

Gunnar continued to walk ahead of Sari absorbed in some new vision of nature that captivated him. She fell further behind staring into the shafts of light that filtered through the autumn leaves creating a halo around the dark figure in front of her. He instinctively reached back to feel for her hand and missed her. Gunnar turned and saw Sari behind him on the path, her blank expression, half in the light, and half-hidden in shadow. Sari blended into the background, fading from Gunnar’s gaze. Gunnar saw the ghost of Melanie fade from his sight. Curious about this apparition in the shadow, he went back for her.

Strong arms brushed down Sari’s shoulders to the small of her back. She felt herself sink into the warmth of Gunnar’s embrace. The hint of paint and spirits mixed with the earthen scents of the forest floor, cool air, and wet leaves flooded her senses; soothing the terrible ache in her heart. She buried her face in Gunnar’s chest and inhaled him like incense to dispel the ghosts of distant thoughts.

Firm lips touched her forehead and whispers filled her ears. His words fell on her with the same softness as the leaves that danced their swan song in the light as they fell to their final resting place on the trail.

“Don’t think about it. It will only turn your present into numbness and steal the breath from your future.”

Sari wondered how he could know what troubled her, why she was suddenly afraid of the shadows of the forest, afraid of him, and his ever distancing pace. She held tighter to Gunnar, unable to speak or move.

“Come. The edge of the lake is well lit and we’ll see the endless depth of the sky below our feet in the lake. Beyond that, we’ll find the otters playing. Come, Mel…Sari. Leave it here in the darkness where it belongs.”

Gunnar felt Sari relax. She stepped a half step away looking down at his waist, her hands gently feeling his chest and trailing down his sides. A warmth spread along his skin under her touch. He felt reluctant to let the sensations pass. She looked up into the light to take in the dark form of an enigma that pulled her into Melancholia’s canvas and made it her own.

Gunnar reached for Sari’s hand again. She let him. She always let him. They walked to the light at the edge of the lake in a muted silence. While their body’s craved the closeness, their minds drifted apart, lost in the chasm they struggled to cross. The opium den of remembrance held them in addictive silence.

Sari, placed Gunnar’s arm across her shoulders as she reached around his waist. She wanted to feel him close to her as they walked; entranced by the mirror lake. His words painted the walls of her soul, covering her fear, and replacing it with hope. Sari felt her body awaken to Gunnar’s desire for Melanie’s darkness that swirled around her eccentric painter like a ghost. She wanted to fall headlong into whatever it was that kept him so peaceful and quiet. An overpowering urge to drown herself in his quiet passion grew stronger with every breath and every step. Hope was returning.

If only I could be happy living in his dreams, she thought. He would never abandon me. Sari felt Melancholia’s sad gaze on her back as she embraced flowing into Gunnar’s vision of Melanie at his side. No, no, it was best this way. He needs to know, I’m not his fantasy. I’m not the Melanie that left him. I’m not the hurt that locked him inside his mind. I’m his door to freedom. She smiled. Yes, the door to freedom. I’ll do whatever it takes to save us both.

They followed the path to the spillway and stood still, listening for the splash and playful bark of their otter friends. Soon they spied them down further near the deeper water playing on the boulders, chasing each other in distracted delight.

“Look at that one Gunnar!”

“The poor boy appears drunk!” Gunnar spoke with a knowing chuckle.

“He does wobble a lot.” Sari confirmed with a muffled laugh.

“I think that’s Jeffery. He’s always in trouble with his clan for some otterly shenanigans.” Gunnar looked on, approving of Jeffery’s intoxicated wobble.

“Oh, look at those two over there in the grass,” Sari pointed with a renewed excitement Gunnar hadn’t seen before. The otters seemed to draw the innocent child away from the haunted woman.

“Ahh, the lovebirds. That has to be Oliver and Olivia. I expect some new pups in the spring if they keep smooching on each other like that,” Gunnar chuckled.

Sari hugged Gunnar’s waist. Their eyes met in sparkling humor at the delightful emotive otters.

“Do you think we could be lovebirds, Gunnar?” She knew this would trigger him into a crisis. He would withdraw deeper or come out in his true self. It was the right moment to test him.

Sari’s question burned Gunnar’s heart with exquisite pain. He looked into her face and felt her energy draw him to her. He fell across the boundary that separated them. Gunnar felt her lips kiss him so soft it was difficult to know if it was really happening. Their passion welled up and covered every crack in their psyche with the balm of birthing love and desire.

A sharp bark brought them back from the realm of dreams. The painter and his model turned to look at the source of the noise. The raft of otters had gathered to look at them. They were all wearing broad grins and barking their approval.

Paint Me-5

Steam rose in a pirouette above the plain mug. Near the handle of the mug, a hand lies still on the table like a sleeping dog, except for a tremor in the index finger. The stillness was exquisite.

Gaston rubbed against Gunnar’s legs and spoke of his morning adventures in a matter of fact cat voice. Gunnar reached down and scratched behind the cat’s ears. Gaston waited impatiently for more, nudging a little harder. Nevermind, Gunnar was off on one of his naps again and Gaston knew he’d not be back soon. He sauntered off with an air of indignation.

***

Sari walked out on the balcony some time later. She stood captivated by the beauty of the lake and mountains. Birds soared above the lake and trilled in the fir trees at the side of the cabin. She spied Gaston sneaking up on a chipmunk. “No Gaston, bad boy,” She yelled. The chipmunk disappeared in a crevice between two boulders. Gaston looked at Sari more indignant than ever and trotted to the other side of the cabin out of sight of prying eyes.

Gunnar looked up at Sari, his fingers clutching the coffee cup. He studied Sari over the edge of his cup as the coffee erased his daydreams and brought him back to the moment.

Bright eyes searched Gunnar’s face and melted the last vestige of his lingering fantasies in the same way the sun burned off the mist’s exotic dance on the lake surface below.

“It’s a beautiful morning, don’t you think?” Sari’s voice sounded relaxed.

“It is beautiful, Gunnar replied. After the sitting, would you like to go for a walk along the lake?”

“Oh! I’d love that. I want to see the otters at the spillway. They are so cute and fun, it always makes me happy to think about them.”

Gunnar wondered when it was they had seen the otters together. “We’ll go visit them and see if they will come out to play with us,” Gunnar said.

Gunnar’s mood elevated at Sari’s delight in sharing their walks and the desire to see the otters play in the stream that fed the lake. It was one of his favorite things to do. He began to visualize more detail of his painting as he watched Sari sitting next to him looking out at the view. Gunnar became excited and could barely contain his urge to paint.

First, they enjoyed a good breakfast together and spent the morning in quiet reflection. Later, the brush and palette of colors began their ritual of adding more patterns and shapes in strokes broken by moments of silence before beginning again. The mountains emerged on the canvas as Sari’s outline began to form in the foreground.

Sari had watched each day as the window she sat in front of formed on the canvas. She stared out the window until Gunnar would come to her and adjust her pose to the changing effects of light. He touched her face and stared into her eyes. He adjusted her loose smock to expose her to the light, always with delicacy, like a lover who also paints.

Now, Sari’s face and shoulder emerged, almost translucent. Gunnar seemed to see through her to the mountains dominating the view in the window. Sari was like a glass pane that revealed everything behind her. Slowly, she was emerging in Gunnar’s painting. She watched as her outline went from ghostly to warm and inviting as the skin tones went on the canvas at the tip of his brush in slow strokes building on layer upon layer, bringing her to life on his canvas.

Gunnar looked with self-satisfaction at the haunting image. “That’s enough for today, Sari. We’ll let the paint dry and start again tomorrow.”

Gunnar went to Sari and offered his hand to help her up. Sari smiled at this unnecessary ritual of his. It seemed his way of wanting closeness with her after being so absorbed in his painting. She stood, holding his hand as she tried to close the open smock. Gunnar saw the full length of her body through the open front. His heart ached for her as she looked up into his face aware she had shown him more of herself than her artist required. It was the way Melanie had done as well; reacquainting him to the woman that filled his dreams and his canvas, pulling dreams, canvas, and model together into one.

Secretly, she enjoyed that hungry look in his eyes. It had been a long time bringing him out of his shell this time. “Let’s make some sandwiches and go see the otters, Gunnar.”

“I think I am ready for that,” Gunnar replied, unable to avert his eyes from her searching face and the casual hang of the thigh length shirt.

Paint Me-4

The stone mortar and pestle ground the minerals to powder in ceaseless repetition. Strong hands, familiar with the toil of making pigments for paint in the old way, worked tirelessly until the studio grew dark.  

A bright light filtered through the window marking the end of the day. Gunnar paused. He sat mesmerized by the sunset colors that streamed through the window, bathing the wood floor with a warm glow.

Gunnar imagined Sari poised intimately in the light as he painted her portrait with the pigments he spent a week making. An antique bench with red velvet cushions waited for her by the window. It was painstakingly cleaned and refurbished with the intent to make it worthy to seat the woman who breathed life back into his defeated soul.

Gaston, now spread eagle on the cushion, his tail twitching at the tip, dreamed of tom cat adventures. He had thought the cushioned bench was all for him and nothing would satisfy him until the bench passed his cat nap test. It was his favorite color too. Gunnar seemed to think Gaston’s approval was forth coming.

Sari would meet Gunnar at the studio in a week and stay while he memorized every detail of her features; the gentle curves of her face and body, the warm color of her skin, and the glow of her hair in the light. When she left, he would work for months alone in a mindful obsession to capture her life on his canvas. Gunnar fantasized that Sari would not leave him here alone. He hoped to keep her with him for as long as she would stay. Melanie’s pleading face formed in his vision. She had left for a walk before dinner and never returned. Gunnar agonized over all the possibilities for her leaving. None hurt him more than the thought she was simply tired of him and his painting of her. He hoped Sari would be the one that stayed.

The mad painter returned to his mortar and pestle. He continued to turn the raw minerals into pigment he later mixed with virgin seed oils and spirits made from the distilled sap of trees like his ancestors did in the 1500’s. Their Alpine masterpieces still hung in private collections and museums. Someday, he hoped his works of art would find their rightful home as well. He pressed harder into the mortar.

Visions, so real and unrelenting mesmerized Gunnar. The mad painter hoped Sari would live, like his memories, in the light of sunset from across the distant mountains. Gunnar imagined every detail as the mortar and pestle scraped with a hollow sound. The grinding echo of his labor kept pace with thoughts entwined with a colorful fantasy that played through his mind.

***

A short time later, Sari sat on the bench in repose and looked out the window across the meadow and lake to the mountains. She found solace in the image colored in a bluish glaze against the greens and browns of grass and fir trees that rolled up to the mountains like living carpet. The lake below mirrored the sky and mountain peak that dominated the valley. She shared her sittings with Gaston who took a purring delight in her attention. She smelled good and had a kind heart like his Melanie.

The steady scratching of Gunnar’s charcoal pencils lulled Sari into a daydream that held her still like statuary in a garden. She was in love with the respite and solitude of Gunnar’s mountain retreat. She liked Gunnar’s quiet, unassuming nature. His gentle touches as he posed her was a secret pleasure as was his Nordic features. She felt he had a feral look that made her stomach tingle and flushed her cheeks and chest when he looked at her with that piercing gaze. She was used to the man gaze, but Gunnar took it to a new level. Sari felt in a juxtaposition of thrill and intimidation forcing her to suppress her inner desires.

The warm studio hosted shelves full of art supplies and odd pieces of furniture and tables covered with the artifacts of Gunnar’s madness for his art. The aromatic scent of oils and spirits lingered on currents of air like ghosts. Sari wondered if Gunnar painted Melancholia in the loft where she now slept. She felt Melancholia’s presence on her skin in the star-shine that lit up the room at night and while she bathed in the cast iron tub. Sari felt connected to Melanie through her portrait that dominated her apartment. They understood each other. Sari guessed their hearts had shattered in the same fiery kiln of love and loss in similar ways. While they both had mastered the art of hiding their pain, it was always there in the depth of their eyes. Sari saw it in the painting that night at the art show. She saw it still in the mirror.

A charmed Sari studied the mountain and lake framed in the sepia shadows of the window. The scents and warm tones of the wood were comforting. She allowed her mind to drift away, her face and breasts bathed in the sunlight streaming through the window. The sensuous rhythm of brush on canvas and Gunnar’s constant focus on her was a delightful change from the indifference she left behind.

Gunnar sensed the stillness and the shifting light. He had lost track of time. He wanted to see how the light played with Sari’s hair and complexion. The light shifted from hues of butter and honey to paprika scattered on copper.  Sari looked out with dreamy enthrall into the waning light as the sun fell just behind the ridge of mountains setting the clouds aflame.

Lost in his thoughts, Gunnar stepped over to Sari. He touched her chin and she looked over at him. The light and deep shadow of her features gripped him. His chest tightened holding his breath captive. He knelt beside her to look into her face. He wasn’t sure who Sari saw in her questioning gaze.

For a moment, Gunnar saw the sadness in her eyes and thought he was with Melanie again.  He startled himself when he moved closer to her, suddenly realizing he was caught in a memory.  He found it more difficult to separate Sari from Melanie with each hour he spent with her.

He looked down, ashamed of his weakness. When he looked back to ask for forgiveness of his indiscretion, she was still looking at him. Her eyes questioned him. She waited for him to see she was real and had feelings usually forbidden to a mere model. She did not want to be just a model. He offered his hand. Sari stood and looked up into Gunnar’s face.

“Sari, would you like to go to the balcony and watch this beautiful day give up the last of its light?”

Sari’s face softened at her odd friend’s fascination with light.

“I’d like that a lot, Gunnar.”  Sari smiled and looked away to the light streaming through the glass doors. It was as if the cabin was built on this exact spot just to play in the light as it captured the kaleidoscope changes from sunrise to sunset.

Forgetting again to mind his manners, Gunnar put his arm around Sari’s shoulder and walked with her to the double French Doors. He couldn’t shake the feeling that she belonged in his memories. Gunnar could see Sari look at him, look away, then look back trying to judge his mood. They stepped out to the balcony and watched the world fall to sleep, resting in the dark shade of the mountains under blue-black skies above. The lake was a sheet of polished onyx rimmed by a frame of monochrome woodline.

Gunnar invited Sari to look at all the things he saw such beauty in. He grew quiet when he realized his attempt to capture Sari’s silent grace with pigment and oil was futile. The chill air pressed them closer, each aware of the other’s warmth.

Their silence rung in their minds like the toll of a bell, reminding them how far they’d come and how much further they must go. For now, they were both holding on. For what? Gunnar didn’t know nor did Sari. They were satisfied in the moment to hold on to each other.

“It’s beautiful here. I could live out my life here. No wonder your paintings are so inspired.” Sari’s voice settled on Gunnar’s ears like goose down. The tickle of her soft voice made Gunnar’s heart race.

“I can’t imagine anything else.”  Gunnar’s breath rose in a lazy, undulating cloud of vapor contrasted against the dark of the mountains.

Sari rested her cheek on Gunnar’s sweater and shivered as distant sounds of memories echoed in her thoughts. The forest reverberated with the sounds of night creatures greeting the twilight. In the distance, the howl of wolves echoed from one peak to the next. As if on cue, the skittering sound of a mouse moving toward them in the grass triggered a subconscious tightening of arms and bonds between the two figures looking up into the stars together.

Paint Me-3

Some time later.

Light, like fire from the dragon’s breath, burst through the loft window of the cabin as the sun lifted its morning face above the mountains. A mop of hair moved at the edge of the comforter evoking a strike from Gaston, the cat. “Alright, alright, hold your horses, Gaston. Shit, what time is it?” Gaston didn’t know the precise time, but he did know he was hungry and the sun was over the mountains. 

Gunnar fumbled with his watch. It was time to get up, that’s what time it was. He and Gaston were a lot alike. When a craving hit them, nothing would do but to sate that craving thoroughly, make it go away. A temporary respite from those urges was the best either could do.

They ate breakfast in each other’s silent company. They allowed one another as much distance as was necessary to avoid jittery nerves. It worked well. Gunnar spent the day preparing himself for his Art Show in town and Gaston chased bugs and a mouse, who upon realizing his mistake, had led Gaston on a thrilling chase. Meanwhile, Gunnar hoped to make enough money to spend the year in his cabin enjoying nature and painting the local nature scenes. There was nowhere on earth he’d rather live.

***

Gunnar looked up through the massive wall of glass in the gallery into the darkening sky. The city lights competed with the stars emerging in the cobalt sky. He clasped his hands behind his back in resignation to the beauty of the scene that eclipsed his life’s work on the wall behind him.

Along the far wall, Gunnar’s paintings hung, the story of his life thrown on canvas with the same devotion a soldier throws himself into battle. Paint and patterns spoke of certain death and miraculous life with all the struggle in between.

Small lights illuminated the canvas of dreams and memories, pointing out the fine lines of his madness, which bled out on every scene. Below each painting, he left a journal for viewers to leave their thoughts. Nice. I love the style. The nudes were my favorite. An erudite arrangement of meaningless shit. Those words stung him.

The empty gallery grew darker. The main lights turned off automatically by a thoughtless program designed to save energy. It crushed his heart by signaling his failure. Gunnar risked everything in this gala affair. Fewer than thirty people came and no one thought to buy a single painting.

The mad painter turned to take one last look before he left and saw a woman standing there in the shadows, admiring his dearest creation.  Gunnar approached the woman. She stood transfixed, looking at the sad eyes staring back at her.  

“Do you like her?” he asked.

“Oh my!”

“My apologies. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” Gunnar stepped back, shaken by her fear of him.

“Oh no, it’s okay.  I was so captivated by the painting.  I feel such emotion coming from her.”

“She was the love of my life,” Gunnar told her, unable to hide the hurt in his voice.

“Was?”

“She’s gone now.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry. She’s beautiful.”

Gunnar stood beside the woman and told her his story of epic love and loss. The girl in the painting stared forlornly at them as her story unfolded.

“She inspired me to paint all of these.” Gunnar made a sweeping motion with his hand toward the paintings that hung in stark silence on the wall.

“What was her name?” The woman asked.

“She is, uh, was, Melanie, my melancholia.”

“I’m, Sari.” Gunnar looked down into the liquid blue eyes wet with sadness and rimmed with a precise application of black liner and shadow. The effect made her eyes look larger and exotic. Her gaze pulled Gunnar to her. He reached down and gently took her hand. She let him. Why do the vulnerable always let me enter their lives so easily? He wondered.

“Come, Sari. I want to show you the other paintings.”

The two walked the timeline of Gunnar’s life and he told Sari the story of each painting. Sari implored him to tell her more of Melanie’s life that played out in the landscapes and erotic nudes of his paintings. Together, they explored the depths of Melanie’s pain as they took turns talking while the other listened, not wanting to miss a single word.

In front of the last painting, Sari drifted away in thought as she looked on the scene in front of her. The painting showed a rock outcropping overlooking a lake reflecting the mountains and forest that surrounded it. The colors, shading, and light were exquisite.

Gunnar excused himself and went to the back and retrieved a picture box and some paper. He took the painting, Melancholia down from the wall, wrapped her in a paper, and placed her gently in the box.

“Sari, if you don’t mind, I’ll walk you to your car,”

Embarrassed, Sari apologized for staying so late and left with Gunnar. They walked down the dark hall, their banter echoing with the click of their heels on the marble floor. 

At curbside next to Sari’s auto, Gunnar presented Sari with the painting and after some protest, she relented to Gunnar’s insistence she take the painting. She tiptoed against his chest and kissed him goodbye on the cheek.

Gunnar waved at the car as it eased away. The box that contained the love he held all these years sat elegantly in the back seat. He went back to the gallery and walked the line one more time saying goodbye to each of his dreams and memories.

The mad painter stepped out on the ledge. He looked at the night sky and saw how much more beautiful it was than his art, his life. Gunnar intended to free himself from the shame of his failure. He paused too long. When he looked down he saw something in his shirt pocket. The artist retrieved the torn slip of paper and read it. Sari’s phone number was centered below the words, I want you to paint me.

An ache rose in Gunnar’s chest. That craving he lived for but dreaded returned. Life was at it’s highest in the clutch of this maddening obsession. The regret always came when the feast of pleasure was done. “Ahhh, I live to paint again,” he smiled a smile not of innocent pleasure, but of one lost in an intrigue of fantasy.