©2020 by Canvas Literary Journal

Published by Cosmographia Books

Background art “Submerged” by Amelia Ao

Canvas logo by Ali Wrona

The Girl in the Painting

Jennifer McKay

Winter 2020

Her room was in shambles, as it was after every episode. Clothes were left exactly where they had been taken off, and the sheets and blankets had been on the floor next to the bed for weeks. It wasn’t always like this, they used to tell her to clean up, to pick up the clothes and pill bottles scattered across the floor. After years of empty promises from Sienna, they just gave up trying. Sienna sat at a drafting table, an empty canvas and brushes in front of her. She was tired, she always was. Her bed called out to her, and for the first time in a while she blocked out its voice.

          She sighed and grabbed the brush before her. She laid out her paints in a row, each tube neatly cleaned from the previous watercolor session. Taking a delicate grip on a flat brush in one hand and a crumpled paper towel in the other; she dipped her brush in a pallet of cadmium red, and began to lay her feelings onto the rough skin of the canvas. Her strokes were delicate at first, careful to keep every drop of paint in line. She added a dash of watery blue quickly followed by a paper towel as the medium spread. People used to tell her she was a talented artist, that she had been gifted a skill from birth. But it was far from the truth. She wasn’t born with any skill, and it certainly wasn’t a gift. Art became the only solace to her self-isolation.

          Her stokes became faster—rougher, and she no longer bothered to wash her brush as she switched colors. She let the paint bleed and seep into the canvas as she rushed. Slowly, her piece began to come together. Harsh strokes gave way to delicate petals, and scribbled line work revealed a porcelain vase. Sienna began to relax, shifting her weight back into her chair and letting her hand loosen.

          Slowly, after a moment of silence, she reached out her hand onto the canvas. She took a deep breath and began to press down. The textures of the paint and canvas began to smooth out beneath her fingers, almost parting as she continued to push in. When her hand could reach no further, the painting began to wave and ripple outward, and her arm sunk deep into the painting before her. The rough canvas gave way to the cold touch of a porcelain vase, and the fragile flesh of a tulip leaf. Sienna let out a rare smile, and with a firm hand on the vase, she pulled it out of the painting, leaving an empty canvas behind.

          Sienna set the vase on the table before her, happy with her work. It was beautifully crafted, but the joy of creation quickly faded from her mind. She grabbed her brush once more, gripping it tightly as she began to paint. Her hand flicked into motion with new purpose, and once again she poured her heart onto the page. She sat alone, so painfully alone, pouring her last desperate attempts at life onto the page.

          Trapped in a prison of her own creation, she let her tears fall from her eyes, wetting the paint and spreading across the canvas. She could hardly see her work as tears continued to well and fall well and fall, splattering paint across the surface. Her paint pooled and danced across the canvas, running behind her paintbrush as if to catch up. As she worked, a portrait slowly began to emerge, a morning sunrise silhouetting a white sundress; brunette hair unfurled and draped along her back.

          More paint, more stokes, more tears.

          Finally she stopped, the shades on her windows were closed, but she could feel it was late. Her body felt heavy, and her thoughts rattled in her head. She took a deep breath and looked back down at what she had done. She wasn’t sure why, but she had painted the girl facing away from her. Perhaps Sienna didn’t want anyone to see her at all. The air around her was so still, so fucking still it hung in her room, clinging to her body and filling her throat to the point of suffocation. The tears came back, they always did. With a final cry of desperation, she plunged hands deep into the canvas, letting it ripple away as she vanished into her creation.

          Sienna squinted, the light burned her eyes as she tried to get her bearings. She couldn’t see, but she could hear the distant sounds of waves cascading down on a nearby shore, and felt the hot morning air pressing against her face. She took a deep breath, and for the first time in a while it didn’t hurt to do so. She opened her eyes slowly, letting the glowing sunrise come into view. There she was, the girl she painted standing in the breeze; her hair drifting along behind her. All Sienna could do was watch as the girl stood there, glowing in the morning light; both of them gazing at the same sunrise. Minutes passed, and when the brilliant colors of the sunrise finally faded into cerulean blue, the girl turned around to face her. With and open palm and a gentle smile, she held out her hand. Sienna fell to her knees, and began to weep.

Jennifer McKay is a seventeen-year-old senior at The Cambridge School of Weston in Weston, Massachusetts. She has a passion for creating, be it writing or visual art. She has received multiple gold keys from the Scholastic Art and Writing awards. This is her first submission for publication, but it will certainly not be her last.