My eyes search the sky on another spring day I spend in my cabin of solitude. The blue of the sky overwhelms; wispy clouds float lazily across the horizon. The air is fresh with scents of the flowers that embrace the valley below me. I stare at my empty canvas, my hand poised with a dripping paintbrush.
My mind’s palette is brimming with memories as bright and colourful as the pigments that smear the wooden one clutched in my hand. I ache for her return, like I have never ached before. I know she will come. I know I will paint her again. For a moment I thought I heard a rustle in the woods, my eyes searching the browns and greens for a splash of colour.
As I stare at the canvas, images begin to form on the surface. Images that have been imprinted in the memory of whiteness…
It was just another spring day like this one when I first met her. I had spent the morning mulling over the subject for my latest painting. I started to doodle, brushing random colours on the canvas, mildly euphoric and peaceful. I called it my chromatic zone. A state of mind where colours splash and merge, a tranquil presence encompassing me. There has been some light rain the night before. The smell of wet earth mingled with foliage came from the valley. Raindrops sunbathed on leaf tops, twinkling in the early morning light. I rested my brush and sat down on the canvas chair with clasping my hands behind my head, squinting at the sky.
I loved the time I spend in the cabin. It was miles away from civilisation, perched on a hilly outcrop overlooking the valley. I had fallen in love from the very first time I saw it. I had bought it from the money I had acquired from the sale of a small collection of my paintings. The buyer was generous, a bored millionaire who would probably stack them up in a dusty collection in his Aladdin’s cave. I didn’t care, for the money was more than adequate to support me through the long gaps in my creative urges.
“That’s a beautiful painting.”
I must’ve been dozing when I heard the voice call out. I jerked awake in the chair, startled. The palette, which must’ve been resting on the arm, clattered down, sprinkling pigments of paint on the floor.
I turned around to locate the source of the voice. She was sitting on the wooden floor, craning her head to look at the canvas. She wore a tattered pair of jeans and a worn T-shirt. Curly strands of untamed hair cascaded down her slim shoulders. There were leaves and twigs entangled in them; she must’ve been trekking through the woods that surrounded my cabin. She was covered in green sap stains, muddy prints decorating her T-shirt. There was a surprising freshness in her appearance, despite the dirt. An endearing scruffiness. Like a grown up Huckleberry Finnette.
I wanted to paint her then and there. To capture the wide eyed curiosity in those azure eyes, the mischievous pout of her pink lips, the long pale neckline, the arms hugging the knees and the bare feet tapping lazily on the wooden floor.
“I am sorry.” She said, smiling up at me, “ Did I startle you?”
I blinked, realising I was staring at her in a rather rude fashion.
“Guess I must’ve dozed off. I wasn’t expecting visitors.” I managed to croak through my dry lips.
“Oh.” She said absently. She leaned back on the wall, arms still hugging her knees, rocking back and forth.
There was an awkward pause. I felt embarrassed, as if I was intruding on her . She was relaxed and looked at home, as if it was the most natural thing to creep up somebody’s cabin and sit on their floor, rocking.
“I am sorry, but are you from around here?” I asked as I bent to pick the palette up.
“Me?” she said, gazing into the trees. “Yes, you can say that.”
“Do you live in the town?”
“Oh no. I am just passing through the mountain trail.”
I noticed she had a small backpack resting on the floor beside her.
“My name is Grant.” I extended my hand, “ You are?”
She smiled at me again, her eyes looking through me rather than at me. “I am Tara.” Her hand felt cold and soft and the grip was delicate, as if clasping air.
She brushed the hair from her face and pointed to the canvas. “I like that.”
I laughed. I looked at the random splash of colours I must’ve doodled before I dozed off. “I was just playing. It is not a painting as such.”
“Why do you say that?” she stood up and walked towards the canvas. “It’s got wonderful colours and a nice harmony.”
“I am flattered.” I said smiling; “that you think my random doodles are worthy of being called a painting.”
She turned to face me, an expectant look in her eyes. “Can I stay here for tonight? I am tired and I need some rest before I move on.”
I was still reeling from her entrance and now this!
“I…I don’t know…” I stammered. “Are you travelling alone?”
“Yes. I will be joining my group in a few days. I was passing along, saw the cabin and thought I could ask you if I could rest here. Will it be too much trouble…?”
“Well… not really. I am here on my own. You don’t mind…?” I didn’t know what to say.
“Thanks.” She gushed before I could elaborate on the social intricacies of two strangers sharing a small cabin. She seemed oblivious to such details. She walked into the cabin, clutching her backpack. She was tall and willowy but graceful like a ballerina.
I stood watching her, my hand aching to capture those lines on canvas. I struggled for a word to describe her… oh yes, ethereal.
She moved in the cabin with a familiarity of someone who had been here before. I asked her if she wanted some coffee. She declined preferred to have a shower first. I was still deeply uncomfortable at the female presence. She was standing in front of the shower stall and started undressing. I quickly turned away, feeling a flush creep up my neck.
I smiled at my reaction. I have done countless nudes, and prided my self at having no inhibitions towards a naked human. It is the situation; I consoled myself, the strange situation I am in, which makes me feel this way.
I turned back to see the jeans and T-shirt discarded on the floor. The shower stall was frosted and I could delineate her nakedness through the glass.
I hurried towards the closet and took a towel out, hesitated, and took an old cotton shirt of mine. I didn’t know if she had a change of clothes. She couldn’t possibly wear those dirty ones after the shower.
I shouted out to her that I was leaving those outside for her and hastened into the kitchen. I needed caffeine, desperately.
I brewed myself a strong cup, my mind a flurry of emotions. Mystified, perplexed, enchanted and curiously happy. I heard her step out of the shower. She came into the kitchen minutes later, wearing my shirt; moist hair rolled up in the towel. Her skin was translucent; steam still rising from her surface.
There was a certain raw power in her appearance. She had that untamed quality, without any trace of modern embellishments. I wondered if she belonged to some local cult, or an eco-warrior.
She sat across me at the kitchen table, leaning her elbows, resting her face on her hands. Droplets of water trickled down her chin.
“Have you lived here long?” she asked.
“Oh no, I only bought this place recently. I have a place in the city, but this provides a nice distraction from that concrete jungle.” I sipped my coffee, watching her, taking her lines in, mental fingers sketching rapidly.
“Do you paint people?”
It was as if she was reading my mind. “I do. Portraits… nude studies…” I swallowed.
She tilted her head, chewing on a cuticle. “Will you paint me?”
I breathed in, my heart thudding in my rib cage. “I would love to…”
“Great!” she laughed.
She stood up and rummaged through the cupboard. I watched her in amused distraction. I didn’t feel uncomfortable at her lack of social skills. It was somehow disarming and comforting. I had no urge to ask her where she comes from or where she was going. I didn’t want to know. It will be like being told a magician’s secrets. It will steal the magic away. She’d tell me if she wanted to.
“Honey!” she exclaimed as picked up the pot from the cupboard. She unscrewed the top and plunged two fingers in, scooping up the thick fluid and licking the fingers.
I gulped my coffee down and looked away, ashamed at how I felt. I feared for my self- control, animal desire spreading through me in waves.
The afternoon went by. We went for a walk in the woods. She pointed out all the different wild flowers and the local trees to me. She called them bizarre names, as if she made them up herself. She traipsed through the path like a wood fairy, me following at a distance, taking in every move, every nuance.
I offered to cook her meal. She instead settled for fruit and some more honey. She ate sparingly. My original feeling of her belonging to a naturalist sect grew stronger.
We spent the evening in front of the fire, chatting pleasant nonsense. She didn’t ask anything about my personal life. And neither did I. It was relaxing, two strangers perfectly at ease with each other’s company.
She went through few of my paintings I had brought along to the cabin. She lovingly caressed the canvas, admiring the colours of the landscapes. She sat close to me, her shoulders brushing mine. Her hair occasionally brushed my face as she leaned to point out something on the canvas. I had goose bumps.
I was dying to get her on the canvas. I thought I would rather wait for her to ask me.
It was a warm night. I lay in the bed, unable to sleep. I had offered her the bed but she had refused, settling for the spare sleeping bag I had. I could see her snuggled up on the floor, moonlight casting silver shadows on her sleeping form.
I lay there, listening to night’s million voices. The trees rustled in the wind. There was a gentle hum of night insects lulling me to sleep. I drifted, myriad colours coalescing into her form. I slept. I dreamt I was in the shower, but instead of water there was a spray of paint. Colours washed down my skin and pooled at my feet.
I woke up suddenly, blinking in the dark. There was music in the wind. A strange crooning voice cascaded into my ears. My mouth was dry and my heart palpitated wildly. My first instinct was to look at the floor. The sleeping bag was empty. I sat up in the bed, rubbing my bleary eyes.
I wondered if she had left.
The crooning started again, coming from outside the cabin. There was buzzing noise in the air. I walked towards the door and opened it slowly.
Tara was standing in the balcony. Her face was lifted up like an offering to the moon. Her lips were open and she sang, not words but a soothing noise, a melody. She had a dark rug around her. It shimmered gently in the wind. I stood at the doorway, silent, watching.
The buzz in the air was overwhelming. I leaned back on the doorway and it creaked.
She turned towards me, eyes glowing like twin fireflies.
The rug shifted around her, as if it had a life of its own.
It splintered in the air and a thousand dark forms fluttered into the air. She was naked underneath, skin glowing in the silvery light. The forms fluttered close to me, silken brushes on my skin. They flew around me and settled on my face, my bare arms and chest.
Tara kept singing as she walked towards me. The butterflies followed her like a cloud. She leaned on my chest, bare breasts brushing my skin. I sighed.
She looked up at me, smiling. Her lips moved closer to mine, sweet breath teasing my nostrils. The butterflies flew around us, myriad little shadows flickering on our skins. I kissed her. I ran my arms down her bare shoulders, drawing her closer. Her skin had soft, powdery sediment. Like the pollen clinging on butterflies. Her mouth tasted of honey. I moved my hands on her back, hugging her closer. We stood there lost in time.
She kept humming as she rubbed her face on my chest. She flitted around me, kissing my bare skin, touching everywhere, electrifying. I lifted her unresisting form in my arms. She was light and airy. The butterflies followed us inside. They flew around us as we made love. I felt as I was floating in the air with them.
She smelled of flowers and leaves; honey and sap. She exuded spring from every pore. Her arms and legs clung to me like vines. I buried my face in her hair, inhaling nature. She was tender but wild, soft but fierce. She moved with me in harmony, wanting, taking and giving freely. I explored her lines in awe, my hungry fingers feeling every inch. The powdery pollen was all over our skins, like dream dust.
Later, I lay there drained and delirious. The butterflies had left us by now.
She was lying on top of me, tracing maps on my face. “That was wonderful.” She whispered.
I nodded, running my hands through her curls. I struggled to find a suitable word to describe the experience. I closed my eyes and inhaled her scent.
I felt her fingers lift my chin.
“Will you paint me now?”
“Now?”, I looked at her, puzzled.
“Yes. You promised.”
“But there is no light, I prefer daylight… it is so much better to paint in daylight, I can see the true colours on the canvas.”
She looked puzzled.
She started laughing. “Oh, no. I want you to paint me.”
She stood up and raised her arms in the air, twirling like a ballerina. “Me. Paint me. Paint my wings for me. They’re not to my liking. They are pale and colourless.”
I sat up in the bed, blinking. It must be a trick of the moonlight…
Two diaphanous wings spread from her shoulder blades and unfurled in the air. I gasped.
She rose in the air, and I jumped back in shock. She was flitting her wings like those butterflies. She hovered over to me and kissed the tip of my nose as I watched dumbstruck.
“Will you?” She muttered close to my ear.
I could only nod. My limbs were frozen, my voice lost.
She had little earthen pots of pigments in her backpack. She brought them over to me as I stood in the centre of the room. I mixed the colours in my palette and started to paint as if possessed. I drew ellipses and circles, spots and patterns. I splashed broad strokes of green, specks of yellow, dots in red. I had a fever in me, my mind drawing inspiration from a million images of nature.My breathing was laboured as I bent, stooped, arched and squatted. The pigments were like I have never seen before. They had a metallic sheen; a fluorescent glow.
She stood silently, occasionally turning her head to give me a dazzling smile. She hummed to herself. The wings soon took on an aura like I have never seen before.
I finished. The last pot of pigment was empty. I wiped my sweating brow. I had splashes of paint all over me, illuminating my skin.
She fluttered her wings as if to dry them. She fanned them out and twisted around to look at them.
“Oh, you are truly gifted. I love this. I really love this. My friends will be jealous.” She laughed merrily, clapping her hands. She hugged me and kissed my paint stained face.
“What now?” I asked, still in a daze. Deep inside I was convinced this was a lucid dream. Any moment now I would wake up in the empty cabin.
She stood close to the open window and crooned. The butterflies flew in again.
She spread her arms and let them settle on her skin.
“Thank you. I’ll never forget this. I have to go now.”
“Go?, But…wait. You can’t… I want to know…who are you.”
She didn’t answer. Instead she rose in the air, flying close to me. She gave a lingering kiss that would last forever in my lips.
And she flew away.
My eyes search the sky on another spring day I spend in my cabin of solitude.
I know she will come. I know I will paint her again.
Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2010