A Portrait of Peri

Prompt: Unnatural life in a picture

Andy Miles 7th February 2023

This is a follow-on from my first ever Flash Fiction that I wrote for the 2022 Flash Fiction February. That story can be found at https://www.4miles.co.uk/?page_id=2603 or in ‘Flashbang! A Collection of Very Short Stories Volume 3’ which is available at http://wwwdrivethrufiction.com.  You do not have to have read that story to enjoy this one.

Four months ago I made the discovery of a lifetime. I was inspired by a chance encounter on a clear, frosty night, the last day before the Christmas break at the University, where I was a Chemistry professor. Since that night my whole life has irrecoverably changed. The University and I have parted ways, I now consider myself an artist, not a chemist and my wife, Peri and I, well, we are no longer together, at least not in body.

On that winter night, the almost indescribable thing I saw was a colour. I know that sounds like the memories of a sanatorium inmate, in this instance, it is the only description possible. There was no form, no distinct shape, just the colour. A combination of blues, reds and violets, that when I eventually recreated I named after my beloved, I called it Very Peri.

I now have to use Very Peri, I have to commit it to canvas and reveal to the world the splendour of this new shade, this new colour! What better way to do it than a painting of the other half of me, she was and will always be my muse, Peri. I cannot use her as a life model, I would not wish to paint her as she is now. Fortunately, her image is seared into my very soul.

I started with sketches, moved on to more detailed drawings and finally to paints. In parallel I practised using oils to paint, I even took a short course in the local library to hone my skills. I surprised myself, I actually have some talent although I will never be a Caravaggio. Of course, my first attempts at painting Peri were poor, they did not capture her likeness let alone her spirit. With every attempt, I improved, the likeness was closer, and my painting was better. This has to be right.

My penultimate try was so close. It captured her looks, her grace, but the magic was missing. They say that if you visit The Louvre and see the Mona Lisa that her eyes follow you around the room. That is the impact, if not the finesse of Leonardo, that I was trying to capture. One of my difficulties is that since that night when I created Very Peri is that my muse is physically hidden away in the gap between the floorboards and the room downstairs. I have to ration my use of Very Peri as it will not be the same once that unique ingredient is gone, Peri’s blood.

With a transcendental coincidence, it is on the anniversary of perfecting Very Peri that I complete what I know will be my masterpiece. I have captured Peri entirely, her body, her mind, her spirit, and her soul, all seem to be reflected in the canvas. I feel I could reach into the painting and hold her close to me once again.

I know that I have achieved the pinnacle of my work. Peri, dressed in a gown of Very Peri, stares at me as I walk around the room. She shouts wordlessly from the portrait. She accuses me in silent screaming mockery. The image moves perversely, this is not a picture of life, this is unnatural life in a picture.