I had the strangest dream. The painting was in it, only he wasn’t a painting anymore, he was alive. We were dancing under the moon... At least I think it was me, why would it not be? She looked like me, but there was something different about her. She was older maybe, or taller? I really couldn’t say. She did look like me. There was such wonderful music, I remember feeling like I just wanted to smile, laugh, and never stop dancing. Then I remember pain, like inescapable fire pulling me in all directions, and then darkness. Nothing but a lonely emptiness.
This turned out to be my first real connection with him, though I didn’t know it then. Throughout my entire shift that evening the dream was working it’s way round and round my mind. Whatever could it have meant? Why was I dreaming of this strange reality? It was like nothing I had ever read or watched, so where was it coming from? Why, after so many silent years, was my mind suddenly bringing sound to my dreams? I had never even dreamed with speech before, (well except from my own thoughts, which I assume come in my own voice), but music? Such beautiful music…there was no way that my subconscious had created it. Unsurprisingly I know nothing about music, and you can’t dream of what you don’t know, let alone make it. What had brought so much pain before I woke? Surely that’s not a normal thing to be dreaming about. The whole ordeal somewhat freaked me out.
He seemed no different as I sat looking up at him in his gloomy corner. His eyes still followed me around the room while he smiled ever so slightly at something far in the distance. How could he have changed? He wasn’t real. I kept telling myself that he wasn’t really there. He was just a painting, the same old painting that I had stumbled across in the cellar and taken a liking to. There was nothing different about him. I, however, felt different. I felt exposed to him; it was like he was really looking right into me, like he could see more of me than he had been able to even right at the beginning. Even then I felt ridiculous thinking about him like he was alive. I always had, and yet I couldn’t stop myself from referring to him that way. If I ever thought of him it was never of ‘that painting’ but of ‘that man’ and while I didn’t talk to mother about him, if I had I think I would have spoken of him as I would any friend. Canvas and oil paint, that’s all he was, so why was I ever so slightly afraid of him?
I didn’t sit with him that night; I kept to the office while trying to make some sense of my jumbled thoughts. There was no way he could have changed. I told myself over and over that the dream meant nothing, that it was just my imagination playing on my growing fascination with him. It was becoming almost an obsession; some part of me knew that, and the part that knew was terrified by it. Whether I could not stop it, or simply did not want to stop I am uncertain now, but I know that it did not end that night, or for many nights after it. Over time each and every painting in the gallery that I had adored so much meant less to me than they had before; I found faults in all art but him. Brush marks in the landscapes where there were none on him. Slight flaws in shadows where he was flawless. I was comparatively critical even down to the positioning of subjects in other portraits. He was the only thing that seemed wholly and truly perfect. So why was I still fearful of him? I didn’t understand what I was thinking or feeling. I was drawn to him and yet I feared the sight of him. Some nights, I simply wanted to gaze into his deep, dark eyes. Other nights I felt like taking him from the wall and throwing him in a fire just to stop him looking at me. The one thing I held on to, that I told myself over and over again, was that he was just a painting. Oil on canvas, nothing more.