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She was lying there. A heaping mass of hair and skin and paint. Oh so much paint. Her once-brown hair – which had since been bleached a stark white – was drenched in a ridiculous amount of the stuff.
The colors – reds that were so light that they seemed pink and so dark that they seemed like blood, oranges as light as the outside of nectarines and as deep as the world’s most beautiful sunset as well as yellows that were as light as a cream-colored wall but also as bright and flashy as the flames that licked off of the Sun - seemed to be dying her hair. As I stepped closer I noticed other things about her paint-drenched self. Her soft hands seemed to have been dragged in beautiful blues, luscious greens and flashy pinks and purples, some of the paint drying underneath her long fingernails and into the grooves of the creases of her palm. Her legs lay in a puddle of chocolate-browns and mint-greens, making it seem as if she had fallen in a puddle of ice cream. Her lips were a deep red as if she had kissed something – or someone – soaked in blood, her closed eyelids were painted a bright turquoise color, the crinkles of her eyelids accentuating the expressive brushstrokes and her cheeks - as well as the tips of her nose and ears - were dotted with a soothing plum color.
A few things struck me as odd…besides the fact that she was covered head to toe in a varying spectrum of paint.
First of all, the paint in question was still wet, mostly anyway. Light bounced off of her unmoving body, the reds, oranges and yellows in her hair gleaming brightly, the greens, blues, purples and pinks that covered the rest of her body looking oh so wet and rich in color.
Second of all, the paint seemed to be deliberately and concisely placed on some parts of her body, yet in other parts it seemed as if she were merely dipped in a certain color – or colors – and left alone to wither away. The purposeful brushstrokes along her eyelids, cheeks and collar bones brought out all of the creases and curves of her body just as how the haphazardly placed splotches and spots of paint along her legs, hands, arms and midsection brought out her soft, smooth flesh as well as the pallor of her pasty skin.
As I took several more steps towards her, I noticed the final detail that the abuser - Killer? Artist? – left behind; golden flecks of paint could be seen as the light reflected off of her body, the specks glowing in the sunlight. The paint drops were delicately and – almost – strategically placed over top the mess of colors, as if golden particles of ash were sprinkled atop her wet form.
With a startle, I realized how pale she was. The true color of her skin was mostly covered by the paint, but some blank splotches of skin were left completely untouched – the detail being added by pure happenstance or deliberately having been left a complete mystery. Nonetheless, the whiteness of her skin and hair against the variety of colors emphasized the startling fact that she was used purely as a canvas in this puzzlingly abusive encounter.
The world is but a canvas to our imagination, she had once told me (probably quoting something else).
Numbly, I became conscious of the fact that I was close enough to reach down and touch her. I imagined myself skidding my pointer finger along the delicate curves of her face, along the outline of her torso and across the surface of her legs and thighs, the fact that she was drenched in wet paint proving to be no obstacle. I pushed those desires aside and only allowed myself to fall to my knees in the puddle of paint and look at her.
It was hard to associate this pale, painted girl to the lively, rambunctious girl I had met and fallen in love with so many months ago, the girl I had seen in her animated glory only a few days prior. Yet, underneath all that paint, I knew in my heart and soul that both people were one and the same. Right when I sat down next to her, I immediately noticed she wasn’t breathing. At all. The flames of hope and desire that burned deep in my stomach and throat since I arrived were put out all at once until I was only left with dread, sorrow and grief to accompany me as I looked down at her blank – dead – expression.
Then, out of the blue, her eyes flickered open, and I found myself staring - with my eyes wide open in shock - at her hazel eyes.
No, I told myself. This couldn’t be possible. Yet, here I was lying beside her painted form staring into the only part of her that still seemed alive. I thought she was dead. She was dead.
Whether I was hallucinating from the potent paint smells that radiated off of her body and the puddle beneath her or if something strange – something supernatural – was at work I would never know. I all know is that, in that moment when her eyes flickered open and I could see the flecks of gold, green and caramel brown that seemed to float around in her irises, everything came back to me. Meeting her. Her smile. Her laugh. How she hugged and spoke soothingly to me whenever I woke up in the dead of the night in a cold sweat. How she looked whenever she painted, her brushstrokes deliberate, beautiful and graceful on whatever surface she was painting on. The feel of her hands against mine. How happy she felt, I felt – we felt - around each other.
Then came the dark memories. Things I would’ve rather forgotten. That rainy day. The way she angrily scraped her wet paintbrush – loaded with blood-red paint – against the canvas, ripping the material until finally she stomped and threw the bucket of paint at the torn canvas. The expression of deep hurt and guilt when I asked her what was wrong. And, finally, the last words she ever spoke to me:
“I’m in trouble. Deep trouble. They’re coming after me and I can’t explain why, or who they are or what I did. All I can say is this. I love you and I want you to promise me something before I go – go for good. Promise me you won’t forget me. Promise me that when you find another love – as I’m sure you will – you’ll still think fondly of me years after I’m gone. Promise me that you’ll remember the day we met, the time we spent together, the jokes we shared, the magical summer nights as well as the dreadful winter days. I’m not asking you to set aside your heart for me, as I know that would be a selfish thing of me to ask and I’m not asking you to never again lay eyes on someone the way you used to always lay eyes on me. These are your choices to make. All I ask of you is this. Don’t forget. Remember me. Us. Promise me. Do you promise?”
But before I could answer her or even comprehend what she had just told me, out of the blue, her cell phone rang. She looked at the caller ID with wide, fearful eyes. Yet, as she swiftly picked up her bag – which I hadn’t noticed was laying on the chair across the room until then - her determined stride overrode that fearful look in her eyes, the way her fingers started to twitch and how her teeth started to grind together. Only someone who knew her well enough would notice those things and realize she was distressed and afraid.
Someone like me.
After I heard her drive off, I was still staring dumbfounded at where she had just stood moments ago. After what seemed like hours – but was probably only minutes – I set my jaw, hurriedly picked up my things and ran to my car, to follow her. By some miracle, I saw her turn on Melbourne Street. By some miracle, I asked around an almost abandoned town in the middle of Arizona for days and stumbled upon a cranky old woman who held the answers I needed.
And, by some miracle, I tracked and found her here, where she lay.
Her eyes seemed to be asking a question. As for how I knew what that question was I had – and still have - no idea.
Do you promise me?
“I promise”, I heard myself say, the words somehow sounding empty and hollow, yet heavy with sorrow and grief all at once.
As sudden as they had opened, her eyes closed and she lay still once more, never moving again.
The wild, lively girl that I knew and loved was gone. And I didn’t even know why or how. All I knew – and, sadly, still know – is that I was – and still am - determined not to forget her. To forget us.
Do you promise me?