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“So… what are we doing here?”
“We’re uh… appreciating art.”
“How do you appreciate art?”
“I think you just stand there and look at it.”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“Danny we’re staring at a nine foot painting of a triangle. No offense, but even your hipster girlfriend knew this was bullshit. Which is why she crapped out of going and you dragged me along.”
I blew air at my bangs from the bottom of my mouth.
“Alright,” I said. “Fuck it, let’s go get drunk.”
Jason grinned, and we started walking towards the exit.
“That’s more like it. You know that beard makes you look like a douchebag?”
“I think it looks manly. And Karen likes it.”
“Manly? Danny you look like the kind of guy who owns a special little comb for picking semen out of his beard.”
“How long did it take you to come up with that one?”
“About at long as it took you to…whoa, hold on. Look at this one.”
Jason had stopped in front of a small painting of a face.
The painting was of the bust of a woman, and looked like something out of the Renaissance. It was strangely out of place in the modernist gallery around us.
“Look at her eyes, Danny. Holy shit, I’m doing it. I’m appreciating art.”
The woman’s eyes were sky blue, and they bore a sort of dreamy expression which only seemed to enhance the strangeness of her beauty.
“It gives me the creeps.” I said.
“It looks like she’s naked. Do you think they’ve got a painting of the rest of her?”
“Seriously, it’s creeping me out. Let’s go.”
But as we turned around to go we were approached by a woman with wire rimmed glasses and hair pulled back so tight that her forehead was reflecting the gallery lights.
“Do you like this one?” She asked.
“I, uh. Yeah, my friend likes it.”
Jason was too busy ogling the painting to respond.
“Who painted it?” I asked.
“An unknown Renaissance artist. It was donated to the gallery and we display it here to demonstrate the contrast between modern and traditional forms of art.”
“Is it for sale?” Jason asked.
“You seem really taken with it.” the gallery owner smiled. “Go on and take it. Maybe it can inspire a love of art in you.”
“Wait, are you serious?” I asked.
Jason shrugged and lifted the painting off the wall.
“Come on, sexy. You’re coming with me.”
“I can’t believe you brought a painting to a bar.”
“It’s called peacocking, Danny.”
“It’s when you bring something flashy to a bar to attract the attention of women.”
“Sounds like a good idea. You want the girls to think you’re some kind of psycho, right?”
“Shit, that could work. Maybe I can hook up with one of those girls that writes letters to serial killers in prison. Besides, I wanted to look at it some more. I’ve always had a thing for green eyes.”
“Are you drunk already? She’s got blue eyes, dipshit.”
“Dude get your vision checked. This must be why you’re such a shitty driver. You think all the traffic lights are blue.”
I was about to tell Jason what a dumbass he was when a girl walked up to us and interrupted.
“Cool painting.” She said.
“It’s mine.” Jason puffed out his chest, perhaps taking the word ‘peacocking’ a little too literally.
“I really like the expression in her eyes.” The girl went on.
“So vulnerable, it’s like she’s really baring her soul.”
“Yeah,” Jason eagerly agreed. “But there’s something more, like a fierceness. It’s beautiful.”
The girl looked at the painting quizzically.
“I don’t see it.” She said.
Jason and the girl went on talking while I drained my whisky and started texting Karen that Jason had met a girl and was ignoring me again. He was always like this around pretty girls. He said he fell in love at least twice a day. Eventually they went off to her apartment and I went home to the dorm.
I woke up on the couch the next morning with a splitting headache. Jason must have gotten home last night some time after I passed out, because his coat was on the rack. As I became more aware of my surroundings I noticed a powerful burning smell. I jumped up and saw smoke billowing out from the oven.
“Jason, you fucking idiot.” I grumbled.
This wasn’t the first time he’d stuck a pizza in the oven and then passed out before it was done. I switched off the oven and went to pound on Jason’s door.
“Hey, wake up numbnuts. You nearly burned us alive again last night.”
“What a lazy fucker.”
I turned the knob and saw that he was still in bed, but obviously awake.
“Hey idiot,” I said.
“Get up and clean the-” but the words died in my throat.
As I got closer I saw the black pool of blood that had spilled from his mouth. His eyes were wide open and still.
I ran over and shook him, but he was already ice cold. When the ambulance got their they took him away in a bag. They asked me if I knew what had happened but I couldn’t answer. I just kept going over the same thing in my mind. Jason had brown eyes, I was sure of it. But when I found him lying there, in a pool of his own blood, his eyes had been green.
The next week was a blur for me. I numbly floated through the days. People’s consolations and pitying looks were just mundane platitudes that could not reach me. The university held a memorial service for Jason. They printed out a big version of the picture from his student ID and placed it next to the arts building so people could come and pay their respects. I went the long way around the building to avoid seeing it. I didn’t want to be reminded of what had happened. But I couldn’t hide from it forever- after class on Friday there was an urgent knock on my door, and when I opened it Karen was standing there looking upset.
“I tried calling you.” she said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m surviving I guess.”
“Have you…” Karen seemed nervous about something. “been by the arts building?”
“Not recently, why?”
“I, uh… I don’t want to upset you. But I figured it had best come from me.”
“What are you talking about?”
Karen pulled up a picture on her phone and handed it to me.
“What the fuck?”
It was Jason’s picture by the arts building. But someone had gouged out the eyes and spray painted a big red X over his face.
“Who the fuck would do something like this?” I asked.
“I don’t know. The university police are looking into it.”
I saw red. A thought had been nagging at the back of my mind for days now. I grabbed my keys off the hook and marched out to the parking lot.
“Where are you going?” I heard Karen calling after me.
“I’m going back to that fucking art gallery.”
I’m not sure what I expected to find. An answer, I guess. Some sort of closure. But I definitely didn’t expect to find what I did. Hanging right there in the very same spot was the painting of the blue-eyed woman. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I just stood there staring at it.
“Do you like this one?”
I heard a voice from behind me, and I turned to see the gallery owner.
“Oh.” she said. “You’re back.”
“Where did you get this?” I sputtered out.
The gallery owner stroked the painting’s cheek.
“She always seems to find her way back. I think she misses her spot on the wall.”
I felt something in me break; my emotional numbness was replaced by a flood of anger. I grabbed the woman’s collar and yanked her towards me.
“I know it was you.” I said, shaking her. “I know what you did.”
“Are you going to hurt me?” She asked. Her eyes moved over to the painting, and I followed them. The painting’s eyes were know a brilliant shade of green. I gasped and let go of her collar, and watched as the eyes slowly changed back to blue. The gallery owner straightened her shirt.
“I don’t decide who she goes home with.” She said softly.
I started to back away slowly, and the gallery owner watched me. I could have sworn the painting was watching me too as I turned around and ran.
When I got home Karen was waiting for me, worry written all over her face.
“Danny what’s going on?”
“I don’t know.” I said breathlessly. “But I know who killed Jason.”
“It was the gallery owner.” I said. “The place we went last week.”
“The gallery owner? Why would the gallery owner kill Jason?”
“Because she’s crazy. She’s some kind of witch, Karen.”
“Are you feeling ok?” She asked. “Jason died in bed, Danny. Why do you think he was murdered?”
“I just…” I was breathing heavily. “You didn’t see it… The painting…”. I trailed off. Even I could hear how crazy the words sounded as they came out of my mouth. I knew what I’d saw, but I knew no one else would believe me.
“Nothing.” I said. “Sorry, I’m just a little upset. Nevermind.”
“Let’s just relax for awhile. Do you wanna watch a movie?”
I agreed more for Karen’s sake than my own. After all, I was sure I’d just frightened her. We set up the movie and Karen went off to the bathroom like she always did at the start of movies. While she was inside I saw a text message from her friend Brittany pop up on her phone. Karen didn’t mind when I read her messages, so grabbed the phone and swiped it open. All the message said was: “have u told him about jason yet?”
I heard the toilet flush and the faucet go on and then Karen walked back and plopped down next to me.
“What is this?” I held the phone up to her face.
“It’s nothing, Danny. Why don’t we talk about it when you’re feeling better?”
“No. Something is going on and I want to know what the fuck it is.”
“Alright,” she said.
“After they put Jason’s picture up, there were some rumors that started going around.”
“Rumors? What rumors?”
“Some girls said some things about Jason assaulting them. And then more girls started to come forward. The police looked into it, Danny. They’re saying…”
“They’re saying what?”
“They’re saying his DNA ties back to open rape cases a couple years back.”
“I’m sorry, Danny. I know he was your friend.”
It felt like all the air had rushed out of the room. There was no way it could be true. Jason had always been a bit of a chauvinist, but he was no rapist. Was he?
A few weeks later the dust had settled and the truth had come out about Jason. It felt like he had died a second time. All of my good memories of him were now replaced by some sick feeling I couldn’t even begin to untangle. Seventeen women. And those were just the ones who’d come forward. The school took down the picture and got rid of the flowers people had left. Some people were saying they were glad he was dead. Those were the same people that gave me dirty looks when I passed them in the hallways. Whatever. It didn’t matter. I didn’t know what had really happened with the painting, but I decided to just let sleeping dogs lie. Thinking about it hurt, anyway. I eventually went back to the gallery owner to apologize for my outburst. She smiled and told me I had a good heart. As I was leaving I could hear the faint sounds of her talking with someone.
“You seem to really like it.” she said. “Why don’t you take it home with you?”
Credit: David Maloney
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