Michael’s eyes were heavy from his lack of rest. His heart palpitated with the pace of a warrior mid-battle. Discarded trays of energy pills scattered the floor. There was a coffee cup, with smashed cigarettes within, stagnating inside the mouth of an empty cereal box on the floor behind him. The clothes he wore, the air within his room, had soured over. Dried paint replaced and crisped the skin of his right hand outside of the thin paths on his fingertips where he pinched his paint brushes. Those paths were white and bloodless - as were his cheeks. Pauline was dead, and Michael had to capture her everlasting grace in the perfect art piece. He couldn’t rest until he did.
Pauline had been smashed to smithereens. Her remains were identified by dental records in the smoldering wreckage of a train collision. Michael knew Pauline had been a passenger on the 719 northbound train that kissed the 552 South head on at record speeds.
He watched her board it himself as he did every morning.
Michael escorted Pauline to the station for months, for years.
No hand holding, no hug nor embrace - though Michael had wanted to oh so badly. His entire being ached to be with her, but his love would never be mutual. She made that clear the night Michael had scrounged up enough money to invite her to a restaurant that mandated a dinner coat and a reservation.
When Michael expressed his love for her, Pauline returned it - but moments after clarified that Michael was like a brother to her, nothing more - nothing less.
Why? Why was that? Was he too unattractive? Too unfashionable? Too old?
Michael embarked upon his work not as her brother - but as her lover. Death afforded him this opportunity. He could labor in love without the living truth constricting his devotion and motivation.
His dirty hand twitched against the canvas as it’d done so, without rest, for weeks now.
Until Pauline’s death he couldn’t find the inspiration to achieve his artistic goals. Painting was his passion, but he’d never been good enough to make a profession out of it - or so he believed. He’d worked as a mailman for years, shoving papers into mailboxes.
Whistling down the road.
A carbon cog in a machine.
Michael always wanted to be free: to live life how he wanted. Art provided that avenue, and now unemployed he could stroll down it without other obligations. All he needed was a muse, and with Pauline’s demise - Michael believed he found it. The catalyst to his masterpiece.
He had once thought he’d found it in his ex-wife, Gloria, but despite her charm and sophistication, her truest talent was infidelity. It was by a temporary route switch that Michael’s day job took him to that part of town to discover her betrayal through a living room window.
The fight that ensued cost him his job.
Pauline had given him purpose again. Twenty years his junior, sparkling with life. He doubted she’d give him the time of day. They met in a college course in a time where Michael was trying to rebuild his life after his crumbled marriage. In life, she became a prize he could strive to achieve, someone to stop him from slipping under the surface of his bathtub and never surfacing again.
In death, she was just as empowering.
With the moon high, Michael toiled on through the night as he’d always done - trying to capture her in different facets of life - even those he’d never witnessed her partake in.
Pauline - head dressed in flowers, thin body in a white dress? Too pristine, she would have hated it.
He tossed it.
Pauline with an umbrella against the sun. No. Pauline on a bicycle. Pauline resting on a pillow. Pauline on a dock. Pauline on a rooftop. Pauline staring into a mirror. No. No. No. No. “No!”
“No!” His rejections became violent. He’d tear each failure from his easel and slam them, he’d stab into the paper, thrash into them with his fists and rip them to shreds before setting up a new canvas.
His room was littered with Paulines - none of them good enough to survive his standards.
Michael developed a nervous twitch in his knee. He had to support his painting arm with a pillow resting on his thigh and his opposite hand squeezing his forearm to keep it steady.
Did God have such issues? Were the empty, lifeless husks of planets nothing but attempted Earths? Discarded like the paper balls now littering Michael’s floor?
Michael now understood God’s frustrations - the tossing of Adam and Eve from his garden, his disappointment in his first living art pieces. The erasing waters that washed the world clean to salvage only the pieces He was most proud of.
How could God have naught but the mind of an artist, Michael thought. The elevation of the snowcapped mountains, the blue flow of Earth’s rivers, the blooming and wilting of the flower - all artistic achievements that, to this point, hadn’t been surmounted by human effort - only plagiarized.
Even now Michael toiled to recreate the light of his life - Pauline - stolen him from by colliding locomotives. Humans that fought to capture new realities in their art were the few and oft-misunderstood but the bulk, such as Michael himself, lacked the power to break beyond the rubric the Creator set forth for them.
But Michael was different in that he was not simply plagiarizing - he was correcting God’s mistake. The Pauline that refused to love him was an error - that was not how their tale was meant to be. She should have loved him back. This one would love him. Once she was just as he recalled, he’d draw himself into the image - as her lover. Yet, it was the perfect manifestation of Pauline that continued to elude him day and night.
When satisfied with his work depicting her attending one of her ballet classes, as he rubbed his eyes, Pauline - in a classical pink tutu - emerged from the canvas and began to dance around his bedroom. She was proportional to her canvas size, no larger than child’s shoe box and where she once appeared to be mid-pirouette in the painting now resided a canvas white lineation.
Michael watched her move on in disbelief.
Pauline sprang off the floor onto his headboard, from the headboard to his night stand, from the night stand atop of his dusty television - doing all of this on the tips of her toes. He’d watched her dance many times, in awe and in love and now she performed with superior adroitness - the acrylic ballerina twirling across the floor back towards him, weaving through the sea of her discarded, failed depictions.
Michael, with tears in his eyes, lowered his hand to the floor. Pauline danced her way into his palm, and he held her in the cup of his hands, centered in his lap, to observe her.
“Pauline… I love you so much. I brought you back. I did it. I did it.” He wept. Pauline curtsied. Michael felt a warmth settle in on his spirit. He’d created his masterpiece - not only that, but he’d conjured a living piece of art, an ethereal reincarnation just as he’d intended all along. He had transcended the limitations set by basic humanity - he was now a legend, a god among men, a magical being - the first to ever achieve something so inconceivable and magnificent.
Fame, fortune - perhaps a new theology awaited him.
He dried his eyes with his shoulders as Pauline idly danced in his palm.
“Can you speak? Can you?” Michael asked.
She said nothing.
“Do you love me too?” He asked. Again she said nothing. This troubled Michael deeply.
“Pauline?” He drew her closer to his face. She smiled at him. It was then he’d notice an error.
In the cross hatched mesh that was her tutu was a bold, crimson line with no rhyme or reason. An unforgivable stain that triggered a deep rage within. Was this why she couldn’t speak? Because of his mistake?
The more he stared, the more his rage deepened and in a sudden crackle of fury, he crushed Pauline in his hands from head to toe - the resulting crunching sound sending an icy razor up his gut that’d cleave his heart in two. She exploded, paint splattering all over himself, the dirty floor, the easel and the stool.
Michael shrieked as if he’d been the one destroyed.
He sat there, hands trembling, chest heaving with the weight of a novice murderer.
His dreadful emotions ran their course as his leg began to shake again. He heard the wind press against his window, a cricket chirping. His lungs slowed their pace.
In time, Michael turned on his stool to face his easel once more, and flipped over a new page in his sketch book.
He retook his paintbrush in hand, and started anew.
If he did it once, he could do it again, and this time, he’d do it without error.
Pauline in a restaurant. Pauline painting. Pauline surfing. Pauline riding a horse.
Pauline back in her dance studio. Yet no matter what he imagined, no matter what he drew, she never left the canvas again, and Michael was forever doomed to bear the crown of a fool.
- The Infamous A