I know when I first start sketching that this is going to be good. Somehow all the practice, all the botches, the stunted, deformed children of my imagination that were injured, somehow, in the creating, all the frustration- it’s all paid off. It’s all led to this one, shining moment. Everything is coming together. I know it as I mix colours, stretch canvas over wood, start to paint. It possesses me- when I’m not painting it, I’m thinking about it. When I am painting it, the rest of the world falls away and there is nothing else but me, and the sound of the brush, the deepening colours.
When, at last, I realise it is done, I step back and admire my work. I keep it to myself, while it dries. Then I call my girlfriend up to the studio to see it. Possibly it’s because I sound a bit overexcited on the phone, or possibly it’s because I’ve been talking about it non-stop for the past month, but when she arrives she has a look that is bright with expectation.
I stand proudly by the painting. She walks over and gasps, admiring…the one I painted before this one. The last ‘practice’. I point her towards the One.
“Oh,” she says. “that’s…well, that’s…something.”
I want to ask her about it, so I do. She is cagey. I press her- I almost never do that- until finally she relents.
“It’s frightening,” she says. “None of your other paintings were frightening.”
How can I tell her? That our lives used to be that frightening. Every day was a struggle against bad luck. Every time we consoled ourselves that it couldn’t get any worse, it did. Painting was the only way of escape, for me. But then, one day, I finally worked out how to really do it. The practices, they only ever partly worked, until at last, at last I knew what I needed to add and change. I painted our lives into that painting- all the bad things, all the fear. And as I did it, I felt them really go.
I keep it out of sight, after the first time she sees it. She graduates well, gets the job she wanted. We have a good kind of life. The painting stays up in the attic, covered. And every now and then I find myself wondering what it looks like now, and whether I will ever have the courage to look.