Short Story- The Painting

I don’t know if other things remember their birth or point of creation, but I don’t.  The first moment of existence I can recall is being surrounded by darkness- but I know I existed before that moment because I’ve heard talk of where I came from before it.  But that is my earliest memory: blank darkness, the rustle of paper, and being jostled around while steadily gliding forward.  Or perhaps it was backwards, or sideways even.  And muffled sounds- music: percussion, hard strings, and indistinguishable lyrics.  No talking at first.  No human conversation.  That came later.

I don’t know how much later.  Time moves differently for me than it does for you, I would imagine.  You have the luxury of clocks and calendars; you can quantify time in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years.  I can’t.  It almost doesn’t exist for me.  The concept does, but not the measurement.

The next moment I knew I existed started with ripping and then, finally, light.  I wasn’t blind before, but covered in a plain brown paper I watched get thrown aside as a young woman’s pale and dainty hands gripped either side of me and held me up for closer inspection.

“Beautiful,” she sighed.

“I knew you’d like it.  The instant I saw it at the gallery, I knew it belonged to you,” another voice said.  Deeper in tone, it came from behind me, I imagine the man it belonged to wanted to see the look on her face when she first saw me.  And I like to believe he got the reaction he’d been hoping for, because her face was pure loveliness as she gazed upon me.  Bright blue eyes, whose intelligence seemed to grow as she let her attention scan up and down, back and forth, taking in every detail I had to offer, rested above a straight, simple nose and flushed, well-defined cheeks.  Her smile stretched wider and illuminated her brilliant eyes when she redirected her sights to the gentleman behind me.  One hand released my frame and pushed brunette hair off a smooth forehead.

“It’s perfect.  Thank you.  I love you.”  With that, I was set aside and could no longer stare in wonder at her face- but it wouldn’t be the last time I saw it.  In fact, I saw it forever after that- sometimes in fleeting moments as she’d walk past me, going from one room to another, and sometimes in marathon sessions when she’d sit alone on the brown leather couch, her feet tucked under her, a narrow knit blanket around her shoulders and a mug of hot chocolate warming her hands as she lost herself in whatever world the sight of me created in her imagination.

Of course, once I had a permanent place, I saw his face, too.  It never seemed to express any honest emotions, though.  At least, that was my assessment.  In the beginning, she didn’t seem to notice this- she would hug or kiss him any chance she got- he alone was rewarded with her most joyous laughter.  And he generally seemed pleased with her, but gone was the anticipation, the eagerness with which he’d waited for her reaction over me.  I never heard him say, “I love you.”

I didn’t know her laughter had stopped until one day I ached from its obvious absence.  She began looking at me more and more often, with an earnest desire of longing and hopeless sadness etched in her pretty eyes.  I wanted to find a way to comfort her, knowing all her contemplation was no comfort at all.  Torturous, more likely.

I did know when she reached her breaking point, though.  It would have been pretty difficult to miss.  The man had long ceased to pass by me and she had begun to revert her eyes whenever she was in my room, until suddenly, things were in boxes and two strange men carried the brown leather couch out of my view.  A blonde lady I’d seen many times before gripped the sides of my frame and lifted.

“Is this going with you or him?”

“It’s mine.  It was a present.  But I don’t think I can look at it anymore- too many memories.”

“What are you going to do with it, then?”

She shrugged and started to weep.  The blonde set me down, turned against the wall so I could no longer see either of them.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it for you.”

Darkness once again and the sick feeling that I’d never see her again- that there would never again be a smile so genuine in the face of anyone who looked at me.

When the darkness lifted, some time later, I found myself in a white, square room.  On the opposite wall hung other paintings and portraits whose stories I’ll never know.  I could see the outlines of more frames in my peripheral.  People walk by in streams.  I can see their faces.  Their pensive, intelligent, stupid, bored, happy, sad faces.  Their smiles are never enough.  No smile belongs to her.

10 thoughts on “Short Story- The Painting

  1. Hi Rachel, I was asked to take a peek at one of your short stories–congrats on grad school by the way!

    Okay, first off, I really enjoyed this piece. I thought it read fluidly, and I was intrigued by the voice. Going with the idea that the painting has never experienced life before the moment this story begins, the painting accepted all incidents. It sounded very innocent, yet at the same time unsurprised. As sad as the ending is, I thought that was a perfect way to finish it. Somehow, as I read the piece I knew it would end sadly, so that felt appropriate to me. It didn’t have a forced or tinkered feeling to me.

    There was not a lot of questioning on the part of the painting, if at all, and that threw me a little bit. I likened the painting to a child in some ways, and so I would have expected more of a wondrous tone or view of the world/woman.

    I noticed a couple of problematic word choices in the 6th paragraph: “With that, I was set aside and could no longer stare in wonder at her face- but it wouldn’t be the last time I saw it. In fact, I saw it forever after that-” The painting does eventually get to stare at her face, so the use of “no longer” doesn’t quite work. And the use of “forever” isn’t correct because the woman gives up the painting at the end.

    In the 7th graph, I wasn’t sure what you meant by “honest emotions.” That’s a little vague, and I think you need to be much more direct because you have such a short amount of space to connect your reader to this pivotal moment.

    In the 9th graph you wrote “she had begun to revert her eyes whenever,” but I think you misused the word “revert” which means to return to a former habit, practice, or belief. I think you mean “avert.”

    The only other suggestion I would make is to sharpen the middle section. I would have liked to see the painting pick up on something distinct, specific to help with the transition from happy couple to split couple. You do a great job in the beginning with the “I love you” and the description of the woman, and you do a fantastic job at the end when the painting is given up by the woman–I really liked “sick feeling that I’d never see her again”–perfect.

    Overall, a beautiful, emotional piece that is well-written and meaningful. Really nice job!


    1. Hey- thank you so much for taking the time to read my story and give me constructive feedback! It’s just what I needed. I’ll definitely be taking the red pen to it in the next couple of days with your thoughts in mind. I really appreciate the help!

  2. With your permission, I’d love to use this story with an English class I am doing on painting and literature.

    1. Dan,

      I’m happy to let you use the story, but please credit the author as Rachel L. Hamm and direct the students to either this page or my faceboook page for more information. How do you plan to use the story?

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