Narcissus

On a bare, placid wall face, between two sets of matching drapes pristine white and printed with pink flowers on thin green stalks, there hung a large blue painting. In the din of daytime’s yellow light streaming in through the veiled windows, the walls and the fixtures all seemed beige and the plush off-white furniture a deeper shade of it. It was a pleasant light. It kept the harshness of the warm sun away from your conscious, surrounding you instead in a hazy twilight where sleep fit better than activity. Many a day did young Master Kilroy spend there, watching TV or reading or simply lazing around like young people do, while the forgotten sun journeyed across the sky. He was all grown up now, farther away from here than anyone wanted and quite possibly, never returning.

Mrs. Kilroy, lying down on the sofa, stared at that blue painting. It was afternoon and that bleary delirium the sun up high in the sky beat down upon the creatures of Earth was creeping into the den. The room felt feverous but as she looked into the painting, a rush of cool breeze seemed to wash over her. A dabbling artist herself, she’d always appreciated the technical complexities of the painting. It lent character to the space and fit in comfortably brilliant contrast with the color scheme of the room. Today however, it struck her as a thing alive – not breathing or moving but somehow profound and far from inanimate. She found herself wondering what made the stolid, right-brained Mr. Kilroy ever purchase it.

Mr. Kilroy, a stout and proud businessman of honorable breeding and schooled in the old ways of conduct as a boy had purchased that painting on one of his trips to the mainland a long time ago. He wasn’t one for the arts, but the picture had caught his eye somewhere in a maze of cobblestone paths and tiny shops crowded with tiny trinkets and spices and perfumes and shaded from the sun by overhung cloth dyed in many shades.

The painting featured a view of a clear blue water surface. The water body was small and roundish, tufted by grass and dirt on the sides but ran deep just beyond the ground like a well that contained water up to ground height. The water’s surface wasn’t perfectly still and in the partial glimmer of a bright sun above, a face, barely discernable was hazily reflected. Past this mild disturbance, could be seen shadows and fish and sparse reeds clinging to the sides. There was detail even beyond that for the depth of this well wasn’t discernible in this picture and tiny creatures and suspended objects lay in the play of light that pierced the depths until it was choked out in deep dark corners and crevices. The work was titled ‘Narcissus’. Its artist was unknown.

Lost in the very many hues of blue it contained, Mrs. Kilroy saw in it today, the characters of both her husband and her son reflected. Both of them were men of few words whose demeanors seldom betrayed what thoughts their minds held. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, they only ever got along uncomfortably. All her life, she lived in the valley between these two cold mountains; under a perpetually grey sky that always threatened and sometimes broke into storm. She was tied to her husband but in her son she always hoped to see something special or some heroism she believed her own ancestors capable of or at the very least, something of herself, but young Master Kilroy wasn’t easily read and in the light of his actions was neither responsible like her husband was nor heroic in any way.

Kilroy, the old, had inherited his fields and his mills from his father and had taken good care of the business. Then, a great illness befell him, and over the years it grew stronger and stronger until he couldn’t walk or talk without much strain. All through that time, he had hoped that the young Kilroy would take after him and do what was his duty and although he never spoke of it to his son, he was sure he gleaned as much. 

Young Kilroy was still in school when his father fell ill. His mother lamented her son’s ill fortune but was ever sure he’d shoulder the responsibilities of his father without hesitation. He was a clever boy, devilishly insightful and admirably stoic. He’d been a precocious child and then had sunken into melancholy in his teenage years but his mother was sure it only showed his maturity.

As for young master Kilroy himself however, his father’s waning health and his mother’s hopes of him, incited no sense of responsibility for anything or anyone other than himself. He spent a lot of time in the den writing sad little tropes of mushy love affairs and timid rabbits fighting injustice in the world – they were terrible, although he thought them glorious. He said he wanted to be a writer, Mrs. Kilroy argued he could be both a businessman and a writer. He felt that his ‘art’ demanded perfect commitment; Mrs. Kilroy opined that perfect commitment demanded food to eat and a roof above his head. He knew his mother would never understand; no one could, but when the world came crashing down and it’s weight grew unbearable, it was the only thing that made him feel like he was anything at all.

That’s how he left. His father presented him with an ultimatum. The business had to be taken over by his son or be sold, in which case, young Kilroy would have to find his own work. He decided to walk out into the world and be a wandering writer – it encompassed the perfect commitment he thought essential for his craft; commitment that saw beyond hunger and comfort and even death.

Now a passing wind swayed the heavy drapes and threw momentarily, some bright light into the room. Mrs. Kilroy was thwarted back into reality. She looked once again at the painting her eyes had lost themselves in. ‘Young Kilroy must’ve spent a lot of time looking at it while he was here’, she thought to herself. Then, looking at it herself, she realized that she hated the picture.

 

Copyright © 2016 George Paracka.

George Paracka retains all rights to this work, granting Fickle Muses one-time, non-exclusive electronic publication rights. Please contact the creator to request permission for reprints or other uses of this work.

Fiction,