The Artist (Flash Fiction)

The ceiling plaster peeled like it had been sunburned and great gaping holes appeared to spread along the surface as mold on old cheese. Rusted chairs collapsed on their sides and the once magnificent figures in the murals along the bottom of the stage were marred beyond recognition by the merciless passing of time. The curtains on the rotting wooden stage, threadbare and frayed, were faded to a non-descript hue and looked like they would vanish in a big poof of dust should anyone touch them.

The artist, standing in the back of the theater, didn’t see the ugliness that others saw. As his eyes roamed toward the ceilings, the frescoes of gods and goddesses of old mythology looked back at him with the haughty stance of the immortal. Exquisite chandeliers hung from the ceilings, a glorious shower of crystal, gold leaf, and glittering silver over opulent scarlet velvet seats standing straight and tall like royal members of the audience.

The artist’s eyes saw murals of vibrant color and unpaired beauty adorning the low wall along the stage and shiny hard wood flooring, rich and warm in color, sleek to the touch of the tiny ballerina feet that had once graced it with their pointes. The curtain fell toward the stage floor in a grand cascade of ruby red velvet, an artificial but enchanting night sky studded with sparkling man-made stars.

He walked slowly across the theater of his dreams, his work of art, his masterpiece. Hands brushing the backs of the chairs in a gentle caress, the artist reveled in the familiarity and intimacy of that touch, the memories it stirred, the feelings it inspired. Slowly as in a trance, the artist climbed the stage steps and came to rest center stage, staring blindly into the ghost audience of bygone days. There he stood for a few minutes, motionless and silent as if channeling the spirits of the past.

Like a wisp of smoke, he suddenly slumped to the floor and curling himself into a ball, the artist wept. Life had gone by so fast, he had barely had time to live, shoved from one day to another by a torrent of events he could not control any more that he could control the earth’s movements. He was not afraid of dying but terror filled his heart at the thought of leaving this world without having made his mark; something left behind to remind the world of his existence however brief, a memoir of his talents however fleeting. His then young skillful hands had painted those walls and adorned the arched ceilings with loving attention and infinite patience; innocently believing it would outlast him and others after him. Believing it would give him immortality.

But here he was now, old and pathetic, fingers deformed by arthritis, spirit broken by the knowledge he was to be forgotten as soon as his heart stopped beating. Nothing left to remind the world he had once sat in that theater amongst his own works of beauty, passion galloping through his veins, dreams of immortality dancing in his head. Now he writhed on that rotted and splintered floor, sobbing amongst eternity lost. Life was gone, snuffed away like a candle, remorseless and cruel. No one would ever remember his name.

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